Survey says: A researcher wasn’t sure if he needed to correct a paper. So he created a poll.

Craig Jones

When geophysicist Craig Jones realized a figure in one of his published papers contained an error, he was on the fence about what to do. It was a clear mistake, but he’d seen much larger mistakes go uncorrected by other authors. Unsure if it warranted a correction, Jones polled readers of his blog to see what they thought.

The answer: 37 people responded, 23 of whom (62%) said he should correct the paper. In an update, Jones said he was prepping a correction to submit to the journal.

Jones, who is based at the University of Colorado Boulder and blogs under the title the “Grumpy Geophysicist,” told Retraction Watch:

To me this was kind of marginal to fix, but really it is the community that matters more–if they really feel it should be fixed, well fine.

The mistake in the figure relates to the location of some fault lines in Montana. When he wrote “Hydrodynamic mechanism for the Laramide orogeny,” published in 2011 in Geosphere, Jones placed some fault lines in the wrong spot. Years later, he was reviewing a paper that cited his work, which mentioned the fault lines in question. But the authors of the paper Jones reviewed thought Jones had placed the lines there intentionally, and cited the 2011 paper as evidence that there was scientific disagreement about the lines’ location.

I had no intent to do that and so looked at the paper and saw my drafting mistake. Since other workers were looking closely enough to mistake a drafting error for a scientific disagreement, felt it was worth bringing up in the blog.

The 2011 paper has been cited 44 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Jones issued a correction to the same figure in 2012, when “faults in the foreland were inadvertently omitted,” which had a more central impact on the paper, he said.

But in this case, he was torn about whether or not to formally correct the paper, as the mistake was “peripheral to the paper’s main thrust:”

I am aware of several figure blunders out there that are more significant whose authors have not made corrections (a few are mentioned elsewhere in the blog). So this was kind of iffy in terms of affecting the science, and such corrections do impact journal staff time, which is already stretched pretty thin.

Initially, he just asked readers of his blog what they thought he should do. After we included a link to that post in one of our Weekend Reads stories, Jones decided to add a poll. The question of “should I fix?” had three options: Absolutely, no, or “meh.” Nearly two-thirds of the people who responded said he should fix it — to Jones, that was a “resounding” vote:

I was surprised. Meh would have been my choice.

Jones said he has already submitted the correction to the journal– and if a similar situation arose again, he’d do a similar poll.

Sure, why not?  Ideally it would be [the] geoscience community weighing in, but I want papers I put out there to reflect data, analyses, and interpretations as I meant them, so blunders that get in the way are worth removing.

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2 thoughts on “Survey says: A researcher wasn’t sure if he needed to correct a paper. So he created a poll.”

  1. But in this case, he was torn about whether or not to formally correct the paper, as the mistake was “peripheral to the paper’s main thrust:”

    “[P]eripheral to the paper’s main thrust” struck me as the key issue. When do ever present errors require correction and when do they not? Certainly, if the errors are germane, then corrections are required.

  2. “[P]eripheral to the paper’s main thrust” struck me as the key issue.

    You are a better, more serious person than I. It struck me principally as an amusing thing to have written about a paper on orogeny.

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