Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Irritation turns to aggravation in Neuroscience correction

without comments

neuroscience1212 coverNeuroscience has an amusing correction in one of its December issues, involving a paper that appeared in its November 2011 issue on Parkinson’s disease by a group from Germany.

As the notice explains:

The authors regret that in the original manuscript, the article title contained the word ‘exasperates’ instead of ‘exacerbates’ and was incorrect. The correct article title is “Chronic progesterone treatment of male rats with unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesion of the dorsal striatum exacerbates parkinsonian symptoms.”

We’re guessing there is a copy editor or two over at Elsevier more than a little, er, exasperated about this mix-up. The paper was accepted on August 20, 2011 and made available online on August 25, 2011. It’s not clear if the correction ran online before the December 2012 issue, but if not, that’s a gap of 16 months from publication to correction of an obvious error.

Written by amarcus41

December 6th, 2012 at 11:58 am

  • Sylvain Bernès December 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    The abstract, which contains the same exasperating typo, should be corrected too. This is a very anecdotic and borderline correction, not really related to (serious) RW topics.

  • vhedwig December 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    It wouldn’t be the first time copy editors have screwed things up A few years ago, proofs for one of our papers came back with 19 questions, one of which was “please name the town” in regards to our listing an animal suppllier (“Harlan, Indianapolis IN”) in the methods section. I had to write a 6 page letter detailing nearly 100 problems introduced into the text, many of which completely destroyed the scientific meaning of the work. Examples included replacing the term “O2 efficiency” with “O2 consumption”, capitalization of the W in western blotting in the middle of a sentence, removal of the word “potential” from a sentence in the conclusions thereby changing its meaning, and random insertion of the word “cell” before every single incidence of the word “signaling” (as if there’s no signaling that isn’t cell signaling). They also removed every single Latin phrase (even though journal policy did not preclude Latin). My response letter included the phrase “total bastardization of the proof reading process”, and we got a nice apology followed (about a month later) by the proofs returned to their former glory. Some editors like to assert their own style, but you don’t have to take it sitting down.

  • chirality December 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    That’s one of the dangers of learning foreign words by ear. For a long time, I had a line in my English-version CV that read “Martial status: single”. The German authors probably wanted to make the title sound more sophisticated but did not turn off the AutoCorrect function in their Microsoft Word.

    • CH December 7, 2012 at 5:16 am

      Such things tend to make me think of crap salad…

    • JudyH December 7, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Martial status: single, a soldier of fortune, a globe-trotting adventurer in war.
      Martial status: married, conducting trench warfare against a single foe.

      Or perhaps, Martial status: no longer on Mars, now on Earth.

      AutoCorrect failure or language instructor failure or copy editor failure? “Exasperate” is a fairly common mistake among native speakers, too. The ideology ;-) of that error may remain forever unknown.

    • Sylvain Bernès December 7, 2012 at 11:19 am

      On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to rely on spellcheckers in word processing applications, unless a suitable local auto-correct dictionary is available. I’ve recently seen a thesis full of HECTOR NMR spectra. And for Spanish writers using Microsoft Word, be careful with the “Ley de Bragg”, which will be transmuted into the funny “Ley de Braga”.

  • Toby December 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    I am flagpoleblasted!

  • John December 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    A neighbouring lab once had proofs returned with Phosphate Buggered Saline listed in their Materials and Methods. The rest of the department encouraged to leave it in, but they chickened out.

  • Matthias December 8, 2012 at 9:05 am

    This reminds me of seeing a paper published by a Japanese group, quite a number of years ago, describing a “noble Bacillus strain”. I assume the authors meant “novel”, because this would make perfect sense in bacteriology. I just checked in PubMed, and it looks like the paper is still available with its original title:

  • Carrie December 8, 2012 at 11:09 am

    I encourage more stories about bad copy editing (Helicopter pylori is my contribution), but the retraction notice says that the error was in the original manuscript. If that is the case, the problem was not caught by the copy editors, but it was not introduced by them, either.

    • JudyH December 8, 2012 at 5:38 pm

      True, not introduced by them. But I suspect that Adam meant the copy editors are thinking they should have caught this. And they should have. Word’s suggestions and autocompletions can be helpful — I have seen non-native English speakers do wonderful things by relying on them — but in the end there is no substitute for a good eye and an alert brain. One trick I have learned over the years is to read the text backwards as a final run-through. After you have read the piece twenty times, you *know* what it says and you read write through the typos. Going backwards removes the element of knowing what the next word is, so you actually look at it and typos jump out at you. I doubt that the copy editors fail to understand the difference between exacerbate and exasperate. They just hurried through it. The authors, being non-native speakers, have a good excuse for mixing up the words, and it is part of the copy editor’s job to catch things like that.

      • Carrie December 10, 2012 at 10:45 pm

        The copy editors may not have been native English speakers either. Copy editing is sometimes outsourced to other countries – I know it is at least one fairly large journal.

        I do struggle with reading through my own mistakes — I will try reading backwards next time.

      • JudyH December 11, 2012 at 12:44 am

        “Copy editing is sometimes outsourced to other countries”

        Really? OMG! No wonder I see some strange phrases and incorrect spellings (and not British spellings, which would make sense). I have been assuming that the copy editors were too busy to correct things that were wrong but understandable, as long as the reviewers considered the English adequate. Silly me.

