July 17, 2012

Three less papers on patent licensing

Research Policy today announced the retraction of two papers on patent licensing, a month after a third paper was retracted by Strategic Organization. The blog “Retraction Watch” summarizes the announcements:
Ulrich Lichtenthaler, a management professor in Germany, has had three papers retracted by two different journals, after readers noticed statistical irregularities.

Lichtenthaler was at the WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management when he published the papers in 2009 and 2010. He is now at the University of Mannheim.
These are the three articles that were retracted:
  • Ulrich Lichtenthaler and Holger Ernst, “Technology licensing strategies: the interaction of process and content characteristics,” Strategic Organization 7, 2 (May 2009), 183-221, doi:10.1177/1476127009102672
  • Ulrich Lichtenthaler, “The role of corporate technology strategy and patent portfolios in low-, medium- and high-technology firms,” Research Policy 38, 3 (April 2009), 559-569, doi: 10.1016/j.respol.2008.10.009
  • Ulrich Lichtenthaler, “Determinants of proactive and reactive technology licensing: A contingency perspective,” Research Policy 39, 1 (Feb. 2010), 55-66, doi: 10.1016/j.respol.2009.11.011
Three years ago, the German newspaper Handelsblatt ranked Lichtenthaler as their top economics researcher under 40 years old. Retraction Watch reports that his previous employer has been investigating the matter:
We are aware of the retractions. When the underlying problems of the publications of Ulrich Lichtenthaler were brought to our attention WHU decided to establish an investigation committee with external experts to look into these matters. As WHU condemns all forms of academic misconduct, we are very interested in complete transparency on the issues and, depending on the findings of the committee, we will then take appropriate actions.
In his talk last month to our London conference for the OI special issue of Research Policy, editor Ben Martin alluded to this in his talk on “20 challenges for innovation studies.” Now we know what he was talking about. Here are excerpts from Martin’s written paper:
20. Maintaining our research integrity, sense of morality and collegiality

There are many in the academic community who like to think that ‘the Republic of Science’ remains one last shining bastion where misconduct is rare, generally low-level and self-correcting, where any serious misconduct is quickly detected by peer review and stopped, and where the risk of being caught and the severe repercussions that follow are such that few researchers are tempted to err (Martin, 2012b). However, the growing incidence of plagiarism (Martin et al., 2007) as well other forms of research misconduct throws all this into question.

Occasionally, perhaps because of the pressure of a deadline to produce a conference presentation or to publish a journal article, individuals may succumb to the temptation to engage in outright plagiarism. Fortunately such cases appear to be rare, although there are some indications that serial plagiarisers such as Hans Werner Gottinger† are becoming more common (Martin et al., 2007, p.910, footnote 32). Moreover, by definition we only know about the incidence of detected plagiarism – how much more remains undetected is what the noted American philosopher, Donald Rumsfeld, would term “a known unknown” (quoted in Boardman, 2005, p. 783)

Rather more common, and certainly on the increase, is the phenomenon of ‘salami publishing’. With the growing use of publications as a performance indicator comes escalating pressure to exploit one’s database, survey or study to the full with as many articles as possible. Hence, some authors resort to ‘slicing the salami very thinly’. The resulting papers are often sent to different journals. In some cases, the author may cite the other parallel papers. However, it is very difficult to persuade referees to read not only the paper in question but also the other parallel papers (which may not have been published yet and therefore are difficult to access) in order to establish whether the former represents a sufficiently substantial and original contribution to merit publication in its own right. In other cases, the author simply ‘forgets’ to cite the parallel papers. Sometimes, this may be picked up by a diligent referee. Other times, it may only be discovered after publication, leaving journal editors with a difficult decision as to whether or not that article should be withdrawn or subject to a ‘corrigendum’. In the worst cases, ‘salami publishing’ shades into self-plagiarism, where the author re-uses material from one or more of his earlier publications without drawing the attention of the reader to the existence of the earlier work.
(†In 2007, Research Policy retracted Gottinger’s 1993 article, and published a long explanation of what happened and how it was caught. Wikipedia and Der Spiegel talk about Gottinger’s plagiarism at RP, Nature and other journals.)

A quick search of the Research Policy database lists only the one Gottinger and two Lichtenthaler articles as retracted thus far. However, I believe that Martin’s passion here (both in his paper and the oral presentation at our conference) is driven by more than just these two serial offenders; if so, there are more shoes yet to drop.

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