NBER Working Paper No. 18499
To what extent does "false science" impact the rate and direction of scientific change? We examine the impact of more than 1,100 scientific retractions on the citation trajectories of articles that are close neighbors of retracted articles in intellectual space but were published prior to the retraction event. Our results indicate that following retraction and relative to carefully selected controls, related articles experience a lasting five to ten percent decline in the rate at which they are cited. We probe the mechanisms that might underlie these negative spillovers over intellectual space. One view holds that adjacent fields atrophy post-retraction because the shoulders they offer to follow-on researchers have been proven to be shaky or absent. An alternative view holds that scientists avoid the "infected" fields lest their own status suffers through mere association. Two pieces of evidence are consistent with the latter view. First, for-profit citers are much less responsive to the retraction event than are academic citers. Second, the penalty suffered by related articles is much more severe when the associated retracted article includes fraud or misconduct, relative to cases where the retraction occurred because of honest mistakes.
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