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During my postdoc, I published two research papers as the first author, with my mentor (a Professor at an Ivy League institution) as the corresponding/senior author. Months after publishing the papers, I realized that I made a mistake in the methods section (the same mistake in both, describing an inclusionary criterion) which was unfortunately repeated a few times throughout the articles.

I brought this issue to my mentor's attention shortly after discovering it, and they said it "didn't matter" in their opinion. Several months went by, and I brought the issue up with them again because it still bothered me, and I told them I wanted to do a correction. They stated that they did not think this mistake warranted a correction and even thought I was being "moralistic" about it.

A few months later, we spoke about it (via email) a third and final time, and my mentor reiterated that they did not want to do a correction. At that point, I relented and said I would defer to their judgment on the issue.

I've since moved on from the postdoc position into a faculty job at a different institution, although I still routinely interact with my former mentor.

With all that said, I'm still bothered by this situation and feel bad about the error. I want to know if anyone else has dealt with a similar conflict. If so, how did you handle it? Is it possible to do a correction without the senior/corresponding author's blessing?

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  • You may want to refocus the question around your last sentence -- that's the part we might be able to answer for you. The first part is hard to answer without digging into the nature of the error -- i.e., the proper way to handle this will be completely different for a serious error vs. a trivial error.
    – cag51
    Mar 7, 2023 at 17:48
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    Is a reader likely to reach a misunderstanding from this error or is it just something that embarrasses you?
    – Buffy
    Mar 7, 2023 at 18:03
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    Papers with minor mistakes get published all the time. Not every minor mistake is worth a correction. It's not, at least in many cases, a matter of trying to hide the mistake, but more a matter of it not being worth cluttering up the literature with minor corrections which do not change the message of your paper. Mar 7, 2023 at 18:58
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    Why is the advice of an established Ivy League professor unconvincing to you? You might have to shed more light on both what that person told you why they think that way, and why you think differently? The last two comments above are certainly worthwhile answering. Mar 8, 2023 at 5:14

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A correction is typically issued in the name of the authors. While there are situations where a subset of the authors will have to act on their own, this is a radical step. In the situation described here, taking action without your mentor would feel to me like an attack on their professional ethics. I would expect this to significantly worsen your relationship.

If you do have a genuine professional concern that your omission may warrent a correction (rather than this just being your jerkbrain acting up), I'd recommend consulting with 2-3 trusted colleagues first. If they agree with your mentor that this is of insufficient significance to do something about, then let it go. If they agree that there is a concern, you can then bring it up again with your former mentor.

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