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  1. We submitted a result claiming that a paper by an associate editor (of the same journal) contained a proposition that is proven mistaken by us, and furthermore, the proof of a theorem is incomplete.
  2. The editor wrote to me: "the associate editor and others reviewed your submission. They conclude that your result is correct, but is not important enough for a correction publication. The result will be published as an errata, and the associate editor will write this errata." The editor ask us if we agree to this approach.
  3. We were busy consulting with other researchers about this unusual letter.
  4. After four days the editor formally rejected my paper and send me an errata written by the original authors, citing my preprint. Their errata does not formally include new results. The errata contain the associate editor's name as the formal author.

Academically or ethically, what did they do wrong? What can I do here?

To me, it is like a big unfairness. Two very similar papers, one accepted, and one rejected.

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  • 3
    A fair thing could have been to invite the original authors to co-author your submission. The editor could have facilitated this. I think it sounds unfair :(
    – Coder
    Commented Jul 10 at 20:44
  • 3
    "Their errata does not formally include new results" and "Two very similar papers, one accepted, and one rejected": Does your submission contain any new results, apart from reporting the mistake? Commented Jul 10 at 20:53
  • 16
    For most journals, an errata is not a 'new paper'. However, in my experience the proper thing would have been a 'Comment on <paper X>' by you, with the original authors having a chance to have a 'Response to Comment on <paper X>'. The response could well be 'yes, they are correct'.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 10 at 21:24
  • 9
    I do not think your new title describes the situation as you have described it in the body and in comments. "My result is accepted in a journal" - your submission was not accepted. "the editors want to change the authorship" - the editors have not changed the authorship of anything, rather, it seems that the original authors have received your feedback that they made a mistake and then published their own errata, written by them (not by you).
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jul 11 at 15:52
  • 2
    @DavidS I have absolutely no reason to suspect this poster is being treated differently than anyone else because the author is an associate editor. Commented Jul 11 at 22:00

7 Answers 7

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Short answer/summary:

I take it that you felt as if you were submitting more or less an "original work", even though it's very much based on correcting an error in a published paper.

I think that the editor instead treated it as they would treat a submitted complaint about the quality of something they've published and treated this more as an investigation of that paper than a manuscript submission. There may have been a miscommunication of expectations somewhere along the line.

I think you likely spent way too much time on this and that's why you're upset. I also think it was mishandled, but there's probably not anything for you to pursue here.


More detailed answer:

We submitted a result claiming that a paper by an associate editor (of the same journal) contain a mistaken result.

It probably would have been better to contact the authors of the mistaken result with your results first, rather than submitting as a paper.

The editor wrote to me: "the associate editor and others reviewed your submission. They conclude that your result is correct, but is not important enough for a correction publication. Instead, the associate editor will write an errata." The editor ask us if we agree to this approach.

This is pretty much the editor's call: whether the correction can stand on its own, just like whether any original submission is notable enough for that journal. It's not clear to me whether you expected the associate editor/original author to see the paper, but they did. It's possible there was some confidentiality breach here, probably in an ideal case the editor should have clarified with you that they planned to share your manuscript with the original authors before doing so.

On the other hand, it seems like they've treated your submission not as if it is original work but as if it is a report to the editor about a paper they've already published. In that case, it would be entirely reasonable to share the criticism directly with the authors immediately. It seems like that's the route the editor has taken.

We were busy consulting with other researchers about this unusual letter.

That seems sensible to me.

After four days the editor formally rejected my paper and send me an errata written by the original authors, citing my preprint. Their errata does not formally include new results. The errata contain the associate editor's name as the formal author.

I think this was the wrong action by the editor, since they gave the impression that they were waiting for your feedback. Maybe they thought 4 days was enough time and assumed no response was coming, but that seems a bit quick to me.

However, an "errata" is not a publication in the same sense as your submission. Your paper was rejected, but I would not consider this as an article of theirs that is "accepted". Rather, they had to admit, in public, that their paper was wrong, and correct it. This is the same thing they would have (or should have) done if you had simply sent them an email at the beginning and said "hey, we found this problem". They've given you credit for detecting the error by citing your preprint.

Given how many "wrong" results are out there with their authors stubbornly defending them, I'm having trouble finding a big problem with authors who are eager to rapidly correct the record as quickly as possible once aware of their mistake.

