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I published a paper and measured the environmental impact of some chemicals based on parameters published elsewhere by other authors. They are reputed and reliable but I suspect of some inconsistencies in their calculations and I based the mine on the values measured by them .I cited them and said that the calculations was "performed using the original values calculated by Author et al." If their calculations were actually wrong, can I face future problems even the mistake is not mine? Thank you in advance.

EDIT: For the last time, there is not misconduct, fraud, bad faith or carelessness involved. Please ignore my question if you plan to advice me to not be dishonest when the scope of the discussion is not this.

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    Can you clarify: you trust their measurement, but not their calculation, so you redid the calculation? If you use your own calculations, how can mistakes in theirs be a problem for you?
    – Mister Mak
    Apr 8, 2022 at 1:29
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    What sort of "future problems"?
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 8, 2022 at 1:36
  • The original data for the calculations they performed are avaliable in their Supplementary Material. This data was used to calculate parameters in two of their papers. I reproduced all the calculations. For one papers, the results were reproducible. For the other one (the main one, the one with this original data in supporting material) they were not. I am afraid to face a future corrigendum (retraction would not be the case, I guess) because I trusted in literature.
    – OAS
    Apr 8, 2022 at 1:42
  • What sort of error are we talking? You got 16.1 and they got 17.0? Or 5.0 vs 17.0? Apr 8, 2022 at 2:06
  • They got 14.1 and I got 17.0
    – OAS
    Apr 8, 2022 at 2:20

3 Answers 3

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Ultimately, it is your responsibility to check the information that you use in your paper. If the data that went into your paper was wrong (even if you or your co-authors didn't take that data), then you have some obligation to correct that error. It's may not be your fault, since obviously there are finite resources to check things and you may not even have had all the details necessary to reproduce the data you used, but it is now your responsibility as a scientist to set the record straight about the consequences for your work. (It is also counterproductive to worry too much about whose fault an unintentional error is.)

Deciding what action to take about your paper is similar to deciding what to do about any other kind of error. For a minor error that does not affect the main conclusions, but changes some details, you might add a comment to a future paper updating and correcting the result. For a major error that changes a key result significantly, you might submit some kind of erratum. For a truly egregious problem that invalidates the premise of what you did or your main conclusions, you might need to retract the paper.

In addition to correcting your paper, you should also try to fix the underlying problem with the source of the data. It is a good idea to contact the authors of the original paper so they are aware. If this is a minor issue, you might want to add a comment in one of your upcoming papers where you point out the issue with the data in the Supplemental Material. If this is a major problem, you could imagine publishing a paper refuting the data in the original paper (although I doubt this would be reasonable to do in this case, based on your description).

These things happen. There are certainly many cases of an error in one paper being carried on and used in future papers. The main thing is to try to clean things up, so there is a record correcting the problem in the literature.

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  • I could agree - actually I agree with the major points- but first of all I'm not saying it is not my responsibility. I would not even asking this question if I thought like this. I'm sorry for the possible rudeness, but I can guarrantee the question does not involve lack of care or bad faith.
    – OAS
    Apr 8, 2022 at 6:11
  • @OAS I wasn't intending to imply you didn't already know this or are acting unethically. I was just trying to lay out my point of view from a logical starting point.
    – Andrew
    Apr 8, 2022 at 6:12
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You are asking the wrong question.

If I [do something in bad faith], is it possible to face repercussions?

Maybe, but why would you want to do that in the first place? That is, why would you try to pass off these results as legitimate when you believe they are wrong?

You should not be afraid of publishing a corrigendum - it is not "future problems" by any stretch of imagination. Contact the authors of the original paper, try to resolve the issue with data. Sweeping it under the rug is no good.

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  • How can It be the right question if I did not do anything in bad faith/ dos not practice misconduct? It is ok to tell me to send a corrigendum if there was a mistake or even contact the authors to get the things straight or correct the record but I honestly do not think I gave no reason to extrapolate this to bad faith.
    – OAS
    Apr 8, 2022 at 6:16
  • @OAS I think Lodinn was responding to one way you could read your question: "if I don't correct the error in my paper because it was not my fault, will I face consequences?" I don't think this is exactly what you intended, but this sentence could be interpreted that way: "If their calculations were actually wrong, can I face future problems even the mistake is not mine?"
    – Andrew
    Apr 8, 2022 at 6:27
  • Believe me, I know Retraction Watch, I know what is an erratum, a corrigendum, a retraction and I follow Elizabeth Bik on Twitter (lol, and I love her work in image forensics). And of course, I know the taboo and the involved stigma. However, I appreciate your advice (the accusation was not necessary, but thanks).
    – OAS
    Apr 8, 2022 at 6:27
  • @OAS Basically what Andrew said. You phrase it as "face future problems". How is submitting a corrigendum "problems"? If you are aware of an issue, it's somewhat serious (not just a rounding error, has a potential to affect interpretation of the results) and are willing to just let it go because doing otherwise means extra effort - that's misconduct. Not sure what kind of taboo and involved stigma are you talking about in your last comment - is it about data manipulation/fabrication? No one is accusing you of this. It's not like that is the only kind of misconduct out there.
    – Lodinn
    Apr 8, 2022 at 8:29
  • I'm not aware about anything, I was SUSPECTING of a problem. You would appreciate to know that I talked with the authors and all is fine with the data. This was just a misunderstanding. Your assumptions are not my problem. Everything is fine. I just made a pragmatic question.Misunderstanding is not a problem. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about judgment without knowing all the details. Regardless of this, my raw data is avaliable and I appreciate if you confirm the reliability of the results by yourself.
    – OAS
    Apr 9, 2022 at 2:03
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If you know something is wrong, you should not use it. You could present your own calculation as a "reevaluation of the data in XXX". It might also be good to discuss things with the original authors.

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