A psychology journal is correcting a paper for reusing data. The editor told us the paper is a “piecemeal publication,” not a duplicate, and is distinct enough from the previous article that it is not “grounds for retraction.”
The authors tracked the health and mood of 65 patients over nine weeks. In one paper, they concluded that measures of physical well being and psychosocial well being positively predict one another; in the other (the now corrected paper), they concluded that health and mood (along with positive emotions) influence each other in a self-sustaining dynamic.
As a press release for the now-corrected paper put it:
People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions may have better physical health because they make more social connections.
Here’s the correction notice for “How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone,” published by Psychological Science:
This article used data that were also the basis of an earlier article (Kok & Fredrickson, 2010). Kok et al. did not indicate this fact in their article.
The paper was published in 2013 and has been cited 52 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science (which has labeled it a “highly cited paper,” based on the expected rate of citations in that particular field).
The article that it shares data with is “Upward spirals of the heart: Autonomic flexibility, as indexed by vagal tone, reciprocally and prospectively predicts positive emotions and social connectedness,” published in Biological Psychology in 2010.
Stephen Lindsay, the editor in chief of Psychological Science, told us:
It is hard to say whether or not the Kok et al. manuscript would have been accepted had it made clear that it reported a new and different analysis of the same observations that formed the basis of the earlier Kok and Fredrickson (2010) article. Maybe, maybe not.
But in my view this is NOT a case of duplicate publication, because the two articles reported qualitatively different sorts of analyses that tell different albeit closely related stories. They might reasonably be criticized for indulging in piecemeal publication, but piecemeal publication is not grounds for retraction. Kok et al. (2013) should, in my opinion, have made the provenance of their data set clear, and the Corrigendum does that.
The papers share a first and last author — Bethany E. Kok, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, and Barbara L. Fredrickson, at the University of North Carolina, respectively. We reached out to both for more information on why the papers are unique.
The study itself has received criticism: In “The Elusory Upward Spiral: A reanalysis of Kok et al,” published in Psychological Science last year, other researchers claim that the article’s conclusion is “unwarranted” — in part, they argue, because “the validity of using [vagal tone] as an objective proxy for physical health…is questionable.” They write:
It is imperative that extraordinary scientific claims be supported with solid evidence, especially when they carry health-related messages that are likely to be widely reported by the popular media.
Kok and Fredrickson published a defense of their paper in the journal last year, “Evidence for the Upward Spiral Stands Steady.”
Fredrickson has made a name for herself around the “positivity ratio” — the concept that you’ll flourish if you have three positive emotions for every negative one. However, one of her previous papers that formed the basis of her book “Positivity” was partially withdrawn in 2013.
Although duplication is a frequent cause of retraction, it isn’t always. Another recent case: After considering whether two publications were redundant, editors published a letter explaining why they were keeping both papers in the scientific record.
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