If your paper has value on its own, besides just correcting this error, you would be free to submit it somewhere else. If not, an erratum seems reasonable to me. Usually these are issued by the original authors; it's good that they credited you for detecting the issue by citing your preprint.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – cag51
    Commented Jul 12 at 2:31
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You cannot force a journal to publish your paper if it doesn't want to. Perhaps they were wrong to reject your paper, but it's their decision and there's no point in dwelling on it. There are many journals out there, so you can submit your paper to another journal (which hopefully will make a more objective decision), and if they think your contribution is useful then they will publish it.

The errata paper submitted by the other authors cites your preprint, so it seems like they are acknowledging that your paper has priority in discovering the mistake in the previously published result. That is good and proper, and also means that when you submit your paper to a new journal, you will not have to worry about a priority dispute rearing its ugly head.

The only possible unfairness I can see here is that the new errata paper was accepted by the same journal where the author of the paper is an associate editor. Perhaps the paper does not deserve to be published, especially since they are merely repeating (with appropriate citation) your demonstration of the earlier mistake. But injustices like this happen all the time - if I had a penny for every time I saw someone else's mediocre paper get recognition it doesn't deserve, I'd be a rich man. And in any case, publishing an errata paper is no great honor, and is unlikely to be very helpful to the careers of its authors. So again, while the episode you're describing does sound a bit frustrating, I'd recommend not worrying about it too much and focusing on your own work and publications.

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  • They ask me if I agree with their approach. I was busy consulting with other researchers, and after only four business days, they suddenly send me a new errata!
    – High GPA
    Commented Jul 10 at 21:33
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    @HighGPA you are coming across as very unreasonable. Let it go, is my advice. No one owes you anything and you will only antagonize people and hurt your reputation if you make these sorts of demands.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jul 11 at 0:04
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    @HighGPA: "I might plan to have the journal to disclose all communications between the editor and assoc editor regarding my result." You seem to assume that you can somehow enforce this disclosure. That seems very unlikely. Commented Jul 11 at 9:06
  • 11
    @HighGPA: I believe you might be missing the point. If you write to the journal "I want to see all the communication about my submission on the grounds of a conflict of interest" and they simply reply "No, we will not disclose the communication" - then what? Commented Jul 11 at 9:55
  • 1
    @JochenGlueck then you file a GDPR request :) (this is a semi-joke, but I have seen this happening in similar situations (not in a science journal))
    – WoJ
    Commented Jul 12 at 11:06
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First off, based on your responses to all the comments, I think you have a very mistaken view about the prestige of being an author of this errata. This is not something to be proud of or to put your CV. The original authors had to admit there was a mistake in their work. Rightfully, they should be the ones to acknowledge this.

It sounds to me like you wanted to publish a commentary type article correcting the prior work, but the editor (likely rightfully so) decided that this did not constitute significant new knowledge or worthy of even publishing as a commentary, but rather was sufficient to elicit a brief errata/correction from the original author.

So if your true intentions for your work was to correct the scientific record, you have succeeded! Congratulations! Frankly, I think this is the best outcome in that the original authors have publicly acknowledged their oversight.

However, it sounds like you were hoping to turn this into a publication of your own. This did not work out as it was not deemed significant enough. Now with respect to being an author on this errata, I again urge you to read my first comments, and those of others in responses. This is not a CV line item or something to be proud of.

Stop wasting time stewing over this and move on. It's a borderline or dubious thing to stake your claim on anyway. A slight correction doesn't always warrant a new publication when a simple errata/correction/admission can be issued. Focus on your original work.

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  • 1
    Why not being proud of proving a published, peer-reviewed paper wrong and even correcting it? This is worth credit and putting it into one's CV!
    – usr1234567
    Commented Jul 12 at 6:27
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    @usr1234567 Because according to the editors you didn't prove a paper wrong, you found an error in a paper which did not impact the main scientific outcomes and didn't even warrant a published comment. To be a successful academic you need to develop a good sense of what is worthwhile and what is not. You can waste your whole life going down meaningless rabbit holes, dying on hills nobody cares about. The value of a website such as this is the ability to provide advice to young academics to steer them from nonproductive or even professionally harmful career paths.
    – R1NaNo
    Commented Jul 12 at 15:04
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Let me put my Editor's hat on...and for clarity I'm not affiliated with the journal you're dealing with.

First, an Errata is generally sent by the authors of the original paper to point out an error in their paper. What you sent was not an Errata but rather a Comment. Had I been the editor handling your Comment, I would have asked the paper's author to respond and assess whether or not your comment and the response are significant enough to warrant publication. Usually, I send both out for an external adjudication. And if the discussion is warranted, publish both your comment and the rebuttal and possibly your response to the rebuttal. Sounds to me like the Editor didn't think the error you pointed out was that significant. Don't take it personally, it's just business.

