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There is no work that is free of error and people make mistakes :) But that is not what I am after, I am seeing advise on how to go about asking for clarification.

Recently a paper was published in the field of civil engineering in a reputable journal. In that paper, there is a mistake/discrepancy between the written material and the equation stated. Basically, the text stipulates 1=True and 0=False; however, if you use the equation and plug the numbers, 1=False and 0=True.

To get more clarification on this, I emailed the corresponding author about 1month ago and still have not received a reply. I was thus wondering and seeking a advice on the following:

  • When/How often should I email/followup with the corresponding author for further clarification?
  • Should I Email the journal editor, and if so after how long?

In my true belief, this is just a simple mixup and a reply should be quick to generate. However, it is just dragging.

Edit: It was pointed that this maybe similar to What should you do if you spotted a non-trivial error in a highly cited paper? . In my opinion, the error is so trivial and doesn't require a paper to be written to correct. The point is I want to know what the authors' meant. Is it 1=True OR 0=True and want to know the most effective way to reach out to them to obtain that clarification. Basically, I dont want to overshadow the previous person’s work or contradict what they originally wanted to portray in their work.

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  • @AnonymousPhysicist I did read the latter link. The error in my personal opinion doesn't require a paper to be written to correct it. So I think as suggested I'll be using the work to publish something else and point of my finding professionally and decide which method to adopt. Dec 30 '21 at 22:53
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It sounds to me like you're saying it's a simple mixup that anyone reading the paper can correct with no bearing on the paper's overall results. If that's true, then you should just ignore it. If you need the equation in your work, you can make the necessary correction and put in a footnote that there was a typo in the original.

I expect that, on average, I have more than one mistake of this kind per paper I have published. I've had to make a correction with a footnote of one of them in a subsequent paper.

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  • Making the correction in the footnote is a possibility. However, I dont want to overshadow the previous person’s work or contradict what they originally wanted to portray in their work. At this point I think its more of academic integrity in trying to obtain a proper simple answer to an obvious mistake. Dec 31 '21 at 16:24
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In general it seems discourteous to nag the author, who may be discomfited by your discovery and may be seeking to check and correct. Nevertheless, it seems odd they have not acknowledged your communication so one more query about its receipt may be justified.

If you have not received satisfactory reply after a couple of months it would be reasonable to ask the editor, who may wish to issue a correction if the author (or independent referee) agrees that you are correct.

Apart from these two routes it is not really your business to do anything else.

If you are referencing the material in your own work, a simple reasoned statement that you have found otherwise would suffice.

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    I second this answer. Unfortunately, some scholars deem it a reasonable reaction to literally ignore serious emails from colleagues about their work. It would be nice to see what happens when the ghosting-author sees their editor being involved in the matter as a result of their apparent rude behaviour :)
    – Dilworth
    Dec 31 '21 at 0:31
  • I completely agree with the ignore email part. Really disappointing to see this being a trend in both academia/professional settings. It is disheartening when all you want is just to confirm a simple matter, but are forced to escalate it just because of academic-ghosting authors. Dec 31 '21 at 16:32
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    I try to not throw around words like "rude" and "ghosting" unless I am sure. The authors might have an entirely legitimate reason why they have not been able to read or respond to your message. Lots of people are dealing with issues and disruptions these days. If they are deliberately ignoring the message then I agree that is bad, but I wouldn't assume that without evidence. Dec 31 '21 at 17:42
  • @NateEldredge I completely agree with you, but its not just these days. Its something I have noticed since I moved from industry back to academia about 6 years ago. I understand your point, but we all deal with issues. However, personally, I like to believe that there is a certain academic obligation/integrity. At then end of the day, without evidence, one just hopes it is not deliberate. Dec 31 '21 at 18:43

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