After nearly a year of vigorously defending a study that named the University of Missouri-Kansas City No. 1 in an emerging field of business research, the journal that published that 2012 article has dialed back its support.
The Journal of Product Innovation Management, or JPIM, is issuing an “expression of concern” about the article’s authorship, while also criticizing UMKC for the way it used the study’s finding to promote its programs.
While JPIM’s action doesn’t rise to the level of a retraction, an expression of concern is an official designation in the world of academic scholarship. It is often a prelude to a retraction, although the journal’s vice president of publications said Tuesday that a retraction is unlikely in this case.
Even so, experts who study the ethics of research publication called JPIM’s decision a significant step.
“Expressions of concern are very, very rare,” said Ivan Oransky, co-founder of the website Retractionwatch.com.
UMKC officials said in a statement that they “respect the publication’s point of view” but consider the matter in the past.
The move by JPIM comes six weeks after an independent audit turned up evidence of irregularities in rankings received by UMKC’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management.
Gov. Jay Nixon requested the audit last summer after an investigation by The Kansas City Star found that Bloch School officials falsified information in rankings applications to the Princeton Review.
The Star, in stories published July 27, also reported on the relationships between the co-authors of the study published in JPIM, the university and a UMKC professor who resigned last month.
The two co-authors of the study, which ranked UMKC above Harvard and other elite universities in the field of innovation management research, were visiting scholars at the Bloch School at the time their article was submitted for publication.
That potential conflict of interest, however, was not disclosed to the journal editor at the time or later when UMKC used the study to promote itself as a global leader in innovation management research.
Experts consulted by The Star last year said the study appeared to have been designed to award top rankings to UMKC and Michael Song, the professor then in charge of the university’s Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
The study’s authors later denied that. Song told the newspaper at the time that he couldn’t remember whether he’d even seen the study before it was published.
But the audit done by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators quoted Song as saying he was involved. He not only helped edit the article and submit it for publication, but he also “may have written parts” of it, he told the auditors.
In the expression of concern, JPIM’s current editor, Gloria Barczak, writes that none of this was known at the time that her predecessor, Anthony Di Benedetto, accepted and edited the article for publication.
“These recent revelations are the motivation for this expression of concern,” Barczak wrote.
In an email, Di Benedetto said he was “in full agreement with the current editor’s decision that this expression of concern should be issued for the article.”
Barczak noted, however, that four independent scholars had reviewed the article and found its methodology acceptable.
The article’s co-authors, Pianpian Yang and Lei Tao, did not respond to requests for comment.
Although JPIM officials were aware of concerns about the study’s authorship as early as 2012, they repeatedly defended its publication, even after questions were raised by The Star last year.
“Rather than act on information in the articles you have published,” Abbie Griffin, the journal’s vice president of publications, said in an email Tuesday, “we chose to wait to address any issues until after the formal report was issued by the forensic auditors trained in these sorts of investigations at PWC and Professor Hisrich’s review of the report.”
Robert Hisrich was the retired business professor whom the curators hired to analyze the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit. He found no fault in the JPIM study but concluded that the university had submitted false data to the Princeton Review.
From the time the results within the JPIM article were first made public at a university celebration in December 2011 until recently, UMKC touted itself as the global leader in innovation management research.
The article ranked UMKC above Harvard, Stanford and other top universities based on the number of articles its faculty published during their careers at UMKC and elsewhere on the subject of innovation management.
UMKC did so well largely because Song was the co-author on more papers than anyone in the field, many of which were published in JPIM, where he served on the editorial board.
Griffin said Song recently was “removed” from the board.
She also was critical of UMKC, which she said “misinterpreted” the study’s results by claiming to be the “Top School in Innovation.”
Barczak, in her expression of concern, wrote: “JPIM does not endorse or agree with the statements and interpretation made by UMKC about their ranking in entrepreneurship or innovation, citing this article as evidence.”
The article merely counted articles published, and did not comment on the quality of the research.
UMKC officials said JPIM’s expression of concern added nothing new.
“...the issues already have been identified,” the university said in a statement Tuesday, “and the focus now needs to be on the work already underway to improve practices and procedures to ensure that this single chapter of the Bloch School’s long and proud history remains an important lesson from the past, and not an element of the future.”
After the release of the PWC audit, Princeton Review stripped UMKC of its 2014 rankings. The university then relinquished all Princeton Review rankings the business school had received in the previous three years.
On the same day Song resigned last month, the Bloch School faculty voted to renounce all rankings and awards the Regnier Institute had received during his 10 years as its leader.