I’ve been on holiday for a week or so. While I’ve been away there’s been quite a lot of media coverage of the paper that I discussed in this post and that we discussed extensively in this pubpeer thread.
It started with this New Scientist article, then Mother Jones, then the Independent, the Express, and Daily Kos. The main discussion point is that the journal (Scientific Reports) is investigating the publication of this paper and I’m quoted as saying that it should be withdrawn.
Philip Moriarty has a nice post called sloppy science, still someone else’s problem where he argues strongly for retraction. When a paper is clearly wrong and makes no contribution to the field, why should it remain in the literature where it could still get cited and would require people putting effort into publishing formal critiques? Others, however, disagreed partly because even a paper that is wrong could advance the field, and partly because forcing a retraction could play into the hands of those who claim there are scientific gatekeepers.
My norm would be to agree with the latter. Even if something is wrong, people could still learn from it. Also, we would need to be very careful that papers with inconvenient results weren’t retracted by journals because those who objected to what the paper suggested kicked up enough of a fuss. Also, most research requires assumptions and judgements that may not be universally accepted. How do you decide if an error is sufficient for retraction and who gets to make this decision?
However, in the case of the Zharkova et al. paper, the error is completely elementary. It’s something we teach our first-year students. There is no value in debating in the literature something that has been accepted by virtually all physicists/astronomers for a very long time. The community shouldn’t have to commit time and effort to correcting a basic error made by people who really should know better. The ideal would be the authors recognising that they’d blundered and voluntarily withdrawing the paper. Since that seems unlikely, the journal deciding to do so would be the next best thing. I’m not planning to hold my breath, though.