Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

No longer embargoed: My new blog, Retraction Watch

with one comment

photo by missrogue via flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/missrogue/

I just couldn’t help myself. I figured it was a good week to get in on the blog network game, even if two blogs don’t exactly make a network.

Today I launched Retraction Watch, along with Adam Marcus, a terrific reporter whose day job is managing editor of Anesthesiology News. Among other scoops, Adam is the guy who broke the story of Scott Reuben, whose fabricated data forced the retraction of more than 20 studies and called a whole body of evidence into question.

From our first post:

So why write a blog on retractions?

First, science takes justifiable pride in the fact that it is self-correcting — most of the time. Usually, that just means more or better data, not fraud or mistakes that would require a retraction. But when a retraction is necessary, how long does that self-correction take? The Wakefield retraction, for example, was issued 12 years after the original study, and six years after serious questions had been raised publicly by journalist Andrew Deer. Retractions are therefore a window into the scientific process.

Second, retractions are not often well-publicized. Sure, there are the high-profile cases such as Reuben’s and Wakefield’s. But most retractions live in obscurity in Medline and other databases. That means those who funded the retracted research — often taxpayers — aren’t particularly likely to find out about them. Nor are investors always likely to hear about retractions on basic science papers whose findings may have formed the basis for companies into which they pour dollars. So we hope this blog will form an informal repository for the retractions we find, and might even spur the creation of a retraction database such as the one called for here by K.M Korpela.

Third, they’re often the clues to great stories about fraud or other malfeasance, as Adam learned when he chased down the Reuben story. The reverse can also be true. The Cancer Letter’s expose of Potti and his fake Rhodes Scholarship is what led his co-authors to remind The Lancet Oncology of their concerns, and then the editors to issue their expression of concern. And they can even lead to lawsuits for damaged reputations. If highlighting retractions will give journalists more tools to uncover fraud and misuse of funds, we’re happy to help. And if those stories are appropriate for our respective news outlets, you’ll only read about them on Retraction Watch once we’ve covered them there.

Finally, we’re interested in whether journals are consistent. How long do they wait before printing a retraction? What requires one? How much of a public announcement, if any, do they make? Does a journal with a low rate of retractions have a better peer review and editing process, or is it just sweeping more mistakes under the rug?

These are the sorts of things we’ll cover when we write about a particular retraction, and we hope they’ll form the basis of larger discussions of the obligations of journals. The two of us — both with experience covering science and medicine for the consumer as well as trade press — seem to come across these issues often.

Retractions have of course come up on Embargo Watch, which isn’t going anywhere.

So come on by. Comment, subscribe to our RSS or email, or just lurk. We’re open.


Written by Ivan Oransky

August 3, 2010 at 10:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Nice to see you out and about on the ‘network!’ Love this idea!


    August 3, 2010 at 12:54 pm

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