The Truth Was Revealed

Retraction: A Difficult Measure of Integrity

Mistakes can be hard to admit. We see vivid examples. Someone makes a grievous error and yet claims their actions were “totally appropriate.” Even though they’re obviously wrong. Likewise, when a journal makes a mistake by publishing a flawed paper, a retraction can be quite difficult. But that’s precisely what Scientific Reports did yesterday. The editors retracted a paper that made claims about obesity and dishonesty that the research did not support. They did it over the objections of the paper’s authors. Such a retraction is difficult, but it strengthens the integrity of peer-reviewed science.

Six Months to Reverse a Mistake

The paper first appeared in July. In it, the authors presented a claim that a high BMI causes dishonesty – something their experimental data did not show. This paper was problematic for three reasons, which the Obesity Action Coalition and leading experts outlined in a call for the paper’s retraction:

1. Serious analytical errors invalidate the conclusions.

2. The study design does not support assertion of a causal relationship between BMI and dishonesty.

3. The paper promotes weight stigma, which causes great harm to people living with obesity.

In short, this paper promoted weight bias with flawed science, raising serious ethical issues. As we noted in August, trust is fragile. So this retraction is important.

Keeping Bias Out of Science

Reflecting on this decision, OAC President Joe Nadglowski commented:

“We know that retraction can be a difficult process. So we are especially pleased to see the journal make the right decision in the interest of integrity. Bias has a way of creeping into the literature about obesity if we are not vigilant.”

Keeping bias out of the the scientific literature is tremendously important – especially weight bias. But when authors object, retractions can become a headache. And this is why we see this retraction as a measure of integrity for Scientific Reports.

Click here to read the retraction notice. For more on why retractions are so important, click here.

The Truth Was Revealed, watercolor by Egon Schiele / WikiArt

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January 13, 2021