Retraction Watch: Money Can’t Buy You Class

It is hard to justify the sheer existence of Retraction Watch, a blog run by people with no visible credentials in the sciences who are seeking notoriety in a context where anybody is basically allowed to say anything. The information that Retraction Watch provides is redundant at best. And this redundancy will now be multiplied, we are being told, by a “repository of retractions”, an idiocy akin to a “repository of obituaries”. But the worst side of Retraction Watch is its tendency to ruthlessly prey on career mistakes to destroy people and to do it in the most undignified manner.

The most recent illustration of this appalling behavior is the post by Cat Ferguson, the Retraction Watch intern and a figure in the field of retractions, who wrote the masterpiece entitled: Anyone want to hire an economist who retracted 16 papers for fake peer reviews?

   This piece reports on the efforts by Retraction Watch to destroy the career of Khalid Zaman, a Pakistani economist who retracted several papers on account of allegedly fake peer reviews. Retraction Watch was not satisfied with merely reporting on the case, they went after his life and career, investigating whether he had filed job applications (in Pakistan!), and even got hold of one such application (we of course cannot verify this). This is none of your business, Retraction Watch!

Zaman may have committed fraud, but perhaps his results are still valid and could withstand a real peer review upon resubmission. This is, of course, a futile reflection, Retraction Watch never takes the high ground but instead keeps indulging in the petty smearing of scientists’ reputations. Here is another example of their reported efforts to destroy people from the pen of Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, the Retraction Watch founders, from their contribution to The Scientist (the last sentence is particularly revolting and much resembling the vilification of Khalid Zaman):

“…we recommend reading about the case of Michael W. Miller, who faked data on his federal grant applications and had several papers retracted in 2012. This year, however, Miller bounced back, landing a job as, you guessed it, a consultant for grant applications! (He lost that gig after we called his employers to ask if they knew about his past.)”

There are plenty of illustrations of these indignities, where Retraction Watch, not content with having report the case, goes after the person and curtails his/her opportunities to find jobs taking decisive cavalier steps in the most revolting manner imaginable to destroy the person. One is reminded of the case of Diederik Stapel, the Dutch professor who allegedly admitted to fraudulent activity, and was reported by Retraction Watch to have landed on a job in the Netherlands. As expected, the angry commenters poured their vitriol in outrage as they kept vilifying Dr. Stapel, while the blog took all necessary steps to prevent him from getting hired. Again, none of your business, Retraction Watch!

I guess it is a matter of class, some have it, some don’t, and if you, like Retraction Watch, don’t have it, all the money in the world cannot buy it for you.

18 thoughts on “Retraction Watch: Money Can’t Buy You Class

  1. I surely wish that everybody who faked data be caught. The catch is how to have a mechanism in place that would enable just that within the standards of science. A blog run by a bunch of nobodies seeking notoriety is not going to get us anyhwere.
    If you have ideas, please share.


  2. Name: Albert Donnay
    Comment: Why do you rant against the anonymity of Post Publication Peer Reviewers but not pre publication peer review? I’d rather neither were anonymous–journals should print names of reviewers and subeditors who recommended publication. But since they aren’t, you can hardly blame pppr for adopting the same anonymous reviewer paradigm that journals already use and scientists have no problem with when trying to get their papers accepted.

    The problem for PPPR is that editors have no incentive and many disincentives to print letters that request corrections or retractions (beyond the ding to their IF). Both PMCommons and PubPeer inform authors each time others post comments on their papers and invite them to reply.

    Most authors choose to defend their work and reply to such comments, but some cry foul and sue, or like you, insist that all comments be vetted by editors and their peer reviewers–
    the very same people who missed the alleged errors and/or misconduct in the first place (or worse, knew but approved it anyway).

    I assume you recognize this obvious conflict of interest.

