2010 was a busy year at Retraction Watch. (Well, actually the first seven months of it weren’t busy at all, since we didn’t launch until August.) We’ve published 88 posts, an average of about four per week.
I confess that when Retraction Watch appeared, I predicted (silently, so nobody could catch me on it later) that it would die a slow death, because there would be too few retractions to justify paying attention to this worthy but misguided endeavor.
For what must surely be the first time in my reporting career, I was wrong.
Reason: During the second revision of the manuscript, the authors modified Figure 1 (changing the label from “Israel” to “Historical Palestine”), apparently with the goal of inserting a political statement into a scientific journal article. The authors did not inform the editors or the publisher of this change in their manuscript. As such, the authors have not lived up to the standards of trust and integrity that form the foundation of the peer-review process. The Editors-in-Chief take a very strong view on this matter and, hence, the retraction of the article from publication in Agricultural Water Management.
Sometimes, apparently, a retraction isn’t enough to put research findings to bed forever. Consider this obituary recently posted online at the Journal of Pediatrics, for a method of detecting gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in children:
We commonly recognize the contributions of distinguished members of the pediatric community and, with regret, their passing. It is appropriate, therefore, that we acknowledge the timely death of an old friend, the pH probe. Crushed to death under the weight of evidence against it, it was found abandoned in a trash can with a note that read, ‘‘Good riddance to a bad test.’’
To be fair, the pH probe has always been the standard bearer for mediocrity.
For would-be plagiarists, now is both the best and worst of times. Thanks to Google and other search tools, never has it been easier to appropriate someone else’s thoughts or words. But the Internet taketh away, too—offering up scads of sleuthing software that promise the ability to sniff out cheats.
Although Retraction Watch might have been born just before yesterday, we find it instructive to look back in time for items we would have covered had we been around a bit longer. We’ll do this periodically to generate a “Best Of” collection of retractions that catch our eye both for what they might suggest about scientific publishing and for good old-fashioned interest. Here’s the first installment:
A furtive attempt to play politics with a galley proof led to the retraction of a paper on Middle East water policy a few months ago. The article, “Optimizing irrigation water use in the West Bank, Palestine,” appeared in the February 2010 issue of Agricultural Water Management, an Elsevier journal. Written by Palestinian and Dutch researchers, the article modeled various scenarios of water and crop policies in the West Bank in an effort to determine the most efficient use of resources.