If a study is retracted, it’s usually a sign that the authors of the study realized they goofed somewhere along the way. It’s a mechanism where academics can own up to their mistakes. It’s generally considered a solid move by researchers since they’re admitting their errors rather than having them exposed by others.
However, that’s not an absolute requirement. Authors can retract studies for any reason they want, apparently.
For example, the authors of a study that found cops aren’t racist are retracting their study. It’s not that they think they’re wrong, they’re just upset that people like me are citing it.
The authors of a controversial paper on race and police shootings say they are retracting the article, which became a flashpoint in the debate over killings by police, and now amid protests following the murder of George Floyd.
The 2019 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), titled “Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings,” found “no evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities across shootings, and White officers are not more likely to shoot minority civilians than non-White officers.” It has been cited 14 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, earning it a “hot paper” designation.
Joseph Cesario, a researcher at Michigan State University, told Retraction Watch that he and David Johnson, of the University of Maryland, College Park and a co-author, have submitted a request for retraction to PNAS. In the request, they write:
We were careless when describing the inferences that could be made from our data. This led to the misuse of our article to support the position that the probability of being shot by police did not differ between Black and White Americans (MacDonald, 2019). To be clear, our work does not speak to this issue and should not be used to support such statements. We accordingly issued a correction to rectify this statement (Johnson & Cesario, 2020).
Although our data and statistical approach were valid to estimate the question we actually tested (the race of civilians fatally shot by police), given continued misuse of the article (e.g., MacDonald, 2020) we felt the right decision was to retract the article rather than publish further corrections. We take full responsibility for not being careful enough with the inferences made in our original article, as this directly led to the misunderstanding of our research.
The MacDonald references are two pieces by Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, one in the City Journal and the other in the Wall Street Journal.
Now, Cesario and Johnson received some criticism over their methodology when the study was first published. Yet they weathered that controversy and stuck to their guns.
It’s not until people they don’t like started using their study that it became a problem.
For the record, this is the same study cited by an official at Michigan State University that led to him being forced out of a vice presidency at the university.
Normally, a retraction is a good move by researchers. It’s not as good as being able to keep a study published, of course, but it’s the best alternative to take when there’s some kind of a mistake.
In this case, though, but Cesario and Johnson’s decision to retract the study reflects incredibly poorly on both of them. This isn’t about the study or its findings, they’re just upset that their study is being used to undermine an anti-police narrative. They’re letting their work be dismissed because their research apparently benefits a side in an argument they’d rather not side with.
Honestly, that’s just pathetic.