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Using retracted journal articles in psychology to understand research misconduct in the social sciences: what is to be done?

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This paper explores the nature and impact of research misconduct in psychology by analyzing 160 articles that were retracted from prominent scholarly journals between 1998 and 2017. We compare findings with recent studies of retracted papers in economics, and business and management, to profile practices that are likely to be problematic in cognate social science disciplines. In psychology, the principal reason for retraction was data fabrication. Retractions took longer to make, and generally were from higher ranked and more prestigious journals, than in the two cognate disciplines. We recommend that journal editors should be more forthcoming in the reasons they provide for article retractions. We also recommend that the discipline of psychology gives a greater priority to the publication of replication studies; initiates a debate about how to respond to failed replications; adopts a more critical attitude to the importance of attaining statistical significance; discourages p-hacking and Hypothesizing After Results are Known (HARKing); assesses the long-term effects of pre-registering research; and supports stronger procedures to attest to the authenticity of data in research papers. Our contribution locates these issues in the context of a growing crisis of confidence in the value of social science research. We also challenge individual researchers to reassert the primacy of disinterested academic inquiry above pressures that can lead to an erosion of scholarly integrity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103930
Number of pages9
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number4
Early online date12 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • COXa_2020_cright_RP_Using retracted journal articles in psychology to understand research misconduct in the social sciences

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    Licence: CC BY-NC-ND

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