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Do the junior person and the eminent person on a team receive equal blame for a retraction? It is found that the more junior members of the team see a substantial decline in citations of their work, while the more eminent members experience little or no change.
That double standard should make us question how we give credit and how we give blame.
Coined by the sociologist Robert K. Merton in 1968, the effect is named for a verse in the New Testament book of Matthew: “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance.”
The interpretation in the world of scientific research: when multiple scientists collaborate and the paper is well-received, it is automatically assumed this success is disproportionately due to the brilliance of the team’s most eminent author.
In other words, those who are “rich” in reputation get richer with every success.
Prior research has found evidence that the Matthew Effect indeed exists in a variety of fields: in academia, in technology, in the creative arts.
Basically in just about any situation where you can’t observe the actual contributions to a product, and you’re trying to make assumptions about the roles of individual contributors.
The eminent person will be protected. The junior person, who gets less credit when things go right, will get more discredit when things go wrong.
A study was conducted where 500 papers published between 1993 and 2009 which had multiple authors and that had been retracted.
Retraction, a potentially career-damaging blow in academia, happens when there is ample evidence that a paper fabricated data, plagiarized the work of others, committed a major error, or had other serious problems.
The researchers found that the more eminent members of the team typically continued to be cited like the control group, a sign that their work was still respected. Their less well-known collaborators saw their citations dip below the control group.
Why does the more junior person get more blame than their coauthors?
There are two possible explanations. The first is that more eminent authors have typically published a larger body of work than their greener coauthors.
The second explanation: Perhaps the better-known member of the team uses his or her social and institutional power to deflect the blame from him- or herself and to scapegoat less prominent collaborators.
For those who work on teams, the findings can be read as a warning. It does suggest that if you’re charting your own career path, working with powerful people can be a risk.
Be choosy about who you hitch your own reputation to.
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