Mistakes in papers & how to deal with them

I admit it was a mistake to drive so fast over that pothole.

I admit it was a mistake to drive so fast over that pothole (Photo by Heraldo Vasconcelos).

There is a great post by Brian McGill over at Dynamic Ecology on mistakes that make their way into the published literature – sometimes small, sometimes big – and how we should deal with them.   I highly recommend reading it, and want to really emphasize something he wrote:


Humans make mistakes, scientists are human, therefore scientists will make mistakes.


As an Editor I would much rather people correct the mistakes in the paper, no matter how small – an incorrect figure legend, a value in the results, even a conclusion based on an incorrect statistical analysis – than let it sit in one of our papers for future readers to use as the basis of conclusions about their own work. The places we work are often critically threatened and our results are often used to make important policy decisions.  It is therefore not an overstatement to say that failing to correct an error of which you are aware could have really major consequences.  So please, if you find a mistake in one of your papers let us know. It’s ok, we can fix it.