Likelihood of False-Positive Results in High-Impact Journals
Publishing Groundbreaking Research
measure of frequency of such articles (2). In their analysis using
this measure, the authors found that the probability of retraction
of an article published in a higher-impact journal is greater than
accordance with data previously published on a retraction track-
ing website (http://pmretract.heroku.com). Here, we would like
to point out that apart from various reasons outlined in the edi-
torial, including higher readership and scrutiny, simple Bayesian
logic also predicts that the articles published in high-impact jour-
nals stand a higher chance of incorporating false-positive results
and thereby are more likely to be retracted.
In our understanding of publishing practices, the highest ech-
elon of scientific journals is likely to prioritize publication of ex-
tremely novel findings that contradict current thinking; incre-
mental but substantive work that builds upon established facts is
more likely to find its way toward respectable but less glamorous
different, given common high standards. In Bayesian logic, the
posterior odds of a hypothesis are equal to the prior odds multi-
probably not very different between publications from two
quality-oriented journals. However, the prior odds of the results
being false positives will always be much higher for work that
false are also therefore likely to be much higher, in line with the
prior odds. In simpler language, if it appeared unlikely before it
was published, it probably still is after it is published (1, 3). That
recent editorial in this journal has brought retracted science
to the fore and provided the “retraction index” as a novel
such work appears in the most-cited journals is, at least in part,
inherent to the publication process, with the most novel, most
exciting, most controversial, most discussed, and therefore most
cited work being published in such places. Interestingly, it also
emerges from the same logic that while the highest-impact glam-
work may be published elsewhere.
1. Duncan LE, Keller MC. 2011. A critical review of the first 10 years of
candidate gene-by-environment interaction research in psychiatry. Am. J.
2. Fang FC, Casadevall A. 2011. Retracted science and the retraction index.
Infect. Immun. 79:3855–3859.
CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology
Editor: R. P. Morrison
Address correspondence to Anurag Agrawal, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the author reply, see doi:10.1128/IAI.06330-11.
Copyright © 2012, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
iai.asm.org0019-9567/12/$12.00Infection and Immunity p. 1300