On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that a widely cited result on farmer suicides was wrong. Over the past several months, numerous writers and reporters have relied on the finding, originally from a 2016 CDC report, to argue that farmers have the highest suicide rate in the country. That report found that workers in the “farming, fishing, and forestry,” job category killed themselves at over four times the national average, far and away the highest in the study.
But on Friday, Courtney Lenard, a public relations official, confirmed to us in an email that CDC had misclassified farmers as farming, fishing, and forestry, or “Triple-F,” workers. This error inflated the suicide rate for Triple-F workers and made any conclusions about farmer suicides impossible to determine. More.
Not only that, but the media who ran for months with the Farmers Killing Themselves! story failed to distinguish between farmers and agricultural workers. That is somewhat like doing study of suicide rates among “occupants” of dwellings without distinguishing between owners, tenants, subsidized housing tenants, occupants of an abandoned building, and people in hiding from the law. One’s relationship to the place is very likely to shed at least some light on the story.
See also: Seeing is believing? 35,000 science papers may have doctored images Retraction Watch: Extrapolating from these findings and those of another paper that scanned duplication rates, the researchers propose that tens of thousands of papers might need to be purged from the literature.
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