Fabio Rojas and others have been discussing retractions over on our buttoned-up nemesis, and making the excellent point that the presence of scientific retractions is good for science. However, it can only be good for science insofar as bad or even falsified science takes place to begin with.
The case of Larry Sanna brings to mind the question of whether some such incidents might be preventable. For background, see this article in Nature. Essentially, Wharton scholar Uri Simonsohn is developing techniques for determining when data are likely to be faked; in this case, the fragment of the real was overly consistent standard errors. Sanna’s work, much of it done while he was on the faculty here at UNC, seems very likely to be falsified to some extent, as he has resigned from the faculty at Michigan (where he has been only for a few months) and asked that several papers be retracted.Meanwhile, I understand Simonsohn plans to publish on the techniques he uses for identifying falsified studies, which raises the question of whether falsifiers will just get more sophisticated in response.
For good reasons, we expect administrations to keep their hands off the day-to-day conduct of intellectual work. I would certainly bristle at the prospect of prior review of my work. But cases like these (and the others discussed on OrgTheory) show that there are significant repercussions to academic fraud: other scholars and students who weren’t involved in the fraud get swept up in the consequences, and future work in cumulative sciences may be sent on the wrong path by false findings earlier on. Any thoughts on how these could be prevented without undue prior restraint on intellectual work?