Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Entrepreneur ranking retracted for not being “inclusive enough”

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This is a first for us — a publication that covers start-ups in South Africa has retracted a list of 13 rising tech entrepreneurs for not being “inclusive enough.”

Lists are a staple of popular media, so much so that they’ve earned their own word: listicle. But we’ve never seen one get retracted before. We weren’t sure what metric of inclusion the retraction was referring to, but looking at an archive of the webpage, where the listicle appeared before the publication was taken down, we saw that every person on the list appears to be a man, and almost all of them white.

We asked Stuart Thomas, Senior Reporter at Memeburn — which published the list with a related publication, Ventureburn — if this was what the publication meant by not “inclusive enough:”

It was a factor, yes.

Here’s the note for “Digital All Stars 2015: 13 South African tech entrepreneurs on the rise:” 

Digital All Stars is a new series of articles on Ventureburn and Memeburn, which recognises and celebrates achievement in a variety of digital fields that includes entrepreneurship, media & marketing, technology innovation, general business and education. Our aim with the Digital All Stars Series on Ventureburn is to celebrate entrepreneurial achievement in South Africa, and the African countries in which Ventureburn is popular in, which includes Kenya and Nigeria.

Creating lists to recognise achievement is, in itself, a fraught exercise, so we aim to ensure accuracy by consulting with many experts in the wider industry to ensure that we acknowledge all who are achievers and leaders in their fields. In the article “13 South African tech entrepreneurs on the rise” it has come to our attention that we did not apply this process rigorously enough, and the article is not reflective or inclusive enough.

Quite simply, the article and the research that went into it is not in sync with the high standards we set ourselves in our mission to build the entrepreneurial landscape in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

We apologise unreservedly for this error in judgement. We will try harder. We will fix this. And we will be back with an article that celebrates the digital and entrepreneurial stars on our continent.

The publication posted the retraction following “complaints,” said Thomas. In the meantime, it’s changing its process:

We are  implementing a stricter, more transparent process for both the future version of this list and for future lists.

The next version won’t be released until 2016, he added:

We will continue with other lists this year, but are aiming for a new version of this article in the new year.

We can’t think of any similar examples of this type of retraction, so if you know of one, tell us. But this certainly isn’t the first time critics have judged these lists harshly for similar reasons. Last fall, Science magazine published a “science stars of Twitter” list. Out of 50 “stars” the identified, there were just four women.

In a follow-up post titled “Twitter’s science stars, the sequel,” Science magazine’s managing news editor wrote:

We listed. You tweeted (often in outrage). We listened (mostly). And now we’re doubling down on our recent list of Twitter’s 50 most popular researchers with a revision that names 100 of the most followed scientists on the social media platform.

The addendum was sparked by feedback from readers and at least one twitter hashtag campaign (#womentweetsciencetoo). The post noted:

Some decried the lack of scientists of color or female scientists on our list—just four women made the top 50, for example—and noted that our search strategy, which started with a handful of Twitter celebrity scientists and looked at who they followed, likely biased our discoveries toward white males.

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Written by Shannon Palus

October 21st, 2015 at 11:30 am

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