Criminology saga leads to an expression of concern, and a correction

via Tony Webster/Flickr

Earlier this year, Justin Pickett, a criminologist at the University of Albany at the State University of New York, asked journals to look into potentially problematic data in five papers — including one on which he had been a co-author. 

As we reported in July, Pickett’s request came after he’d received an anonymous email pointing out issues with the data — concerns ranging from “Anomalies in standard errors, coefficients, and p-values” to “Unlikely survey design and data structure.”

At the time, one of the five articles had already received a correction for a “coding error” that changed the results. Pickett requested that the journal retract the paper entirely, but was rebuffed. 

Now, two other journals have taken action on the articles on the list. 

Social Problems has issued an expression of concern for a May 2018 paper, “The social context of criminal threat, victim race, and punitive Black and Latino sentiment.” According to the notice

The Editors have been alerted by a reader about concerns on the data underlying the above paper. The Editors have contacted the authors, with whom they are communicating to address specific concerns.

In the interim, this Expression of Concern should be taken to indicate that the data presented in the article named above may not be reliable.

And, last month, Criminology published the following correction

In “Lynchings, racial threat, and whites’ punitive views toward Blacks” (Stewart, Mears, Warren, Baumer, & Arnio, 2018), a coding error led to misclassification of 11 counties and in turn resulted in an “N” of 90 rather than of 79 for the “southern” sample. The updated tables and figures rely on use of the correct sample of 79 counties and, by extension, inclusion of 1,301 individuals rather than of 1,441 individuals. Although the coefficients in some models differ nominally from the original published results, the main statistical and substantive results remain the same. Readers are referred to the updated tables 1, 2, 3, and 4, as well as to figures 1 and 2, in the online supporting information for the correct values. Updated numeric values for text‐only statistics appear as a separate memo in the online supporting information.

But the erratum quickly raised eyebrows on Twitter, with several commenters noting that the new data did not appear plausible. 

Stewart, the first author, is Eric A. Stewart, a criminologist at Florida State University. He is also a co-author on all five of the articles. He has not responded to our requests for comment.

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