Psychology has been home to some of the most infamous cases of fraud in recent years, and while it’s just a few bad apples who are spoiling the bunch, the field itself has seen an overall increase in retractions, according to a new paper by Jürgen Margraf appearing in Psychologische Rundschau and titled “Zur Lage der Psychologie.”
That increase, Margraf found, is not entirely due to its most well-known fraudsters. Here’s the relevant figure:
Rolf Degen, who tipped us off to this paper, summarizes the findings available in the figure (and translates some of the study, which is in German):
As figure A makes clear, the field is now located as equal among equals right besides molecular biology (a little more retractions) and economics (slightly less). In other circumstances, psychologists would love to be placed in that neighborhood! And the trend is increasing, as shown by an analysis of all psychological publications and retractions from 1989 through to 2013 (figure B). “We do not only see a sharp increase of publications – up to 190.00 in 2013, about three times more than in 1989 – but also a growth of the rate of retractions, which quadrupled from 0.01 percent to over 0.04 percent,” says Margraf. “Even if the most spectacular case of Diederik Stapel (49 retractions between 2012 and 2013) is deducted, the upswing of retractions, particularly in recent years, is alarming.”
For comparison, the overall rate of retraction over the past few decades is about 0.02%, and grew ten-fold from 2001 to 2010. (And Stapel has 54 retractions, by our count.) The rate of retractions in psychology — 0.03% — seems to be lower than that in stem cell research, but it should be noted that the rates in every field are very low.
An interesting coincidence: Margraf was supposed to work closely with Jens Förster, who was found by the University of Amsterdam to have been “responsible for a case of scientific misconduct.” Förster’s Humboldt professorship — Margraf has one — has been suspended while the foundation investigates.
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