Thursday, September 05, 2013

Questions about Dissertations based on Retracted Papers

While I'm on the subject of retractions, I'm surprised no one has yet discussed the potential fallout on the degrees that are earned en route to the publications.

Retraction Watch just had a posting about a retraction that the authors themselves initiated once they realized that they had reach erroneous interpretations of the data. I'm not sure that a retraction should be called for, but the important matter here is that it was an honest mistake. No fraud was ever intended. Now suppose that that same (erroneous) interpretation was crucial to one or more student's dissertations. Should the dissertations (and therefore the degrees) be retracted? If the students are still around, it should be possible to modify dissertation, but what if the student graduated 5 years ago? 10 years? 20 years?

I have no answers, only questions. I'm sure some hardliners will want degrees revoked. Certainly in the case where a fraud has been committed, that response is appropriate, but what about the innocent mistakes?


~stemdent said...

I don't think innocent mistakes should result in the retraction of a degree. If the work and interpretation was done in good faith, it still contributed to the scientific literature and understanding. Also- science is constantly evolving, and our understanding of things constantly maturing. Hindsight is always 20/20.

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