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I have a conference talk (did not submit proceedings) in two days and last night I was making the presentation and I came across a major error in my conclusions of the work. I am currently writing the paper, so I thought the work was completed. But the error is a major drawback to my results.

To go into the details, my talk consists of two parts:

  1. Using computational modeling to determine the mechanism of an experimental process.
  2. Developing an empirical equation from the simulation results to predict the experimental results.

There are no issues with the first part. But yesterday I found that the second part is partially wrong and I need to rework my analysis and run more simulations. However, I don't have time to do so. This was supposed to be completing my results and be a major highlight to my work. Predicting the experimental results is a necessary part of work of this nature.

Should I go ahead and present the results with the error? Won't that be unethical? Or should I withdraw from the conference altogether? My advisor is not responding to my mails.

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    Do you think the first part would be of interest to conference attendees even if part 2 wasn't comlete?
    – kjacks21
    May 6, 2021 at 11:23
  • @kjacks21 yes, it is interesting and new. But without predicting the experimental results, it will not be taken seriously.
    – troubledme
    May 6, 2021 at 11:37
  • There are quite a few papers which are based on hypothesis, you could aim for a workshop for the first set of results, rerun the simulations and then proceed for a full paper.
    – Academic
    May 6, 2021 at 14:03

1 Answer 1

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You should not present results that you know are false:

  • It could lead to others wasting lots of time and money trying to replicate or build on your results. This makes it unethical to knowingly present results with errors (without disclosing the errors).
  • You could make a fool of yourself (and your co-workers): there is a good chance that someone will notice, or ask a question that you cannot answer because you presented erroneous results.
  • Lying is (almost) never a good idea.

There are three things you can do:

  1. Present only the first part of the results, and explain that you are still planning to validate the results. This is probably the best option, especially because you stated in the comments that the first part by itself is interesting and new. Work does not have to be finished or perfect to be interesting.

  2. Present the results with the error, but clearly explain where the error is and why the mistake was made: others may learn from this, and the talk could be very interesting if this is done well and if the error itself is interesting enough. Whether this works depends a lot on your specific case and your presentation skills.

  3. Withdraw your talk. This is the best option if there is reason to believe that others may replicate or complete your work before you can do so yourself. While unlikely, it has happened before, and is worth considering when presenting unfinished work.

Finally: The best advice can be given by your advisor, who is (or can be made) aware of the details of your work, type of conference, etc. You contacted them by email but they have not responded. Maybe try a phone call?

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    A variant on option 2 would be to restructure the way that part 2 of the talk is discussed. Since in the question the OP mentioned that part 2 was only "partially wrong," they could try to split part 2 into 2 or more cases. Then one can show results for the "easy case" where the current solution works, and explain why this solution doesn't work for the "hard case." Then "work in progress" would include options for how to deal with the hard case (this section can be labeled as "preliminary.")
    – Andrew
    Oct 3, 2021 at 15:14

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