No study’s perfect: a cross-disciplinary analysis of published errata

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 are unknown. Indeed, while several large studies have looked at retractions, existing studies on errata are small, limited in scope and rather different in methods and aims.

We will conduct the first large quantitative analysis of errata published in all disciplines. These will be 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, we will produce 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 we will identify characteristics of study and journal that are most strongly associated with the publishing of a correction.

These results will help answer important questions on the integrity of the literature and its preservation. They will point out strengths and weaknesses in the current publication system, and will draw attention to areas that might need improvement, hopefully stimulating new approaches to ensuring best editorial and research practices.

The project will be conducted by Dr Daniele Fanelli of the University of Edinburgh, with the help of a research assistant.