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Referees missed error in submitted paper

  1. Oct 14, 2014 #1
    I recently submitted a paper to a respectable journal. After submission, I discovered a few errors in my paper, one of which is quite serious. I have the corrected expressions and plots and I've checked that they are in agreement with the overall theory (as presented in other papers). My supervisor also agrees with me that I made errors and that I have now fixed them.

    However, this was AFTER submission, and I have not heard from the journal any more than an automatic update telling me that the referees passed my paper and that it's awaiting approval from the editorial board. Apparently the refs didn't catch my mistake.

    I desperately want to correct my mistakes. I would feel very bad if the very first paper I've written goes to print with serious errors which I am already aware of. I asked my supervisor if I should contact the journal, but he thought that that would mess up the publication process and that I should wait for the journal proofs and then follow their guidelines for fixing the paper. As far as I understand the journal instructions though, they only want minor changes so that the paper *looks* right, and not any extra information that changes the original paper (that's what the refs should take care of...). They also seem to have a very narrow time window for replying with modifications to the proof.

    So now I'm sitting here, really wanting to correct my first paper, but the refs didn't catch it, the supervisor's advising me to lay low and I have no idea how this is going to play out.

    Thought, anyone?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 14, 2014 #2


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    I'm not part of that world, so can't give you any useful practical advice, I can only say that I have found it very worthwhile in my life to always own my mistakes immediately, regardless of any short-term embarrassment or negative consequences.
  4. Oct 14, 2014 #3

    Andy Resnick

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  5. Oct 14, 2014 #4

    Doug Huffman

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    If the errors had been so substantial that the paper had to be withdrawn, what would you do? Use that protocol rather than allow errors to be published in your name.
  6. Oct 14, 2014 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    You should contact the journal immediately. This isn't the first time it has happened, and they surely have procedures in place.
  7. Oct 14, 2014 #6


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    My understanding is that the paper has been reviewed, but not yet finalized. You can still make corrections after submission: Both as replies to the reviews and in the proofs. This also allows for large corrections which change the content substantially (although this is discouraged in proof stage). You should explain the problem in the letter to the editor with which you submit your corrections. The worst that could happen is that they send it for review again. The more likely outcome is that they will simply accept the corrections (even if they change content substantially and in proof stage) without any objections.
  8. Oct 14, 2014 #7
    I want nothing more than to "own up" and correct my mistake. My first thought was to correct the mistakes (minimal adjustments) and contact the journal immediately with the corrections and an apology. However, my supervisor advised me to wait for the proof and then follow the proof correcting procedures. I think this sounds a bit shaky, since it to me seems better to catch the error early.

    I have not received any word from the journal. Apparently the refs approved my paper without any need to contact me. Right now the status of the paper is listed as "Awaiting reply" (which according to my supervisor means "reply from the editorial board").
  9. Oct 14, 2014 #8
    Talk to the editor. Now. Don't worry about process. You know you have a mistake, the earlier you do something about it, the better.
  10. Oct 14, 2014 #9
    I've been thinking about it. That would mean that I would have to talk to my supervisor about it, or simply ignore his advice (I don't know how he'd feel about that). If my supervisor hadn't told me to lay low I would have contacted the editor already.
  11. Oct 14, 2014 #10
    Is the supervisor's name on this paper? If so, then follow the supervisor's advice. If not, this is your name. Do something.
  12. Oct 14, 2014 #11


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    It's extremely rare that a paper goes straight to publication without revisions recommended by the referees in my field - particularly for first time authors. A couple years ago I heard a talk from the chief editor of a major journal in my field and he said that during his tenure (several years) only once had a paper gone through without any corrections. So, just because referes have "passed" your paper they may still have corrections for you, and your supervisor is recommending that you wait for these to come, rather than the editorial proof.

    The other thing is that in most online submission systems that I'm familiar with you have an opportunity to send correspondence to the editors. You could use this. I'm sure the editors would be fine with it.

    The other thing I might recommend is to trust the judgement of your supervisor. He should know the field and the journal enough to know how the things are handled.
  13. Oct 14, 2014 #12
    Yes, he mentioned something about comments from the referees. However, I have not received any word other than that the paper is awaiting editorial decision, so I don't know what I can expect from the journal. (My supervisor does not know the procedures for this journal well.)
  14. Oct 14, 2014 #13
    Usually, there are one or more editors. One of them will get to see the submission first. Based on the title or abstract he can decide if it's a suitable topic for the journal. If he finds the topic suitable, he will send it to two or three referees for a more detailed investigation. They will read the paper, judge the content on suitability, scientific merit, and they try to find errors. They will make recommendations to the editor: reject, accept with major revisions, accept with minor revisions, accept without revisions. Based on this, the editor will make a decision and send you the response of the referees. If the editor decided to accept the paper, you can then rewrite the paper and send your final version. In the final version, you also add your own corrections and mention them in an accompanying letter (the rebuttal). In this letter you tell the reviewers what you have done with their comments.

    If you are unsure about the procedure, you can write to the editor and ask him what the next steps are and when you are expected to hand over your final version. You do not have to tell them at this point that you want to correct something you have spotted yourself, you can tell them this in the letter accompanying your final version. As long as the main ideas and the conclusion is intact, this will be like implementing a minor revision from a reviewer.
  15. Oct 14, 2014 #14


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    Your supervisor is wrong. In fixing the proofs you cannot change the scientific content of what was approved by the referees. You can change presentation, but not content. A change in content is serious, and you should contact the journal immediately.
  16. Oct 15, 2014 #15


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    I agree with atyy, in cases like this it is best to contact the journal.
    It is true that you can correct minor errors once you have the proof, but "minor" in this case usually means fixing typos/spelling mistakes; not issues so serious that you need to replace expressions and graphs (unless the problem is trivial, e.g . some scaling factor to get the units right).
    It is certainly better to contact them now than to wait for the proof, if the changes are substantial the journal will have to do the layout again before publication I doubt they like it.

    Also, don't worry too much about it. Things like this happen (more often than you think), the important thing is that you spotted the error and you have a chance to correct it.
  17. Nov 3, 2014 #16
    Mr. malasti, can you please update, what did u do then
  18. Nov 3, 2014 #17
    Hi I once went through a similar experience, but with a small, not so good journal. The error even changed the conclusions. What I did was immediately write to the journal to tell them that I retracted my paper because I had found a serious error in it. They replied that it had already passed review(!) but of course they accepted my decision. It was a big relief!
    I totally rewrote the paper, from which it gained so much in quality that I next submitted it to a more respected, higher quality journal.

    In your case, the best thing to do is to tell them that you discovered a big error and so you would like to send them corrections or resubmit a corrected paper. Perhaps they will agree to send it to the same reviewers so that little time will be wasted; or even, if in their opinion the difference is not very important, they could accept the corrections without a new peer review. If it goes through new review then it won't be published at the foreseen time, but better later than wrong!

    PS I now notice that it's already two weeks ago; so, same question as edward!
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2014
  19. Nov 3, 2014 #18
    Thanks for sharing ur experience herrylin. but if request is made for the correction of some error. How many chances are there that journal will retract inspite of correcting error. and also in case of some error can corresponding author request for withdrawing of paper. needs ur guidance harrylin.

    also if malsti also share his experience, it will be beneficial indeed
  20. Nov 3, 2014 #19
    That really depends on the journal; I don't have enough experience with such cases. ;)
    And the obvious thing to do is to communicate as quickly as possible. If the choice would be to withdraw the paper or make minimal changes, I suppose that the authors should try to reach agreement about that.
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