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While conducting research for my dissertation, my collaborator and I discovered a mathematical error in published work and this error was confirmed by the author through personal correspondence. On the surface, it appears as a minor error, however it effects certain mathematical statements. The author of the work unfortunately has not published the correction in the errata for the work. It has been over a year now since our last correspondence.

The area of research I'm conducting is not widely studied so there isn't a large community of academics who are familiar with subject matter so this is unlikely to be something that will be checked by the wider community.

In the manuscript, I have written that we discovered an error and corrected it and that the correction was also confirmed by the author, and the only proof I have is email correspondence from the author. After I graduate, my email account will be shut down after a year. Therefore, would it be alright to include the correspondence I have as an appendix in the thesis in order to verify the statement I made about discovering the error and having our correction verified? The language in the email is formal and professional.

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    Why is it necessary to publish the proof the author confirmed your math? Isn't it enough to publish your own math? Sep 8 '20 at 21:31
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    @AzorAhai--hehim We did not replicate the authors' work but we built up on it. The math that we proved uses some results and statements that the author published. Therefore, in order for our math proofs to be valid, it is necessary for the results in published work to already be true (which is a reasonable assumption). However upon using statements which we thought were true, we discovered an error in work that was published by the author. The statements we have included from the authors published work are modified since we have applied the correction to them.
    – NM_
    Sep 8 '20 at 21:38
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    To me, that's fine. Including the emails seems unnecessary if you can show you were correct Sep 8 '20 at 21:47
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    Can you fully restate the gist of whatever the author said in their email, rather than copy it? If all they said was "yes, I agree with you that it was an error", then it doesn't seem like including a full copy of it will accomplish anything -- you already said that in the body of the paper. Citing it as "personal communication" is sufficient, and including a copy is not necessary. Sep 9 '20 at 16:37
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    Why don't you forward your email to a different email address? If you have essential and important emails from your current university, this would seem to be a wise move in general.
    – user96809
    Sep 9 '20 at 19:26
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You can only publish email correspondence in your thesis if all people involved in the email communication agree. Anything else is highly unprofessional and also unethical.

On the other hand, if you have clearly demonstrated that the manuscript had an error, there is no need to add those email. You could write that this has been confirmed by the author and cite a "private communication".

Regarding the emails, there should be no problem to save the emails even if your account is deleted.

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    He should download and save locally the emails before his account is deleted.
    – Ángel
    Sep 8 '20 at 23:52
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    The supervising institution might have the ability to store copies of the emails with the master copy of the dissertation/thesis, to make sure that they're on record even if not published externally. Sep 9 '20 at 8:03
  • @Ángel Well, obviously. Here, "even if" was meant as "in case".
    – user151413
    Sep 9 '20 at 12:35
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    @user151413 - ideas and facts cannot be copyrighted. Only the way of writing them down is copyrighted. Sep 9 '20 at 22:01
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    I feel it's worthwhile here pointing out that the core answer is that you just cite "Personal Communications" and there's absolutely no need to ever publish the email. Just document what it said in your own words. Problem totally solved. Sep 10 '20 at 4:30
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In some cases you can also write:

The mistake described above has been confirmed [15] by the authors of [12].

where the extra citation may read something like:

[15] Shot, Big and Fry, Small. Personal communication, September 9th, 2020.

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  • I would prefer wording it as "(person) confirmed this in a private communication on (date)" instead of putting a citation. Maybe it is just a matter of taste but I would hate flipping pages to the bibliography to find out that the reference was a ghost.
    – UJM
    Sep 11 '20 at 7:13
  • @UJM: You could phrase it that way, but the citation is, IMHO, necessary. Even if you don't attach it, you want to indicate that this is one of your external sources of information.
    – einpoklum
    Sep 11 '20 at 7:35
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A mathematical argument speaks for itself and its validity does not hinge on the blessing or confirmation of a single individual, even if the argument corrects a mistake that individual has made previously. So I think your premise that you need to include anything about the error being confirmed by the original author as some kind of “supporting evidence” is simply false. The fact that the author confirmed what your said is something that can be mentioned if you’re doing it as a way to save the author a bit of embarrassment, but is otherwise irrelevant. If you simply provide an explanation of the error and the details of how it is corrected, that will completely suffice to convince any readers of the validity of what you are saying. No emails need to be quoted.

As for your literal question: no, as a general rule it’s a terrible idea and quite inappropriate to quote a personal email in a thesis or other publication without explicit approval from the author of the email. But as I said that’s sort of the wrong question to ask for your particular situation.

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