From time to time, we find online college syllabi among those sites referring us traffic, and some professors have told us that they use Retraction Watch in their classes. We’re pleased and humbled by that.
In a new paper published in the Journal of College Science Teaching, three professors at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia, discuss why retractions are good case studies for teaching ethics and examining the scientific process in class. Stephen Burnett, Richard H. Singiser, and Caroline Clower write:
In this article, we discuss our experience using articles that have been “abandoned” (where their results are no longer accepted due to new evidence) and/or retracted as methods for teaching students about scientific literature in general and specifically about scientific ethics. Being presented with a more accurate picture of primary literature can help students develop an improved understanding of how science is actually practiced and how scientific ideas change over time. By examining retracted articles in which ethical lapses have been uncovered, students are able to develop a more clear understanding of the types of ethical problems that can occur and improve their ability to recognize them.
From retracted articles it is easy to stimulate discussion on a variety of issues, even if the specific methods might be too advanced. We have found that the best way to help define ethics is to show examples of ethical failures. Students can clearly see what is wrong in most of the retracted papers, and when they cannot see why a paper has been retracted, it becomes an important teaching tool to help them understand ethical conduct.
I'll be considering this to help prep for the next time I teach senior seminar (while the journal says this article is free, I haven't overcome the challenge of obtaining the PDF it took awhile but I was able to obtain the free PDF).