The Retraction Penalty

In a new working paper called “The Retraction Penalty: Catastrophe and Consequence in Scientific Teams” (gated), Ginger Zhe Jin, Benjamin Jones, Susan Feng Lu, and Brian Uzzi explore a fascinating research question:

What are the individual rewards to working in teams? This question extends across many production settings but is of long-standing interest in science and innovation, where the “Matthew Effect” [a.k.a. "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" suggests that eminent team members garner credit for great works at the expense of less eminent team members. In this paper, we study this question in reverse, examining highly negative events – article retractions. Using the Web of Science, we investigate how retractions affect citations to the authors’ prior publications. We find that the Matthew Effect works in reverse – namely, scientific misconduct imposes little citation penalty on eminent coauthors. By contrast, less eminent coauthors face substantial citation declines to their prior work, and especially when they are teamed with an eminent author. A simple Bayesian model is used to interpret the results. These findings suggest that a good reputation can have protective properties, but at the expense of those with less established reputations.

To me, this finding is a bit surprising at first glance but, upon second glance, not really -- but still fascinating.

If you are even a little bit interested in this topic and don't know about the Retraction Watch website, you should. A few recent examples:

A chemist at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia has lost a paper because it was the third time he had published some of it.

And:

[A] team of researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center has retracted a paper after realizing that the cell lines they were using weren’t what they thought they were.

And:

Holy Chutzpah, Batman! A team of researchers in India has retracted their 2012 paper in PLoS One on botulinum toxin for plagiarism — while blaming the journal for failing to use its “soft wares” to catch the plagiarism.

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  1. Scott says:

    So the moral is, ‘if you are going to be a Scientist, be an Eminent Scientist.’ Does the University of Chicago offer a degree in Eminent Science?

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  2. Enter your name... says:

    I’d like to know more about the individual rewards of working in teams for everyday work. The question to answer is, “Why should the best students in a class be happy about working on a group project, especially since the teacher assigned the groups (for her greater convenience) so that every group has one good student, one weak student, and one lazy one, i.e., so that the best student, in practice, will have to choose between doing (or re-doing) nearly all the work and getting the same grade, or doing only his fair share of the work and getting a lower grade?”

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