    PMC and PP are independent uncensored alternatives that should become the standard way to comment on a paper. No should even bother writing letters to the editor, who rarely ever publish more than one or two for any paper.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Albert,
    Thank you for your thoughtful letter.
    There is a crucial difference between pre and post publication peer review (let’s call them pre and post for short). Pre is conducted by professionals picked by the journal editor and at least he/she knows their names and competence, Post is conducted by anyone with any motivation, and, in most cases these blogs just give them a platform to stand on and spew their idiocy.
    I am afraid that is the difference. I suggest that we publish these thoughts in the blog.
    Best wishes,


  4. As for pre publication review, most is just by 2/or 3 people and usually nominated by author! Leading to scandals where authors submit fake email addresses for people they make up so they can then write their own reviews! If you follow retraction watch I am sure you have read of these scams.

    Do you agree that both pre and post publication peer review should Not be anonymous? Why treat them differently?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree, neither pre nor post should be anonymous.
    In pre, the author nominates reviewers but the editor usually picks a mix of reviewers and includes at most 1 author pick.
    There is no doubt pre has its shortcomings and has had them for decades. The issue is that post as it stands is truly unacceptable as it does not conform to scientific standards.


  6. Don’t know what STDs you speak of.
    It is standard of in science that authors be willing to respond to letters about anything they publish ,/either to defend or correct.

    This std does not depend on who questions the work –anonymous or not–and while publication of letters and replies in a journal is preferred to document the scientific record, any legit. Public forum should be legit.

    Would you refuse to answer a question about a poster or presentation you gave at a meeting unless the questioner first told the audience their name and affiliation?

    I hope not.
    So why do you anonymous written questions?

    It sounds paranoid. Who cares ? The authors’ answers in any case should focus on the question, not who asked it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Surely, a scientist should be always willing to answer queries on his/her work regardless of the identity of the questioner.
    The problem with Retraction Watch and Post Publication Peer Review is that we are dealing with challenges to published work that has already passed peer review. These challenges require professional understanding of the material, and need themselves to be subject to peer review in the same journal where the original material was published. Once the challenge has passed peer review, the authors should be given a chance to refute, and the entire proceedings should be published in the journal. That has been Science way of handling challenges to published work for centuries.


  8. Daniel Hebride,
    Why do you keep insisting on anonymity? Honest people do not hide, they don’t need to. Why not following the standard procedures that science has in place to deal with concerns like the ones you describe? The first thing that an honest scientist would do is to personally contact the authors with his/her concerns. If no satisfactory response is given, an honest person would submit his/her comments to the journal for peer review. Once and if the comments pass peer review, they are handed over to the authors for rebuttal. Then, the entire exchange or a summary should be published for the benefit of the readership, so the discussion is in the open for proper adjudication by experts in the field. That is how science works and has worked for hundreds of years. Why do you insist on anonymous attacks cast in vague terms?


  9. Dear Weishi Meng,

    We aren’t related by any chance? Maybe you are my long lost twin? (I suppose that would mean you’re actually my long lost triplet). Anyway, I agree that Retraction Watch sometimes gives off a whiff of the torches and pitchforks we know from Crusaders for True Science.

    Regarding Stapel though, I think there is nothing ‘alleged’ about his fraud anymore…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Enjoyed your blog! Thanks much for your thoughts. And, yes, I tend to understate when it comes to fraud. I do it instinctively because it is such a serious matter and I try to see the person where others see only the monster.


  11. Thanks and agreed about the monster. As an employee of the Devil him/her/itself, I have an affinity for monsters. I recommend reading Stapel’s book which has recently been translated into English and is available for free download here:

    I don’t think it either excuses or explains why he did what he did but it helps to put a human face back onto his vilified media persona.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. And who is Clare Francis [the pseudonym of the person who attacks scientists in journals and institutions in the name of scientific transparency], anyway? Sounds like he and science retraction blogger Ivan Oransky have way too many things in common: same vested interests, feeding on each other, both started at the same time in 2010, same writing style, Oransky hastily reports Francis’ anonymous attacks, celebrates every one of Francis’ “victories”, etc. Hmm, Hmm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s