Secondary corrections

From The Embassy of Good Science

Secondary corrections

What is this about?

Secondary corrections, or errata, are corrections of articles that are made when an article that was cited was retracted or significantly changed. Secondary corrections follow the same format as regular corrections, but in this case, the correction is not about an author’s mistake or error in the publication process.

Why is this important?

Secondary corrections are important because even though the article is retracted, information from that piece of research will persist in science, if it is not corrected in the articles that have cited it. Secondary corrections are not common, especially in cases of older articles that have been retracted and authors who have cited it do not re-check their article anymore. Also, the author has to correct the article, which could affect his reputation, even though they are not directly responsible for the need for the correction. Unfortunately, for now, all the corrections fall in the same group, regardless of the causality, so a secondary correction is treated as any other correction [1]. Secondary corrections should be considered as examples of good practice, because they show that an author follows their field of research and is conscientious in their work.

For whom is this important?

What are the best practices?

Researchers should be up-to-date in their field of interest and, when they notice a retraction of an article that they have previously cited, correct the article. The easiest way to be regularly updated on retractions is by following Retraction Watch and their database [2]. Zotero citation manager has established a partnership with Retraction Watch and has implemented retraction notifications that pop-up when an article from the users’ database has been retracted. Hopefully other citation managers will follow this practice.

An initiative to stimulate this kind of behavior could result in more corrected articles. In practice, taking into account the number of articles that are published every day, it is hard to expect an individual to notice everything. The ideal practice would be that the journal which has retracted the article, notifies authors which have cited the retracted article. However, that is hard to be expected, especially for older articles. Alternately, authors of the retracted article could inform all the authors who have cited their article. This may be expected from authors whose article is retracted due to unintentional mistake and have initiated the retraction, but it might be illusory to expect this from authors who have committed fabrication, plagiarism, or similar misconduct.

Other information

  1. NLM. Errata, Retractions, and Other Linked Citations in PubMed. Available from: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/bsd/policy/errata.html [Accessed 12 February 2021].
  2. Retraction Watch. Available from: https://retractionwatch.com/ [Accessed 17 February 2021].