I have been reading a research paper for my university course. The paper is the PhD thesis of a student of Berkeley mentored by a reputed engineer. I strongly feel that an expression mentioned in the thesis is wrong, although it has been mentioned only once in paper and his analytical and simulation results agree everywhere, I doubt my speculation

My doubt is whether there is a chance that the equation may contain a typing error and what I think is correct and my expression has been used in calculations or since this is a highly cited paper , there cannot be any typing error and my doubt is futile. I mean have such typos ever crept earlier in such reputed publications ?

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    Related if not possible duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/q/48224/20058 Jan 27, 2020 at 19:29
  • You might be interested in the example in this answer: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/143031/…
    – Allure
    Jan 27, 2020 at 19:51
  • I did an undergrad project implementing a system like the one described in this paper, where near the end of the first column of the last page it makes a mistake about what $\Delta n$ is: it should be between air and ITO, not glass and ITO. Point being: it happens, even in fairly well-cited papers. osapublishing.org/ol/abstract.cfm?uri=ol-22-18-1373
    – llama
    Jan 28, 2020 at 17:39
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    It's also possible the the reviewers were so familiar with the subject that they elided the error without realizing it, much like many native English speakers failed to notice the incorrect extra "the" above. Jan 28, 2020 at 19:55
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    I would go so far as to say that any given research paper is more likely than not to contain at least one typo. Jan 29, 2020 at 1:28

4 Answers 4


Yes, and there are a lot of reasons for errors. There is also a large machinery for keeping errors out, but they fail regularly enough. Sometimes the error is a misunderstanding by a copy editor. In printed work, even by the printer's employees.

But the biggest issue is probably how hard it is for people to proof read their own material. I struggle with this constantly in my own writing. Once you put a mistake into a paper, you are likely to read over it when proof reading. You tend to "see" what you think should be there, not what actually is there. One of the purposes of intelligent reviewers is to catch such things. But we are all human and the mistakes we make we often repeat.

If the "error" isn't thought of as serious to understanding by a reader, they may just ignore it. Or even, might "see" what they expect to see in such things as formulae. Especially if they are commonly used.

There was once a version of the Bible printed in which, among the other commandments it was stated: Thou shalt commit adultery. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_Bible

  • I didn't know about this misprint in Bible. Interesting example :)
    – Coder
    Jan 27, 2020 at 20:05
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    It was actually "Thou shalt commit adultery." (Unless you put that in as an intentional typo to illustrate your point.) Jan 28, 2020 at 6:03
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    @RobertFurber, no, just used a modern spelling.
    – Buffy
    Jan 28, 2020 at 12:14
  • @Kutsit, if the Bible can "contain misprints", then anything can. :) That's your answer. :D
    – kiradotee
    Jan 28, 2020 at 17:38
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    @Buffy I don't want to seem adversarial to you (I already upvoted your answer before commenting the first time), but "shalt" is not a different spelling of "shall". It's a different word, the second person singular form of shall, and at the time it was commonly in use, "shall" was used with I, he, she, it, ye and they. If you consider "shalt" to be a different spelling of "shall", you really ought to consider "is" to be a different spelling of "be". Jan 28, 2020 at 21:32

No work is perfect; mistakes are everywhere: There's a reasonable chance the equation contains a typo, especially since a different, presumably correct equation is used elsewhere.

You can confirm in various ways. I suggest you start by looking at publications that followed the thesis. You may find the author has already corrected errors. Next, you could email the author: Open by summarising your interest in the equation, explain that the equation is used differently and you suspect a typo, and ask whether that's the case.


Things like that easily happen as the other answers already say. I would like to add one example: The only error I encountered so far in my own diploma thesis is like that: I started with an idea and first implemented the calculations numerically in a way that the underlying equation was hidden quite well. When I wrote up the thesis, I tried to extract the equation and swapped one variable with another. The calculations were still correct, of course. I only found that out recently because I needed the equation again. Nobody of the people involved at the time noticed, probably also because the equation was embedded into a text describing the general idea correctly.


since this is a highly cited paper , there cannot be any typing error and my doubt is futile

While generally true, bear in mind that in the end, the scientific papers are still written by humans, and humans make mistakes all the time, even when burdened by responsibility and reputation. Happen people were perfect, there would have been no vulnerabilities with things we create.

I'm not entirely familiar with the world of PHD academia, yet I'm highly invested into cyber-security. And in cyber-security, there is a common misconception that if something has been secure for a long time (like Windows XP) and/or something is obscured to be attacked (like speaking in French for the means of privacy), then it is secure. Neither is true. And from my own perception, there are both of these misconceptions present in the world of academia (overly trusting the seemingly time-proven sources; overly trusting the academia papers, where it is obscure to get a permission to write one). I hope some of my insight helps you change your perspective if you deem necessary

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