Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Short Story on the History of a Published, Retracted and Re-published Scientific Paper

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Nature of Science
History of Science
Edward Hessler

Having to retract a published paper is not anything researchers want to be asked to do. First and foremost is that it is personally embarrassing. 

The science journal Nature recently reported on a retraction with a good outcome. Nature republished a revised version of the retracted paper. This is what happened.

A paper published in the journal in 2017 was found to have "a major error in the incorporation and interpretation of a previously published estimate." After an "Editorial Expression of Concern" (That sounds serious all by itself.), the author went back to work on the modelling paper and resubmitted it. The paper was re-evaluated and published on May 30, 2019.

Nature noted that "Such a case--in which a paper's conclusions become even more compelling after retraction and revision--is rare. The process and outcome, however, highlight the range of reasons for retraction."  One is outright fraud. Another is honest mistakes. The paper in question reflects "the reality of modern research, in which a complex mix of inputs, models and analysis might yield errors for which a quick correction is not sufficient."

This is a story about a scientist who willingly did the right thing in not only correcting but improving the findings of what was clearly a complex model and data analysis. It took about two years.

The short article, Beyond Retraction, is a great story about the nature and history of science.

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