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How do I know my results are significant enough to be published?

I am a physicist and I have found a very common mistake that appears in every paper in my area of interest. I thought it would be nice to let the people know it should be corrected. However, it is a very simple mistake, very basic math. I thought at first I could publish that as a short letter, but then i realised it is not that significant probably. Or maybe it is. I don't know. So my question is how do i know whether it is important enough to write such a letter to a journal? Should I just let it go?

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of possible interest academia.stackexchange.com/questions/18911/… –  gman Jul 22 at 14:15
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If you do decide to publish (and have the time), you should do an analysis of exactly what the significance is. Work out the worst case and average error. Maybe do some simulations. Look at a few famous results based on the technique, and redo the work to show how the results differ. Think kind of thing can help you build a simple insight into a more substantial publication. However, be sure to make the page count proportional to the heart of the paper. If it's a simple mistake 2-4 pages should suffice. –  Peter Jul 22 at 23:36
    
Out of interest, could you update the answer with what mistake it was, or publish in comments, once you have figured out what to do. –  Vixen Jul 23 at 7:52

3 Answers 3

You should talk to colleagues from that area of interest to check whether it actually is a mistake or maybe a common generalization that, although not perfectly correct, is still 'good' in the systems that were discussed in the papers. Also writing a mail to the authors of said papers is a better idea before writing to the journals without any cross-check.

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Many journals have special formats for such remarks, usually called comments. Though these are usually directed at single papers, there might be journals out there which do not impose such a requirement. Also, as such requirements are not carved in stone, you might just contact the journals which published most of the papers making the mistake whether they would consider such a comment for publication.

That being said, you should ensure that the presumed mistake is really a mistake and not just notational sloppiness or a standard approximation (see BPND’s anwer), which nobody wastes words about anymore.

Finally, you might consider to not only mention the mistake but perform and report about some research and demonstrate or estimate the negative effect of that mistake and thus increase the impact of your publication. Also, to address one of your questions: The existence of such negative effects is a good criterion for the relevance of a mistake.

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You don't have to know. That's what the peer review process is for. But it might save you some time to use this radical tool called the Internet, whereby you can be in informal dialog with peers across the world.

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True, however, estimating whether it’s worth one’s time to invest a considerable amount of time to prepare a manuscript is quite something. –  Wrzlprmft Jul 22 at 15:31
    
@Wrzlprmft: I amended my answer. Thanks. –  Mark J Jul 22 at 15:45
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I find it remarkable that you should take such a condescending tone, as if to say "Oh, everybody knows you should discuss it with your peers on the internet." Well, everybody except you, apparently, since you only included that part of your answer after somebody suggested it to you! –  David Richerby Jul 22 at 22:51
    
@David, well I knew of the internet, and I assume the OP does also. For example, he could ask his question on physics.stackexchange.com instead of here couldn't he? I think a little condescension can be appropriate if used in a corraling manner. –  Mark J Jul 23 at 0:50
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Condescension is never an appropriate response to someone who is legitimately asking for help. It only serves to alienate people and push them away from ever returning to contribute here. –  Chris Hayes Jul 23 at 4:15

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