Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Postscript to the preceding

What do you do when something you wrote is discredited? I had to confront that last year around this time. In my case, that meant coming to terms that an article on which I was a lead author turned out to have too much duplicate content. That's a nice way of saying it was self-plagiarized. I can say that the one thing that saved me is I saved all my emails with my coauthor on that one. Retraction Watch got my account correct. Regrettably, the site could not get the other players in that particular tragedy of errors to comment. As I said, I have all the emails. I also have evidence that the only original material was whatever I added to that manuscript. You take cold comfort where you can get it.

As time has passed, I have come to become more thankful for that retraction. The article was hopelessly out of date by the time it got published. The whole quality control and peer review process was so hopelessly messed up that I will likely never trust that journal outlet again. I also don't quite trust myself again. Writing turned out to be enormously difficult for a while. I now subscribe to plagiarism software on my own dime in order to assess that any new work I write is genuinely original. I actually re-ran prior articles I authored to make sure they were sufficiently original. For a while my whole thought process was paralyzed.

So, I have been putting safeguards in place. I have also used the fallout from that set of events as a way of assessing my priorities in life. One had to do with where the weapons effect fit in. I am tied to that line of work, so it will never quite leave me, but I am realizing that I am at a point where I can start tying up loose ends. Writing an article on the weapons effect as a solo author and finding an outlet that would give it an honest and thorough peer review was a start. Aside from a couple minor typos that never quite went away, I can now say that I can come out the other side as someone who can still write. More importantly, I decided to shift my focus from trying to establish or confirm media effects to making sure that dependent variables I rely on - and more specifically their operational definitions - make sense and actually do the job they were intended to do. That work - namely the question of validity - will keep me going for a while.

The real lesson is to acknowledge where one is in error, work earnestly to correct that error, and find a way to move on. I am back to working largely in the shadows, like any of a number of literary and cinematic characters I admire, to continue the necessary work of improving the psychological sciences. There really is something to be said for obscurity. I have come to appreciate my relative lack of prominence more and more. In the meantime, there are assignments to be graded, undergraduates to be mentored, and engagements in my local community that will not win me any prizes, but which may serve those looking for answers that can occupy my time. I can live with that. Can you?

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