Univ.: No misconduct, but “poor research practice” in mgt prof’s work now subject to 7 retractions

Fred Walumbwa

The Leadership Quarterly has retracted a trio of papers by Frederick Walumbwa, an “ethical leadership” guru at Florida International University, whose work has come under scrutiny for flawed methodology. And another journal  has pulled one of his articles for similar reasons. That brings his count – as far as we can tell — to seven retractions and a mega-correction.

Meanwhile, Arizona State University, Walumbwa’s former employer, has found

that the preponderance of evidence does not support the charge of research misconduct by Dr. Walumbwa…

but that he engaged in “poor research practice.”

The bottom line, according to the Leadership Quarterly, which first announced problems with the articles in February:

the scientific trustworthiness and value of this work cannot be established. However, intentional wrongdoing should not be inferred.

That’s a far cry from the “minor reporting errors” used by one of Walumbwa’s co-authors to describe the problems with some of his work.

We’ll let the editors explain.

One of the articles, “Early Life Experiences as Determinants of Leadership Role Occupancy: The Importance of Parental Influence and Rule Breaking Behavior,” appeared in 2009, when Walumbwa was at Arizona State. According to the notice, which is worth reading in its entirety, but which we’ll excerpt here:

After concerns were raised about possible problems of reporting in this paper, the Senior Editor consulted with the two previous Senior Editors of The Leadership Quarterly and a methodologist (M1) (not the claimant) to assess the seriousness of the allegations and to make a preliminary determination concerning the allegations’ merits. All concurred that there were serious problems in this paper. The methodologist (M1) prepared a report outlining the problems and this report was forwarded to a second methodologist (M2) to confirm the correctness of methods used by the first methodologist to detect the problems. The second methodologist attested to the correctness of the first methodologist’s analyses. The Senior Editor then contacted the authors to inform them of the problems identified in the paper. The authors were asked to respond to concerns raised and encouraged to send the original data from this paper to the Senior Editor for reanalysis.

The authors did not provide the original data but rather sent a letter replying to the methodology report, along with new analytic results. These responses and new results were reviewed by a third methodologist (M3) as well as the methodologist who prepared the report (M1). Both agreed that the reanalysis failed to replicate the results that were originally reported and their report further supported concerns about serious reporting errors, model misspecifications, and methodological misstatements and ambiguities in the published article.

The notice concludes:

As a consequence of the processes and concerns outlined above, the scientific trustworthiness and value of this work cannot be established. However, intentional wrongdoing should not be inferred.

The Journal of Operations Management also is retracting a paper by Walumbwa, from 2008, titled “The relationship between brokers’ influence, strength of ties and NPD project outcomes in innovation-driven horizontal networks.” The paper has been cited 17 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Here’s the notice:

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 co-Editor-in-Chief. The retraction has been agreed due to data reporting irregularities, following an investigation conducted by the Journal.

We apologize that this was not detected during the submission and review process.

Arizona State has issued a report on the Walumbwa case, a summary of which we have obtained and made available here. According to the document:

The allegation that Dr. Fred Walumbwa engaged in research misconduct originally arose in response to a complaint from outside the University regarding one of Dr. Walumbwa’s published papers (Fry, Hannah, Noel, & Walumbwa, 2011, Leadership Quarterly). The allegation concerned possible fabrication or falsification in the statistical analyses of data for that paper. While the original allegation about the 2011 paper was resolved, Deans Amy Hillman and Robert Mittelstadt ofthe W.P. Carey School of Business expanded the investigation to include seven additional published papers (see the list below), addressing the issue of possible fabrication or falsification in the statistical analyses for those papers. In the course of the investigation, the Committee examined the seven papers, conducted limited re-analyses of the data taken from the papers or found on the mirrored hard drives from Dr. Walumbwa, retrieved a variety of files from the mirrored hard drives, compared retrieved output files to results reported in the papers, conducted two interviews with Dr. Walumbwa, contacted several coauthors who published with Dr. Walumbwa, and contacted one journal editor. The investigation was severely hindered by the near total unavailability of raw data files and statistical output files for the seven papers under study. Our final conclusion is that the preponderance of evidence does not support the charge of research misconduct by Dr. Walumbwa in relation to the seven papers that were the focus of the investigation.

Here are the seven papers the report cites, which overlap with those retracted and corrected but are not all the same:

  • Luthans, Avolio, & Walumbwa (2005), Management and Organization Review
  • Walumbwa & Schaubroeck (2009), Journal of Applied Psychology
  • Walumbwa, Mayer, Wang, Wang, Workman & Christensen (2011) Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
  • Walumbwa, Hartnell, & Oke (2010), Journal of Applied Psychology
  • Walumbwa, Cropanzano & Hartnell (2009), Journal of Organizational Behavior
  • Oke, Walumbwa & Myers (2012), Decision Sciences
  • Oke, ldiagon-Oke, & Walumbwa (2008), Journal of Operations Management

Walumbwa appears to have had trouble holding onto his data – which, we’ll note, has been grounds for findings of research misconduct in other cases. Per the report:

