In 2014, a study claimed high heels made women more attractive. Now it’s been retracted.

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Perhaps you saw the headlines back in 2014, ones like “Science Proves It: Men Really Do Find High Heels Sexier,” from TIME.

Or maybe this quote, from the author of a study in Archives of Sexual Behavior, on CNBC:

“Women’s shoe heel size exerts a powerful effect on men’s behavior,” says the study’s author, Nicolas Guéguen, a behavioral science researcher. “Simply put, they make women more beautiful.”

Those stories — and many others — were based on a study claiming to find that “men spontaneously approached women more quickly when they wore high-heeled shoes. And years after that paper and others by Guéguen came under scrutiny, it was retracted yesterday.

Here’s the notice:

The Editor-in-Chief has retracted this article (Guéguen, 2015) at the request of the Université de Bretagne-Sud. Following an institutional investigation, it was concluded that the article has serious methodological weaknesses and statistical errors. The data reported in this article are therefore unreliable. The author has not responded to any correspondence about this retraction.

Guéguen has yet to respond to our requests for comment, either.

‘Some accountability, eventually, if we feel like it’

Nick Brown and James Heathers — whom we profiled for Science last year — have been examining Guéguen’s work for some time. As Ars Technica reported in 2017:

Since 2015, a pair of scientists, James Heathers and Nick Brown, has been looking closely at the results in Guéguen’s work. What they’ve found raises a litany of questions about statistical and ethical problems. In some cases, the data is too perfectly regular or full of oddities, making it difficult to understand how it could have been generated by the experiment described by Guéguen.

Earlier this year, we reported on the lack of progress in the case — and Brown and Heathers’ frustration with that lack of progress — despite Guéguen’s university’s request for two retractions.

We asked the pair for comment on the new retraction. Heathers told us:

This was one of the first papers we ever looked at, right after we decided to focus on error detection as a research area. It feels like an awfully long time ago.

If you’re wondering what “serious methodological weaknesses and statistical errors” actually consist of, well, you never get to find out. This is one paper out of the original dossier of ten that we found anomalies in. I hope it increases scrutiny of the other nine. 

Anyone who’s surprised by the fact this took four years, don’t be. This is not unusual, or anyone’s fault in particular – this is the publication system we have designed. If it had a slogan it would be: “some accountability, eventually, if we feel like it.” 

Today, Brown told Retraction Watch:

It seems like a classic piece of sexy (in all senses) research that is practically designed from the get-go to garner clicks, and it makes me wonder what the reviewer reports looked like.

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