Science Correcting Itself



Correction is an important element of scientific progress.  In the history of scientific investigations, it has been common for widely-accepted ideas to be overturned.  Literatures contain many instances of such self-correction, though the corrections are sometimes not as widely known as the original findings.  Here, we catalog some corrections, all of which are instances science can be proud of.  Investigators are invited to submit to us more such examples to be listed here and to illustrate more instances in which science was successfully self-correcting.

Correcting Errors

Shooter Video Games and Effect on Firing Aim and Accuracy:

Whitaker and Bushman argue that playing violent video games with a pistol shaped control can increase firing accuracies. This paper has been retracted by Communication Research due to irregularities in some variables in the data set. A replication of the study by Dr. Bushman is in review.

Original Article:

Whitaker, J.L. &amp Bushman, B.J. (2012). “Boom, Headshot!” Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy Communication Research, 41(7), 879-891.


(2016). Dispute over shooter video games may kill recent paper
Retraction Watch

Attitude Importance and Attitude Accessibility:

Roese and Olson argue that attitude importance and accessibility are intrinsically linked and that accessibility indicates importance; if an attitude is easily accessible to an individual then it is also important to him or her. Bizer and Krosnick take issue with that assertion, demonstrating that, with regard to a particular attitude, either accessibility or importance can exist without the other. They also found that attitude importance does influence accessibility, but accessibility does not necessarily determine importance.

Original Article:

Roese, N.J., & Olson, J.M. (1994). Attitude importance as a function of repeated attitude expression. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 30, 39-51.


Bizer, G.Y., & Krosnick, J. A. (2001). Exploring the structure of strength-related attitude features: Between attitude importance and attitude accessibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 566-586.

Bystander Effect:

In 1964, after the brutal murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, the New York Times published an article reporting that thirty-seven of Genovese’s neighbors witnessed the attack and did nothing, failing to either intervene or call the police. In response, many researchers published articles on the Bystander Effect, claiming that the presence of multiple observers of a situation leads to a diffusion of responsibility, making each person less likely to involve him or herself in that situation, even if it means helping someone who needs it. In recent years, however, scholars have questioned the Bystander Effect as well the veracity of the Kitty Genovese story itself. In reality, very few neighbors witnessed her murder, and several people who were witnesses did call the police or attempt to help Genovese. Research has shown that in dangerous or life-threatening situations, bystanders are willing to help a victim even if they are part of a large group.

Original Articles:

Darley, J.M., & Latané, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4), 377-383.

Gansberg, M. (1964, March 27). 37 who saw murder didn’t call the police. The New York Times, pp. 1, 38.

Latané, B., & Darley, J.M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,10(3), 215-221.

Latané, B., & Darley, J.M. (1969). Bystander “apathy.” American Scientist, 57(2), 244-268.

Latané, B., & Nida, S. (1981). Ten years of research on group size and helping. Psychological Bulletin, 89(2), 308-324.

Rosenthal, A.M. (1964, May 3). Study of the sickness called apathy. The New York Times, pp. 24, 66, 69, 70, 72).

Rosenthal, A.M. (1999). Thirty-eight witnesses: The Kitty Genovese case. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing.


Cook, K. (2014). Kitty Genovese: The murder, the bystanders, the crime that changed America. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Fischer, P., Krueger, J.I, Greitemeyer, T., Vogrincic, C., Kastenmüller, A., Frey, D., … Kainbacher, M. (2011). The bystander-effect: A meta-analytic review on bystander intervention in dangerous and non-dangerous emergencies. Psychological Bulletin, 137(4), 517-537.

Lemann, N. (2014, March 10). A call for help: What the Kitty Genovese story really means. The New Yorker, 73-77.

Manning, R., Levine, M., & Collins, A. (2007). The Kitty Genovese murder and the social psychology of helping: The parable of the 38 witnesses. American Psychologist, 62(6), 555-562.

Name-Order Effect:

The Name-Order Effect refers to the theory that political candidates whose names are listed first on the ballot are given an unfair advantage, as they receive more votes than they would have if they were not listed first. Ho and Imai argue that the Name-Order effect is largely insignificant, mostly holding true only for minor party candidates and in nonpartisan elections. Alvarez et al also emphasize that the Name-Order Effect is small where it exists. In some cases they find that there is actually a negative effect on candidates’ vote shares if they are listed first or last on the ballot. Pasek et al, however, reaffirm the significance of the Name-Order Effect, arguing that it is sizable enough to impact elections.

Original Articles:

Ho, D.E., & Imai K. (2008). Estimating causal effects of ballot order from a randomized natural experiment: The California Alphabet Lottery, 178-2002. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72 (2), 216-240.

Ho, D.E., & Imai K. (2006). Randomization inference with natural experiments: An analysis of ballot effects in the 2003 California recall election. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 101 (475), 888-900.

Alvarez, R.M., Sinclair, B., & Hasen R.L. (2006). How much is enough? The “Ballot Order Effect” and the use of social science research in election law disputes. Election Law Journal, 5 (1), 40-56.


Pasek, J., Schneider, D., Krosnick, J.A., Tahk, A., Ophir, E., & Milligan, C. (2014). Prevalence and moderators of the candidate Name-Order Effect: Evidence from statewide general elections in California. Public Opinion Quarterly, 78 (2), 416-439.

BPS invites readers to send (to relevant papers and links to add to this website.