We requested the relevant data files and software output files from Dr. Walumbwa for papers 2 to 7. Dr. Walumbwa responded that he was unable to provide us with any of the data files for the six papers, or any of the output files, because the data files had been transferred to flash drives, and he could not locate the flash drives. In the interviews in April, Dr. Walumbwa stated that his practice had been to retain data until a paper was accepted for publication. Due to his location changes (moving to ASU from Nebraska, then moving from ASU West to the Main campus), Dr. Walumbwa had put his data on flash drives. At some point he lost these flash drives. With regard to outputs, he stated that his practice was to delete all computer outputs once a project was completed. He also sometimes printed the outputs before deletion. He did not retain any of the printed outputs for the papers under question however. At one point, Dr. Walumbwa provided us with some summaries of results as Word documents, but these were not actual computer outputs, and it was impossible to determine the origin of the numbers in these summaries. At some point it became clear to the Committee that the only way we were going to be able to locate any existing data files or outputs was to go through the mirrored hard drive material without help from Dr. Walumbwa. We were ultimately able to identify either data files or outputs for papers 2, 4, and 7. No relevant outputs or identifiable data files were found for papers 3, 5, or 6. Our focus will therefore turn to papers 2, 4, and 7 in the narrative below.

Ultimately, the investigators looking into Walumbwa’s case concluded that

the discrepancies found [with his findings] probably did not arise from an intentional effort to enhance the chances of publication, simply because such a scheme would probably have been ineffective given the numbers involved.

However, they concluded:

Apart from the question of research misconduct, we did find examples of poor research practice by Dr. Walumbwa, starting with a failure to secure files of data and software output files for later use. Dr. Walumbwa maintains that he intended to retain all of the data for the seven papers studied by the Committee, but he simply lost the flash drives containing the data files. Our view is that a better practice would have been to create multiple copies of the important files so that loss of the flash drives would not create a total data loss. For example, if Dr. Walumbwa did not want to leave the files on the computers that originally held the data, he could have put them on centralized disk space provided by ASU to all faculty members. Dr. Walumbwa also mentioned that he routinely discards output files once a research paper is published. This practice makes it nearly impossible to later verify whether published results reflect actual analysis results, or whether analyses were performed correctly. The importance of verification is illustrated by the fact that inconsistencies were discovered in every case in which we were able to compare output files to published results. We also discovered at least one example of an analysis that was done incorrectly and was not caught prior to publication.

Our conclusion is that Dr. Walumbwa could improve his research practice by following a few simple rules. First, all files of data relevant to a published paper should be kept in a secure location for an extended period of time following publication. The APA suggests that data be kept for at least five years, and this recommendation seems reasonable. Second, copies of all software outputs relevant to a published paper should also be kept in a secure location following publication, again for an extended period following publication. Third, Dr. Walumbwa should carefully read the final drafts and proofs of any paper that is in press to check for consistency with the actual results of the analyses reported in the paper. As noted earlier, we uncovered inconsistencies between some of his published papers and the actual results of the analyses that were being reported in those papers. Dr. Walumbwa attributed many of these inconsistencies to typing errors. Assuming that this attribution is correct, these errors could have been caught prior to publication if a more careful proofreading had been done.

Read the whole summary here.

We’ve asked Walumbwa for comment, and will update with anything we learn.

4 thoughts on “Univ.: No misconduct, but “poor research practice” in mgt prof’s work now subject to 7 retractions”

  1. A major discovery must await astronomers – somewhere out there in the universe is a dense accumulation of “lost data”. Maybe this contributes to the dark/exotic stuff that makes up most of the universe?

    I recall at high school a classmate who was perpetually late, so ran thin on excuses: a memorable one was “the tram had a flat tyre”. OK, but our trams had metal wheels.

  2. Let me be frank. Observing this from the outside, this is nothing less than a hyperbolic contradiction. The concepts of “poor research practice” and “management professor” or “leadership” are simply incompatible. What this is is a case of saving face (personal, professional and institutional). 7 retractions and a mega-correction are not numbers to be treated lightly, nor are they random. I ask ASU and Florida International University (and any institute of funding agency that paid or supported Walumbwa: considering that (presumably) this individual received a salary and/or grants to be productive, and that he was, at the time, considered to be a guru based on the “excellent” papers he had published, should he not be required to reimburse those same institutes? This is because his “productivity” is in fact 7 and a half pieces less than it was a few years ago. What astonishes me time and time again is the fact that individuals are paid salaries and grants for being productive (broadly shown ultimately by the number and level of papers), but, when such productivity factors fail to exist, there are zero economic repurcussions. I believe that this is fundamentally wrong, and a system that seems to defend someone who has been proved to be other than what they claim to be, through hard evidence (i.e., 7 retractions ad a mega-correction, decisions made by academic scholars) must surely be a skewed or corrupted system.

  3. “Mr Eccles we are not for one moment doubting your sincerity, it’s just your intelligence competence that’s in question.”

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