The number of retracted scientific papers has skyrocketed in the last decade. In 2010, two science editors started Retraction Watch, a blog dedicated to tracking science paper retractions. So far, the site has tracked about 200 papers.1
Retractions can occur for different reasons. About 73 percent of retracted papers in 2010 had errors, either in the research methods used or in the writing, and about 27 percent contained fraud, according to a recent presentation on the blog.
But just because a retraction occurs doesn’t mean that the flawed report goes away. Nature reported that 235 papers retracted between 1966 and 1996 were cited in 2,000 later studies, and only 8 percent of those acknowledged the retractions.2
If other scientists are citing outdated or misleading data, what about outdated and misleading data presented in museums and textbooks? For instance, in 2010, the University of Pennsylvania toured an exhibit called Surviving: The Body of Evidence that claimed, “You are a survivor…of the process of evolution.”3
But the exhibit featured “misleading, outdated or contrived information…. For example, one section features the thoroughly refuted ‘horse evolution’ story…. In reality, fossils of horse varieties…are mixed in various rock layers, showing no objective evolutionary pattern.”3
Another prime example of outdated information currently still in use is German embryologist Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of embryos. A contemporary of Charles Darwin, “Haeckel claimed that the developmental stages of an embryo retrace its evolutionary past. In other words, the human embryo supposedly goes through a fish stage, an amphibian stage, a reptile stage, and so on.”4….
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