A group of researchers read a research paper in a well-regarded journal estimating how a change in fast-food consumption would affect children’s weight, and noted that the analysis applied a mathematical model that overestimated effects by more than tenfold. The team submitted a letter to the editor explaining the problem. Months later, they learned that the authors had elected to retract their paper. In the face of popular articles proclaiming that science is stumbling, this episode was an affirmation that science is self-correcting.
Sadly, the case is not representative. In the course of assembling weekly lists of articles in their field, the team began noticing more peer-reviewed articles containing substantial or invalidating errors. These involve factual mistakes or veer substantially from clearly accepted procedures in ways that, if corrected, might alter a paper’s conclusions.
In this article, the researchers summarize in their experience, the main barriers they encountered, and share thoughts on how to make published science more rigorous.