Good News for Research Integrity

Washington -- This week three prominent researchers admitted errors in their economics research papers. Andrew Gillen of Education Sector withdrew his paper on faculty work levels and college costs; Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard backtracked on their paper on the relationship between national debt and growth.

Each had a hypothesis worth testing, but they made errors along the way. Bravo to those who tried to replicate the research and discovered the errors. This is the way the process is supposed to work.

How many other research papers should be withdrawn for errors? A lot. Most researchers know how easy it is to make errors, how tempting it is to cover them up when they happen to help confirm a hypothesis; and how unlikely it is that the research will be replicated.

When I was a researcher at the National Center for Education Research, I was disappointed that the researchers on staff were discouraged from doing any research themselves, let alone review the work of others to check for errors and biases that only other researchers would be likely to find.

I hold no particular brief for or against the conclusions of the authors whose papers have successfully been challenged this week. What is important is that some researchers are out there doing their jobs, including replications, and that should have a salutary effect on all research.