Following the UKRIO workshop hosted by IOP Publishing and Karger on 20th September 2023, we discuss here the principles required for correcting academic literature and the key players responsible.
Post-publication correction notices are used to update or append research using neutral and factual terminology. Mistakes can be made, and post-publication corrections are not used to punish authors/journals. Corrections are not always a fault with the research, it could be an honest error.
Notices should follow industry standards and include key elements, such as: DOI, title, volume/issue number, year of publication and a description of the error and any actions taken to remedy the research.
The original article is not usually updated; however, it can be amended if it warrants legal or privacy concerns. This decision will be in accordance with the publisher’s policy and best practice. For example, a health journal may update drug doses if it would impinge upon patient care – this would be outlined in the notice and the content updated. The aim is to be transparent in the notice and include bi-directional linking. The notice should appear online and in print.
Types of Notice
- Corrigendum. Usually an error introduced by an author.
- Erratum. Usually an error introduced by the publisher.
- Retraction. The most serious type of notice, following a full investigation.
- Publisher’s note. Used to notify that an error may be in the content/under investigation.
- Expression of concern. Advising the reader that there might be errors or untrustworthy content.
Best practice is not to erase the content – a withdrawal notice, which is deemed the most serious type of correction, means that the DOI remains but the PDF is removed, not to cause detriment to the scholarly work.
Myths and Barriers to Correcting the Scholarly Record
- A correction does not always mean there is something ‘wrong’ with the research.
- A publisher’s responsibility for their content does not stop at the publication.
- An author doesn’t want to hear if you spot a potential error in their research.
Correcting the record
- Errors happen! Correcting the record needs destigmatising and normalising through education and transparent communication.
- Publishers must be willing to correct inaccuracies transparently with the support of all parties involved in the research ecosystem.
- Researchers should be willing to receive communications about their publications. Comments should be neutral and non-accusatory.
Standards are set by multiple bodies, including ICMJE, COPE, STM, and PubMed, which form a basis of recommended principles. Published content is a snapshot in time and should not be updated to reflect recent events/changes (for example, affiliation updates).
Who Decides What Needs to be Corrected?
This should be done in a partnership which can include the publisher, author, editor and editorial teams, depending on the query. For example, a plagiarism investigation will require more input from all involved as opposed to a typographical error in a name. Accuracy of publications must be maintained by all members within the ecosystem to uphold the scholarly record, which includes publishers, authors, readers, reviewers, editors and research institutions.
- Need to have checks and balances in place to avoid inaccuracies being published.
- Correct inaccurate content in a thorough and timely manner using transparent language.
- Investigate concerns brought to the journal regarding the accuracy of content.
- Have a responsibility to avoid errors being introduced – thoroughly checking the content at pre-publication checks.
- Inform the publisher of any inaccuracies they identify in their own work.
- Inform co-authors of any inaccuracies discovered, whether accidental or intentional.
- Cooperate with investigations into concerns about accuracy of publications.
- Have a responsibility to report suspected errors in publications – this should be done neutrally to a body with responsibility for accuracy of the publication.
- Have a responsibility to review a manuscript critically and provide a succinct review. They should also report concerns with content to a appropriate body who has responsibility for accuracy regarding the publication.
- Have a responsibility to critically analyse manuscripts and report suspected errors.
- Investigate errors brought to their attention.
- Collaborate with the journal or publisher whilst an investigation is pending, bringing their subject expertise.
- Have a responsibility to promote responsible research through education and foster a transparent research culture.
- Required to have a mechanism for reporting and investigating potential.
- Report the outcomes of the investigations to the publisher affected.
What is the Impact of Correcting Content?
It is important to correct and not remove content. Corrections will always be a customary part of maintaining the scholarly record and should only be done if necessary. Removing or editing content could impact a researcher’s career. Retractions are the most serious type of notice that can be issued and can have a serious impact on the career of a researcher. Indexing services can be impacted, by splitting citations. Incorrect indexing can cause issues for journals, authors and publishers. Google Scholar scrolls every 6 months and therefore it does take time for services to be updated regarding notices such as retractions and withdrawals. Publishers must be responsible with post-publications to prevent inaccuracies in the scholarly record.