I N 2003 AN investigation into Eric Poehlman, an expert on ageing and obesity, found that he had faked data. He was imprisoned for using made-up results to win grants. Journals duly withdrew his work. The Economist Today Hand-picked stories, in your inbox A daily email with the best of our journalism Sign up This should have ended his impact on academia. It didn't. One of his articles, on the composition of women's bodies, has been cited 400 times since it was retracted. Such wrongdoing is rare: around one in 2,500 studies is retracted. Yet papers that do get retracted often have long afterlives. Scholarship works like building blocks, with each paper citing myriad studies. This makes expunging the taint of a junk article impossible. Even though retracting a paper weakens all existing work that has referred to it, those studies remain on the books. A zombie article like Mr Poehlman's, which keeps getting cited even after it is withdrawn, sounds much worse. In fact it is the norm. To track such mishaps, we fed a list of 20,000 withdrawn papers in an archive amassed by Retraction Watch, a non-profit group, into Semantic Scholar, a database of academic references. Of… Read full this story
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