Ulrich Lichtenthaler, a management professor in Germany, has had three papers retracted by two different journals, after readers noticed statistical irregularities.
Lichtenthaler was at the WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management when he published the papers in 2009 and 2010. He is now at the University of Mannheim. The retraction in Strategic Organization was first reported by the Strategy Profs blog. It reads:
The article ‘Technology licensing strategies: the interaction of process and content characteristics’ by Ulrich Lichtenthaler and Holger Ernst, published in STRATEGIC ORGANIZATION Vol 7(2): 183–221, DOI: 10.1177/1476127009102672, has been retracted at the author’s and editors’ request due to errors in reporting, for which the first author has claimed responsibility.
The paper has been cited 12 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. In a comment on the Strategy Profs blog, journal editor Russ Coff added some detail (we confirmed with Coff that he had left the comment):
The author approached us and asked that we retract the paper. Further investigation confirmed specific irregularities as well as a broader pattern. For example, in some cases where the coefficients and standard errors are about the same size, variables are reported as highly significant, This problem is more evident for independent variables than control variables. It is clear that the findings should not be cited in subsequent research. This is only one of the issues raised and it appears to be part of a pattern across a number of articles published in a variety of well-respected journals. The first author wants to make it clear that he approached us proactively and that he claims responsibility…
The notice for the other two papers is wonderfully detailed, which is perhaps not surprising given that the journal, Research Policy, also recently published an illuminating paper on the role of retractions. Here’s the notice in full:
This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors-in-Chief.
After discussions with the author about concerns raised by readers concerning the papers he published in Research Policy in 2009 and 2010, the Research Policy Editors have decided that the following two papers should be retracted:
Ulrich Lichtenthaler, The role of corporate technology strategy and patent portfolios in low-, medium- and high-technology firms, Res. Policy, 38 (2009) 559–569, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2008.10.009;
Ulrich Lichtenthaler, Determinants of proactive and reactive technology licensing: A contingency perspective, Res. Policy, 39 (2010) 55–66, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2009.11.011.
There are two main grounds for this retraction:
(1) In each case, the author failed to disclose (through specific citations, or through a mention in the ‘acknowledgements’ section, or in a covering letter to the Editor) the existence of other closely related papers by the same author. In the absence of this information, the referees and editors involved in handling these two Research Policy papers were misled as to the level of originality of each Research Policy paper. If they had been aware of those parallel papers, they would almost certainly have concluded that each of the two papers in question did not represent a sufficiently substantial and original contribution to knowledge in its own right to merit publication in a leading journal like Research Policy.
(2) In the Research Policy papers and the other closely related papers, the author has been inconsistent in his treatment of the variables. In particular, variables treated as important in the 2009 Research Policy paper are disregarded in another parallel paper (in R&D Management 2009), and vice versa. In the case of the 2010 Research Policy paper, when it is examined in conjunction with three other closely related papers (in Journal of Product Innovation Management 2009, Strategic Organization 2009, and Organization Science 2010), there seems to be an omitted variable bias problem that would invalidate the conclusions of the Research Policy 2010 paper. In both cases, this raises severe doubts as to the validity and robustness of the conclusions drawn in the two Research Policy papers (and indeed in the other parallel papers). If the referees and editors involved in handling the two Research Policy papers had been aware of this (i.e., if their attention had been drawn to the other closely related papers and they had spotted this inconsistency), they would undoubtedly have rejected each of the Research Policy papers on methodological grounds.
After the Research Policy Editors had made their decision to retract the two papers (but before he had been notified of the outcome), the author wrote to acknowledge a third problem with the Research Policy 2009 paper, namely that the statistical significance of several of the findings had been misreported or exaggerated. In the light of this new problem, the author asked to withdraw the Research Policy 2009 paper. However, by then the editorial decision to retract that paper on the original two grounds listed above had already been taken.
The 2010 paper has been cited four times, while the 2009 one has been cited six.
We’ve asked Lichtenthaler and his former institution, for comment, particularly about whether there was an investigation. We’ll update with anything we learn.
Update, 1 p.m.: WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management tells us they’re investigating:
We are aware of the retractions. When the underlying problems of the publications of Ulrich Lichtenthaler were brought to our attention WHU decided to establish an investigation committee with external experts to look into these matters. As WHU condemns all forms of academic misconduct, we are very interested in complete transparency on the issues and, depending on the findings of the committee, we will then take appropriate actions.
We also came across this profile of Lichtenthaler in Handelsblatt (German), which suggests he had a meteoric rise in academic circles.
Update, 10:30 a.m. Eastern, 7/18/12: Lichtenthaler’s current institution, the University of Mannheim, is also investigating the matter. In response to an email sent to the address on Lichtenthaler’s faculty page, Eva Bomrich, Lichtenthaler’s secretary
of the business school, tells us:
Prof. Dr. Lichtenthaler proactively informed in detail the President of the University of Mannheim already weeks ago about the unintended errors in some of his articles.
Following its guidelines, the University of Mannheim has started an investigation into alleged problems with the scientific articles of Professor Lichtenthaler. The investigation will take some time, and the University of Mannheim will provide further information in due course.