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When authoritative sources hold onto bad data

NextGov – A legal scholar explains the need for government databases to retract information: “In 2004, Hwang Woo-suk was celebrated for his breakthrough discovery creating cloned human embryos, and his work was published in the prestigious journal Science. But the discovery was too good to be true; Dr. Hwang had fabricated the data. Science publicly retracted the article and assembled a team to investigate what went wrong. Retractions are frequently in the news. The high-profile discovery of a room-temperature superconductor was retracted on Nov. 7, 2023. A series of retractions toppled the president of Stanford University on July 19, 2023. Major early studies on COVID-19 were found to have serious data problems and retracted on June 4, 2020. Retractions are generally framed as a negative: as science not working properly, as an embarrassment for the institutions involved, or as a flaw in the peer review process. They can be all those things. But they can also be part of a story of science working the right way: finding and correcting errors, and publicly acknowledging when information turns out to be incorrect. A far more pernicious problem occurs when information is not, and cannot, be retracted. There are many apparently authoritative sources that contain flawed information. Sometimes the flawed information is deliberate, but sometimes it isn’t – after all, to err is human. Often, there is no correction or retraction mechanism, meaning that information known to be wrong remains on the books without any indication of its flaws. As a patent and intellectual property legal scholar, I’ve found that this is a particularly harmful problem with government information, which is often considered a source of trustworthy data but is prone to error and often lacking any means to retract the information.”

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