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I have recently published a journal article in the IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing (IEEE TGRS). I can confirm that my contribution in the journal article is really of high quality and has promising results. Even my (very reputable) university congratulated me for my contribution during my PhD defense last year.

A few days ago, I discovered an error in my article. This error is really very annoying to me. In my article, I wrote:

The database contains 200 images. We removed "23 images of type X", "32 images of type Y" and "12 images of type Z", and so as a result, we use 128 images.

And I mentioned "128" all the time in all my experiments.

That fact is that all my results are really based on the number "128". But if you look back, the total should be 200 - 67 = 133 not 128. So I missed to say in the journal that we have also removed "5 images of type A". In this case the total will really be 128 as I mentioned in all my experiments.

All my results are correct and are really based on the number 128. But any reader can say "the total number of images must be 200 - 67 = 133 not 128, so how the author got 128!".

This is really awkward for me because I did this work in a very reputable university and I really wanted that everything to be perfect. I am really sad and I feel the failure and a bit like "Perhaps I don't deserve to be at this university". What do you suggest me? should I contact the editor? Is it better to publish the correction online via ArXiv or HAL?

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    Does this have any relation to the conclusions of the paper? If not, I think it's not worth thinking about. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 19 at 11:10
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    "I can confirm that my contribution in the journal article is really of high quality and has promising results. Even my (very reputable)" might win the award for most self aggrandizing statement on this site, that's quite and accomplishment you should be very...? – Sam Sep 19 at 18:55
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    To me, the bigger issue wouldn't be the discrepancy in the number of images, but the fact that there might be an exclusion criteria ("type A") that wasn't mentioned at all. Depending on what that criteria was, how non-obvious it was, and how significantly it differed from types X, Y & Z, it may be worth it to publish an erratum simply to inform people hoping to replicate/extend your work that there's something additional they need to consider when selecting images. It would be that, rather than a numeric discrepancy, which would motivate my decision. – R.M. Sep 19 at 20:28
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    The enemy of good is better. – copper.hat Sep 19 at 21:09
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    " Perhaps I don't deserve to be at this university". What do ". Come on! You even makes me think that's true :)) – Alchimista Sep 20 at 10:17
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It is probably best to do all of that. Contact the editor and ask if a correction can be published (letters to editor, ...). Put out a corrected version somewhere visible.

But also, don't obsess over it. Perfection is rarely attainable in an imperfect world with imperfect humans.

The sort of error you mention is very common, actually. Once you write something it is difficult for you to read it as incorrect. Often your mind "reads" what you think is supposed to be on the page rather than what is actually there. It is notoriously difficult for people to proofread their own work.

Ideally, the review process should have caught the inconsistency, but since it wasn't caught, others glossed over it also as immaterial to what your arguments are.

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    Thank you for your answer. I will contact the editor to see whether he accepts or not. Do you think IEEE TGRS can accept to update their published articles? – Christina Sep 19 at 11:19
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    @Christina They won't likely update the article itself (because of the typesetting involved) but they are very likely to publish what is variously called a "correction" or "corrigendum", a very small statement by you (just a sentence or two) correcting the error, which will be linked to from the article page. That correction will get its own DOI and so on. This is routine practice and nothing to worry about. Still worth doing though, not because of the discrepancy in the numbers, but as R.M. notes in another comment, effectively this arises from an otherwise unmentioned exclusion criterion. – Michael MacAskill Sep 19 at 21:15
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    If you've done your part (due diligence) then don't worry about it. – Buffy Sep 19 at 21:21
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    Well said. I am atrociously bad at proofreading my own work even though I'm a decent proofreader for other people. – TimothyAWiseman Sep 19 at 21:55
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    Do as Einstein did: publish a correction, he did so several times. – Dohn Joe Sep 20 at 8:22
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Since the asker said the in comments that the error is not related to the conclusions or results of the paper, the proper thing is to find something more important to work on. Unimportant errors do not need correction. Almost all papers have them.

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    Also, unfortunately, it reflects badly on you if someone else publishes a correction. Best that it comes from you. And novices can be misled even by minor errors, though not in the present case, of course. – Buffy Sep 19 at 12:03
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    @Buffy Nobody will publish a correction for such a minor error. At worst, OP will receive an inquiring email from a reader who noticed this. But even that is unlikely. – Roland Sep 19 at 12:15
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    @Buffy and Roland, Thank you for your comments. Do you think my error is really minor? what about if someone is reading my paper and starts asking a lot of questions about how I got 128? This is really awkward :-( I really feel now the failure. – Christina Sep 19 at 13:36
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    Well, certainly not a failure. Yes, pretty inconsequential. It seems obvious from your description that you just left out a bit of explanation, rather than something that falsified a result. Relax. Have a culturally appropriate beverage of choice. – Buffy Sep 19 at 14:21
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    @Buffy Thank you. Yes I will do tonight!! Cheers. – Christina Sep 19 at 14:28
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Eternal rule of professional book proof-readers: no matter how hard one tries, an error will always remain.

...and this comes from Literature and Fiction. Factor in the added complexity of scientific writing...

...In short, do obsess over going the extra mile to deliver and proofread a paper to perfection. But don't obsess over the error that will stare you with a smirk after, in the published document.

Admittedly it takes some effort and practice to adopt this mindset.

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