Economics paper retracted due to “extensive changes”

727710An article has been retracted from a proceedings of an economics conference after the publisher identified errors in several parts of the study.

The retraction follows criticism from a Romanian blogger, who contacted the journal about several issues, and posted communications she received about the paper, “Sustainability of Social Enterprises: A Discourse Analysis.” It was part of a volume of Procedia Economics and Finance from a 2014 conference, “Economic Scientific Research – Theoretical, Empirical and Practical Approaches,” also known as ESPERA 2014.

According to the paper, peer review was

under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of ESPERA 2014.

Apparently, the peer review process missed a few errors. The retraction note explains:

We regret to announce that we must retract this article because errors have been identified in the publication involving several parts of the study including methodology presentation, lack of transparency on reliability and validity control of the methods used and on interpretation of results, errors recognised by the author. Unfortunately, this was only brought to our attention subsequent to publication and such extensive changes cannot be addressed in a corrigendum. The editors and Elsevier regret any problems that this article may have caused and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected before publication.

The article was retracted just months after it was published, and has not been cited, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

The retraction follows an open letter to Elsevier posted by Romanian historian and blogger Elena Dragomir, explaining some concerns she had with the paper:

This is not my field of expertise, but I do dare to observe that the author does not tell us how she selected her interviewees and the respective NGOs, what “diverse experiences” mean, what type of experience is relevant and why, what “experienced in education” means, how many interviewees were involved in the project, where is the archive with the respective interviews in case someone wants to verify the conclusion of the researcher etc. The author does not seem to use previous literature and all interviews were conducted in 2013, but she concludes nevertheless that “discourses on the sustainability of social enterprises are recent”.

Dragomir told us the backstory that led to her posting the letter:

In April-May 2014, the Romanian Institute for the Study of the Quality of Life (ICCV), affiliated with the Romanian Academy, organized a competition to select 40 postdoctoral researchers for the POSDRU Project called „PLURI- ȘI INTERDISCIPLINARITATE ÎN PROGRAME DOCTORALE ȘI POST-DOCTORALE”, ID-141086, Code of Project: POSDRU/159/1.5/S/141086.
I was one of the applicants.

However, I rapidly understood that the competition was just a facade and I immediately contested the way the competition was organized and carried.

The first response, after repeated complaints, came only in November 2015, after 18 months since my first complaint, but it proved my right, acknowledging conflict of interests, discrimination and many other problems.

In the meantime, I decided to follow the scientific production of some of the 40 admitted postdoctoral fellows. Thus I came across a rather long list of apparently very badly designed pieces of research. Although I am not a specialist in all their fields, in some cases the work seemed so poor that I decided to express my concern to Elsevier.

Dragomir posted a response she says she received from Donna de Weerd-Wilson, Executive Publisher, Economics at Elsevier. It reads, in part:

Since receiving your email, we have been in contact with the Organisers of ESPERA 2014 and have raised the concern about reviewing quality and integrity. In relation to this concern, we have received the reviewer report for„Sustainability of social enterprises: A discourse analysis” (Adriana Neguţ).

As we are not satisfied with the reviewer report content and the answer from the Organisers, we have since asked them for further comment, specifically addressing the points you raised.

If the Organisers are not forthcoming with a satisfactory response within a reasonable time limit, we will inform the author and will likely take steps to retract the paper.

We have reached out to de Weerd-Wilson to verify the authenticity of the emails posted on Dragomir’s blog.

In that same post, Dragomir says she had received an email from the conference organizers, saying they would sue her if she didn’t stop writing about ESPERA 2014:

Following your Internet post and the message sent to Elsevier – Procedia Economics and Finance regarding the ESPERA 2014 International Conference, the entire procedure of assessment of the Conference papers has undergone national and international rechecking in the last month. The final conclusion allows us to affirm that all rules concerning the ethics, accuracy and scientific rigour of a highly academic conference were observed.

Since its establishment, the National Institute for Economic Research was a promotor and supporter of scientific debate and freedom of speech.

Considering the above-mentioned, our Institute firmly rejects any unjust accusation brought against the Institute itself, our researchers and partners, especially when it has no scientific support.

Therefore, if you do not remove the Internet posts that affect the image of the organizers of the ESPERA 2014 Conference, of the members of the Scientific Council of the Conference and of the reviewers (foreign and Romanian academic personalities), of Elsevier – Procedia Economics and Finance and of the sponsors of the event, we consider we are in our rights to sue you jointly.

The ESPERA 2014  Scientific Committee

Then, in November, Dragomir reported that de Weerd-Wilson told her Elsevier was retracting the paper, and wouldn’t publish the 2015 version:

 The article in question is in the process of being retracted after a 2nd round of reviewing.

The proposal to publish ESPERA 2015 has been rejected.

That now closes the matter as far as Elsevier is concerned.

We’ve reached out to the sole author on the paper, Adriana Negut, who works at the Romanian Academy. We’ll update this post with anything else we learn.

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5 thoughts on “Economics paper retracted due to “extensive changes””

  1. This is an interesting case. I am a graduate student trying to learn about publication ethics from this site. One of the issues raised by Elena is “where is the archive with the respective interviews”. I read interview-based research quite frequently and can say I have never seen the archive of interviews published. Does this mean that all those works should be retracted? is there any guidelines and/or protocol on what should be reported in interview/questionnaire-based research. Is it also necessary to publish the names of those who have participated? I will appreciate it if you could advise me on this.

    1. No, the archive of interviews doesn’t need to be published and rightly or wrongly there is no requirement to give the data to anyone else. What is wrong in this article is that it uses data from another study without citing the study. That leaves the question unanswered as to whether she had anything to do with the original data collection. If she had collected the data that should be clear and described.

      There is no description of how the data were obtained, and no guide to the quantity of interviewees. Interview enough and someone will tell you that the earth is flat. There is no information about how she selected the quotes, but I assume they were “representative”.

    2. It odes not mean most of that should be retracted. When conducting interview or collecting data, on must store that data ins one form of archive, such as on a university server, in a labeled box in storage or publicly online. For a variety of reasons often to ensure the privacy of subjects, most of the original interviews/health records and so on is kept out of public eye but the authors still have access it in case questions are raised. Then the original data can be brought out to be examined by university or journal investigators and the accuracy can by verified. In this case it appears that these original records are missing and the accuracy of the work cannot be confirmed.

      For example, I work on projects that collects data from questionaries and about individuals place of employment, when they attend certain events and what they eat day to day. We will never make the full set of responses available to the public to protect the privacy of those who participate in our studies. We do however keep the original surveys in a locked closet so that we can provide proof that we did conduct the survey and that the responses are correct.

      In general, one should never publish the names of those who were interviewed or experimented upon except for very extreme cases.

      Hope this helps.

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