Conceptualizing Fraudulent Studies as Viruses: New Models for Handling Retractions

Kathleen Montgomery*, Amalya L. Oliver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This paper addresses the growing problem of retractions in the scientific literature of publications that contain bad data (i.e., fabricated, falsified, or containing error), also called “false science.” While the problem is particularly acute in the biomedical literature because of the life-threatening implications when treatment recommendations and decisions are based on false science, it is relevant for any knowledge domain, including the social sciences, law, and education. Yet current practices for handling retractions are seen as inadequate. We use the metaphor of a virus to illustrate how such studies can spread and contaminate the knowledge system, when they continue to be treated as valid. We suggest drawing from public health models designed to prevent the spread of biological viruses and compare the strengths and weaknesses of the current governance model of professional self-regulation with a proposed public health governance model. The paper concludes by considering the value of adding a triple-helix model that brings industry into the university-state governance mechanisms and incorporates bibliometric capabilities needed for a holistic treatment of the retraction process.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)49-64
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Bad data
  • Contact reporting
  • False science
  • Governance
  • Infection
  • Knowledge management
  • Retraction
  • Triple helix


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