Authors retract paper on psychopathic traits in bosses

A paper on the prevalence of cruel social behavior in the corporate world has been retracted, following an investigation at the authors’ university. According to the senior author, she inadvertently paraphrased a dissertation on the same topic that did not belong to her student and co-author.

On Sept. 21, 2016, Katarina Fritzon, a professor at Australia’s Bond University, and Nathan Brooks, who was Fritzon’s graduate student at the time, published “Psychopathic personality characteristics amongst high functioning populations,” in Crime Psychology Review. The paper suggested that as many as one in five corporate executives exhibited the hallmarks of a psychopath, such as lack of remorse or egocentricity.

Fritzon told Retraction Watch the paper drew largely from the introduction to Brooks’s doctoral dissertation. Along with Brooks’ research, it received media attention worldwide. But Fritzon told us that in October 2016 she received a complaint from another university about the work:

[a] PhD student at that University found some sentences in the review article that were similar to a passage in her PhD document.

Fritzon declined to name either the university or the student.

The complaint triggered an investigation by Bond University that ended in February 2017, Fritzon said, and recommended retraction. The notice, published June 16, 2017, doesn’t say much besides:

Following a withdrawal request from the Authors and the Authors’ institution, we are retracting the paper. We have been informed in our decision-making by the guidance of COPE guidelines on retractions.

The journal’s publisher, Taylor & Francis, told Retraction Watch that they received a retraction request from Fritzon in November 2016, followed by a similar request from Bond.

Whether the Bond investigation looked specifically at the issue of plagiarism is unclear. But Fritzon — who in March 2016 served as an external examiner for the unidentified student’s dissertation — told us she had mistakenly paraphrased the other student when she meant to paraphrase Brooks. She attributed the mistake to “carelessness” and said she has apologized to the student. She added that Brooks received his PhD in June 2017 and that:

There was no question of any wrong-doing on [Brooks’s] part.

CBS New York featured he review paper itself in a TV news segment and a presentation Brooks gave Sept. 13, 2016 at the Australian Psychological Society 2016 Congress drew online coverage from the Telegraph, the Australian Broadcasting Company, and CBS Moneywatch. The journal has not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

A spokesperson for Bond University told us it could not respond to our request for comment at this time, because the school was on break.

A page-based error

Fritzon told us:

At the time that I reviewed the student’s work I was also reviewing Nathan’s draft PhD document and unfortunately it appears that two pages from the two documents have become transposed.  Either this has occurred on my desk, or it has occurred in the print room when picking up the documents. I can’t be clear but it is obvious when reading the sentences side by side that I was paraphrasing the sentence for the review article thinking that it was Nathan’s work that I was paraphrasing.

The content in question was a review of an existing theory – the theory would have been described by both students as their PhDs were obviously on a similar topic – corporate psychopathy.

She added that she and Brooks have rewritten or removed the problematic parts and re-submitted the paper to the journal:

However, we await confirmation of re-publication.

Hat tip: Ciarán Mc Mahon, Christian Jarret

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