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No Study’s Perfect: A Cross-disciplinary Analysis of Published Errata

Daniele Fanelli

Funding: COPE

June 1 2011 – June 30 2013

Mistakes in research are inevitable, and publishing corrections is vital for the integrity of the literature. These errata rarely require a retraction, and are, therefore, considered a lesser concern. This perception might be wrong, however, because the actual prevalence, nature, and impact of errors across disciplines have been previously unknown. Indeed, while several large studies have looked at retractions, previous studies on errata have been small, limited in scope, and rather different in methods and aims.

This project conducted the first large quantitative analysis of errata published in all disciplines, which were retrieved and sampled from the over 11,000 journals listed in the Essential Science Indicators database (which classifies journals in 22 broad disciplines). By combining quantitative and qualitative analyses, the project produced accurate data on the frequency of corrections issued in the various disciplines over the years, the types of errors that are most common, the impact of such corrections, and identified characteristics of studies and journals that are most strongly associated with the publishing of a correction.

These results have helped answer important questions on the integrity of the literature and its preservation. They have also pointed out strengths and weaknesses in the current publication system, and drew attention to areas that might need improvement, ultimately stimulating new approaches to ensuring best editorial and research practices.