Science Media Monitor No. 3 Update: Retractions of Scientific Findings

An update to the Annenberg Science Media Monitor’s report on media coverage of retractions of scientific findings found that fewer than 4 in 10 articles reported on how the errors or misconduct occurred, and just three percent said retractions were evidence of self-correction in science.

The content analysis focused on news coverage of three high-profile scientific retractions from 2016-19. These involved work by Oona Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv on the consumption of plastic by fish, Brian Wansink on human eating behavior, and Piero Anversa on cardiac stem cell therapy. A search of LexisNexis, Factiva and Google News by the names of those scholars produced 234 print and digital articles.

The analysis found that:

  • 92% of the stories involving these retractions report the circumstances leading to them (why they occurred);
  • 38% report how the errors or misconduct were identified;
  • 3% outline the steps the scientific community has taken to prevent future research mismanagement or misconduct (what were the actions taken);
  • 3% say retractions are evidence of self-correction in science;
  • 95% avoid generalizing from a few retractions to the conclusion that science is broken or in crisis (avoid “crisis”).
Science Media Monitor No. 3 (update) on Retractions of Scientific Findings
The update to Annenberg Science Media Monitor No. 3 on retractions of scientific findings.

 

News stories about all three of the retractions used the counterfeit quest narrative structure, which chronicles the activities of a deceptive researcher who has fooled the custodians of knowledge such as journal editors and peer reviewers to advance problematic findings.

A study of popcorn-eating behavior was one of the retractions of scientific findings analyzed in the update of the third Annenberg Science Media Monitor.
A study by Brian Wansink of popcorn-eating behavior was one of the retractions of scientific findings analyzed in updated third Annenberg Science Media Monitor. Credit: Valeri Randalainen/Unsplash

 

This update was completed in August 2019. The original Science Media Monitor No. 3 on retractions of scientific findings did not include an analysis of news coverage of the study involving fish and microplastics.

Other reports from the Annenberg Science Media Monitor include:

The Annenberg Science Media Monitor is supported by a grant from the Rita Allen Foundation.

The reports are available at www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/science-media-monitor/.