“After a group of researchers noticed an error that affected the analysis of a survey of psychologists working with medical teams to help pediatric patients, they didn’t just issue a retraction — they published a commentary explaining what exactly went wrong.
The error was discovered by a research assistant who was assembling a scientific poster, and noticed the data didn’t align with what was reported in the journal. The error, the authors note, was:
an honest one, a mistake of not reverse coding a portion of the data that none of the authors caught over several months of editing and conference calls. Unfortunately, this error led to misrepresentation and misinterpretation of a subset of the data, impacting the results and discussion.
Needless to say, these authors — who use their “lessons learned” to help other researchers avoid similar missteps — earn a spot in our “doing the right thing” category. The retraction and commentary both appear in Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology.
Their first piece of advice in “Retraction experience, lessons learned, and recommendations for clinician researchers” — assume errors will happen, and not vice versa:
1. Be mindful that the likelihood of making errors in a number of research endeavors is high and common. Assume that errors will be made rather than not! Risk for errors is higher in our current research climate where there are often larger study teams, the members are in different locations, and may represent individuals from different disciplines with diverse skillsets.
Other advice: Assign authors overlapping tasks to avoid “gaps in accountability,” regularly check data entry and analysis, and set aside large blocks of time for research to avoid missing details. There were a few tidbits that seemed especially important, from our perspective:
Own your errors and avoid defensiveness by covering them up or diverting responsibility. Handle errors when they are discovered. Although challenging and humbling, errors should be handled and promptly corrected when discovered. Keep in mind how much worse it will be if your errors are discovered by your editor, a reader, or your institution.
Other especially noteworthy advice: Model ethical conduct for your students by doing the right thing.”
McCook A (2016) What to do when you make a mistake? Advice from authors who’ve been there. Retraction Watch, 5 March. Available at: http://retractionwatch.com/2016/01/27/authors-reveal-lessons-learned-from-a-pediatric-psych-retraction/ (accessed 31 January 2016).