A new paper has catalogued retractions over the past few decades in business and economics journals — and hasn’t found very many.
In “Retraction, Dishonesty and Plagiarism: Analysis of a Crucial Issue for Academic Publishing, and the Inadequate Responses from Leading Journals in Economics and Management Disciplines,” which just went online in the Journal of Applied Economics and Business Research (JAEBR), Solmaz Filiz Karabag and Christian Berggren identified 31 retractions in business journals dating back to 2005, and just six in economics journals, dating back to 2009.
The numbers in business journals are even lower when you consider that ten of those retractions were quite recent, by frequent Retraction Watch subjects Ulrich Lichtenthaler, Dirk Smeesters, and Diederik Stapel.
The authors estimate their searches — through several databases such as ScienceDirect, JSTOR, and EBSCO — cover about 2,000 journals, not completely comprehensive, but certainly more than representative. And while it’s difficult to estimate the rate of retractions in these fields, the total number, over years, is about what we’re seeing in a single month in the rest of science.
The paper is a welcome addition to the retraction literature, which has been picking up steam in the life sciences but sparse in other disciplines. Andrew Gelman wrote about retractions in economics earlier this year, and could only recall two — one by Emily Oster and the other by Bruno Frey. But these two don’t show up in the JAEBR paper, because despite letters from Frey describing his duplication, and a whole new paper from Oster refuting her own results, they aren’t classified retractions by the journals that published the original work.
A few of the comments offer explanations. Here is one:
This does not surprise me and there are many entirely plausible reasons for this. Economics has a tradition of pre-publishing as noted above. Measurement instruments for some of this work, such as surveys, are developed by individual authors. Data are generally not shared openly. Much of the research in these two fields is temporally and spatially specific, i.e. findings can vary over time and per country. Business research is a relatively novel discipline and needs time to mature. Some of the work is qualitative, where you have to rely even more on what the authors (do not) share with you when judging work. Real replication is difficult to do and nearly impossible to publish because of pressures for theoretical / methodological novelty. So it is only in rare cases that blatant problems emerge, Lichtenthaler being a case in point, and then lead to retractions. Arguably the fact that some retractions are now starting to come about is actually a good sign.
Here is another:
Business/Economics papers are written using language that this often oblique and mathematical reasoning where huge assumptions are regularly glossed over. On top of that, the atmosphere in most departments is clubby; which means the peer-review process is undermined.
When I was in uni– at one of the most respected Business schools in the US– it was common knowledge that professors would write the same paper year after year, and get the warmed-over material republished! This behavior was a standing joke, in fact.
You’ll never have a real peer review process, or the necessary retractions that follow, when there is academic incest to the degree that one finds in Bus/Econ. The disciplines are nothing more than vehicles for Foundation/Government propaganda.
Here is a screenshot of my comments:
I wonder why the AER still has that paper listed?