, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 49–64 | Cite as

Conceptualizing Fraudulent Studies as Viruses: New Models for Handling Retractions

  • Kathleen MontgomeryEmail author
  • Amalya L. Oliver


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.


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


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Business AdministrationUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA
  2. 2.The Hebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael

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