      • JudyH December 11, 2012 at 12:46 am

        Ooops! Just noticed my funny mistake above: you *know* what it says and you read write through the typos. That should be “read right through the typos.”

    • Karen Shashok December 11, 2012 at 3:53 am

      The Society of Editors and Proofreaders did a study of the quality of “offshore” copyediting (What price quality? Overseas outsourcing of editorial services) and found that mistakes were frequent. One consequence was that authors had to spend extra time (and publishers had to spend extra money) fixing errors introduced by copyeditors with inadequate knowledge or training.

      Their report is available here:

      Copyediting errors seem to have proliferated when publishers decided to save money by outsourcing most of their production work to countries where labor is cheaper. Some copyeditors in those areas are excellent, but most are probably not. Apparently a couple of publishers have decided to go back to using more expensive but much better copyeditors in response to complaints from authors and readers.

      So always check your proofs carefully, no matter how prestigious your publisher is!

  • Marco December 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    And Spectrochimica Acta Part A has just published a paper in which the authors invented a new species (“buman”).

    Now, if only that were the only mistake in that paper…

    • Sylvain Bernès December 8, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      Wait wait.. Maybe the “Buman Serum Albumin” is a kind of hybrid between Bovine Serum Albumin and Human Serum Albumin? This new protein deserves consideration, above all if interaction with an also new Methyl Hesperidin (depicted in Fig. 1) has been studied.
      Great paper. Great referees. Nice final edition.

  • Naomi Kaufman Price December 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Please don’t blame editors, copy or otherwise, for all the errors. As an editor who coaches MBA students attending a major business school, I see some astonishing usage and spelling errors. Some come from ESL students. Others come from students with undergraduate degrees from Ivies or other top-tier universities. Many don’t read, except what’s assigned. Four of 20 misspelled the name of a favorite author or film star. Honest to God. I can’t imagine the situation is much different in the sciences. One editor can’t catch everything, and these days, editors aren’t paid diddly, so we tend to take on too much work to make ends meet. Lord knows what I’ve missed.
    I am rather entranced by a noble Bacillus. Maybe they’ll win a Nobel prize.

    • Matthias December 8, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      Yes, that Bacillus paper is in a very reputable journal within a series of journals (from the American Society for Microbiology) that has excellent copy editors. I published a few papers within that series, and must say their copy editors generally do a great job. That makes it even more surprising that the “noble” slipped through.

  • Kathleen Taylor (@neurotaylor) December 9, 2012 at 3:38 am

    I had something corrected by a university press and the person responsible couldn’t spell ‘university’. I kid you not.

    • JudyH December 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      To be fair, that employee probably had only a four-year college degree. You can’t expect people to spell correctly with so little education. I see scads of college students who can’t spell, and many graduate students who can’t spell. One of my favorites is the grad student who couldn’t spell the scientific name of the species on which he was doing his research. And neither could his advisor.

      We used to argue that brilliant students shouldn’t be penalized for unimportant errors in details like spelling and punctuation; they should be encouraged to make their brilliant contributions to society. Unfortunately, too many people seem to believe that spelling errors are a sign of genius. I don’t see hundreds of geniuses in the halls. I do see hundreds of students who can’t spell.

      • Naomi Kaufman Price December 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm

        Brava, JudyH.

      • Matthias December 9, 2012 at 9:26 pm

        Completely agree with JudyH. This cannot be seen in isolation; it is part of a complete picture of simply getting things right. If supposedly brilliant researchers cannot even get the names of the organisms that they are working with right (I have seen this, too), how can we trust the scrutiny with which they have produced their scientific results?

  • Matthias December 12, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Here is another error in a paper title, this time constituting a true linguistic atrocity: the misspelling of the well-known Kupffer cells ( with an Umlaut as “Küpffer cells” ( I don’t know what motivated the authors, but it may fall under the category of hyperforeignisms (, such as when the “latte” in “caffè latte” in popular culture is misspelled as “latté”, despite the fact that the Italian spelling is clearly “latte” without the accent. I am currently trying to convince the journal editor to publish an erratum, which would be non-judgemental and have no stigma of wrongdoing attached, but so far the editor is not willing to do this.

    • Naomi Kaufman Price December 12, 2012 at 9:46 pm

      Nonjudgmental. No hyphen, no e following the g.
      Not to be judgmental.
      Never say never: Words to live by.
      (Other words to avoid: Always. First. Only.)

      • Matthias December 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm

        Great. Thank you! If I am not wrong, the “judgmental” vs. “judgemental” may be a feature of American vs. British English (I am not a native English speaker). Agree that it is better to leave the hyphen out. Can’t find “never” in my comment.

  • Amy December 13, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    “Copyeditors” of these journals, please understand this folks, are usually Indian nationals working in India who are not native English speakers. That’s the deluxe copyediting plan. Plenty of journals use a cheaper option, which is running the manuscript files through a copyediting software that is essentially a script that applies a number of set (and not at all foolproof) automatic find-and-replace terms. Even the few (human) disgraces to the copyediting profession that I have worked with would be incapable of confusing exasperate and exacerbate.

  • MaryKaye October 31, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1974 May;71(5):1663-5.
    Flounder effects and linkage disequilibria in experimental populations of Drosophila.

    The abstract makes it clear that the authors meant to talk about founder effects (unusual gene frequencies caused by a small founding population) and not flounder effects…. I believe that I saw the identical typo in Genetics while I was in grad school (1985-1991) but can’t locate it anymore. In the title, ouch!

  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.