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D'oh, Never Mind

Christopher Wanjek of Vitals (MSNBC) recalls the top five science journal retractions of 2011.  Two of them are crime-related.
#5: Los Angeles marijuana dispensaries lead to drop in crime.
Keep smoking. The RAND Corporation retracted its own report in October after realizing its sloppy data collection.

Crime data compiled from neighborhoods with these highly contentious medical marijuana dispensaries supposedly revealed slightly lower crime rates. The authors attributed this decline not to marijuana itself but rather the presence of security cameras and guards in and around the dispensaries, having a positive effect on the neighborhood. [ The History of 8 Hallucinogens ]

The L.A. city attorney's office was incensed with the report, having argued the opposite -- that the dispensaries breed crime. The city's lawyers soon found critical flaws in RAND's data collection, largely stemming from RAND's reliance on data from CrimeReports.com, which did not include data from the L.A. Police Department. RAND blamed itself for the error, not CrimeReports.com, which had made no claims of having a complete set of data, and, in fact, didn't even know about the study.

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#2: Litter breeds crime and discrimination.

It sounded so reasonable: Graffiti and litter in urban settings can trigger changes in the brain that can lead to crime, hatred and discrimination. Alas, the senior author of this April 2011 paper in Science, Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel, might have fabricated much of the data.

The journal Science retracted the paper in November upon realization that Stapel, a media darling whose name frequented the New York Times, may have faked data in at least 30 papers, according to a report from Stapel's university, Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Stapel has since been suspended from Tilburg pending further investigation.

The objective reader must now question other pet theories from Stapel. These include his "findings" that beauty-advertising works because it makes women feel worse about themselves, and that conservative politics leads to hypocrisy.

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