The consequences of retractions for co-authors: Scientific fraud and error in biomedicine

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In the last decade, major cases of scientific fraud (e.g. Hendrik Schön, Diedrick Stapel, Eric Poehlman and Yoshitaka Fujii) have shocked the scientific community. Such frauds account for more than half of the publications retracted from the scientific literature, which have increased tremendously in the past few years. In the biomedical field, fraud can have consequences not only for the research community, but also for the public. It is a serious deviance from the norms of science, and it most likely ends the career of researchers who get caught doing it. However, researchers rarely work alone, and some of the consequences are presumably shared by their co-authors, although no empirical evidence of this has been provided so far. To evaluate the nature and extent of these shared consequences, we measured the productivity, impact and collaboration of authors who retracted papers between 1996 and 2006. We divided authors in groups according to their rank on the retracted papers’ authors list and the cause of retraction (fraud or error) and compared the results for each group to those of a randomly selected control group. We found that retractions do have consequences for the career of co-authors, mostly in terms of scientific output, which are more important in cases of fraud than errors. Furthermore, first authors are generally affected more strongly by retractions than the other co-authors of the retracted publications.

This content has been updated on March 26th, 2017 at 5 h 02 min.