The Blasé Nature of Retraction Watch’s Editorial Policies and the Risk to Sinking Journalistic Standards

Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

Abstract


Retraction Watch is a distinctly anti-science blog whose primary objective is to smear scientists who hold errors or retractions to their names. Self-appointed watchdogs, Dr. Ivan Oransky and Dr. Adam Marcus lead this profitable charity, which is falsely projected as an “aid-science” project. Claiming to represent the highest standards of science journalism, Oransky and Marcus oversee – with very hawkish eyes – a small team of journalists, who are in charge of researching cases and reporting them. On average, one can observe roughly one blog post every two days in recent months. This indicates that the research required to complete each story takes place under strain, and may thus involve errors. Scientists are very familiar with errors, and there are strict guidelines in dealing with them during the publication process. In science publishing, the process is somewhat bureaucratic and a formal request must be made to the journal and publisher, usually through the editor-in-chief, and a carefully vetted and worded erratum, or corrigendum, is then published. Retraction Watch’s Oransky and Marcus hold scientists to extremely high standards, and anything less than perfection is subjected to ridicule on their blog. Yet, what happens when Retraction Watch errs? This letter aims to highlight a single recent case study in which highly observant readers of a Retraction Watch story pointed out errors in the title and possible ambiguities. Rather than issuing a formal retraction of their old title, or a formal correction (erratum), the Retraction Watch leadership simply changed the title, and even though it was “loosely” acknowledged by Retraction Watch staff as “Fixed, thanks!” in the comment section, this attitude is blasé, and the method of correction is unsatisfactory and unprofessional. Scientists must hold Retraction Watch accountable for their errors, and any unprofessionally processed story, or correction, must be publicly exposed, to increase accountability. The Retraction Watch web-page, and thus its parent organization, The Center for Scientific Integrity, is receiving hundreds of thousands of US$ from at least one philanthropic organization, in support of its anti-science rhetoric, and thus the individuals that make up Retraction Watch must be held accountable for their occasionally poorly vetted and unscrutinized journalistic practices.

DOI: 10.5901/mjss.2016.v7n6p11


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Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences ISSN 2039-9340(Print) ISSN 2039-2117(Online)

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