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  • 2
    Not sure that last sentence conveys your intent properly; you may want to take a second look at it.
    – fectin
    Commented Jul 12 at 1:18
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Your description lacks details, so this answer also draws on generalizations based on what you described.

The editor chose to publish an erratum. Errata are minor, almost by definition. Here's how Wikipedia describes them:

An erratum or corrigendum (pl.: errata, corrigenda) (comes from Latin: errata corrige) is a correction of a published text. As a general rule, publishers issue an erratum for a production error (i.e., an error introduced during the publishing process) and a corrigendum for an author's error.

And here's an actual published erratum

Maslovsky I, Gefel D. What Causes Clubbing? Am J Med. 2005; 118:1350-1351.

The second author’s last name is Gefel.

It should be clear that if someone were to write to the journal pointing out that the second author's last name was misspelled, they do not need to show a formal proof (with websites, LinkedIn profiles, and whatnot) that the second author's last name is Gefel. They'd be wasting their time. The misspelling is obvious to the authors, and it can be trivially fixed.

A more sophisticated example is this question on the Physics SE. The author saw the question, acknowledged it's an error, and included the correction in a PDF file on their website. Why is it just a PDF file on their website instead of a republished book with the errors fixed? Because again, the error is minor and do not materially impact the author's message. If this book were actually a journal article, Trever Thompson (who wrote the question) should never expect to publish an erratum with calculations to prove that there's a mistake.

In this case the fact that the editor chose to publish an erratum suggests that they don't view the correction as a big deal either (although they acknowledge the error you found is indeed an error). They further do not consider their results to be compromised in any way. That's why they are publishing an erratum.

Notably, the erratum workflow is different from the standard journal article workflow. In particular, peer review is unnecessary for errata. Errata aren't actual papers, publishing an erratum is not an achievement, and you'd be crazy to list an erratum on your CV.

I don't know the contents of your preprint and the editor's erratum, but if the erratum really says something like:

In our paper, equation 2, M should be m. The authors thank High GPA et al [cite] for bringing this to our attention.

Then they're not doing anything inappropriate. If anything, you'd be the one coming across as inappropriate for making a mountain out of a molehill.

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  • Many thanks. I updated some details. We disproved their proposition, and our result was “accepted”, but as errata. The thing is, the editors want the associate editor to write the errata.
    – High GPA
    Commented Jul 11 at 9:43
  • @HighGPA Do they cite you as origin of the erratum? I understood they do cite your preprint. Commented Jul 11 at 11:06
  • 4
    @HighGPA That's what an erratum usually is: a correction written by the original authors. It's not its own paper. They're acknowledging you as the source of identifying the error by citing you. It's not meaningful to say your "result" was "accepted" as if this implies your manuscript must be.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jul 11 at 12:46
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I guess that this question relates to the same paper as your earlier question (An editor thinks a correction should be posted on the author's website rather than published. Is he sticking to the academic ethics?).

The situation here seems to be:

  1. Someone has published a paper that contains an error.
  2. You have written and submitted a paper about that error.
  3. The editor has decided that your paper is not sufficiently interesting/significant/substantial to merit publication.
  4. The editor has, however, brought the error to the attention of the original author.
  5. That original author has acted to 'correct' the record by publishing an erratum.

Nothing here seems inherently wrong. Of course, you can argue about whether the editor's assessment of your paper as 'not suitable for publication' is correct or not, but this is a matter of editorial judgement.

If your paper is a valuable contribution in its own right, then the work is not wasted: you can revise the text in the light of the published erratum and then submit it elsewhere. On the other hand, if an erratum that "does not formally include new results" makes your paper obsolete - well, unfortunately that probably confirms the editor's view, and the original error did not merit the attention you gave it. This is what the professor in your earlier question was also trying to tell you.

Suppose someone writes a paper that includes the sentence "All grass eats cows." This is a surprising claim, with major implications for our understanding of biology. I could take that statement at face value, and invest a lot of time and effort into disproving it: I would need several fields with different varieties of grass; a truck-load of cattle; and a control herd that lived on concrete. After a few years' careful study I could then write a paper reporting that no cows had disappeared, and questioning the veracity of the original statement. Of course, this would be ridiculous. While the scientific record should be correct, not all errors merit explicit correction.

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  • So for the same result with my name is rejected, yet the result with associate editor's name must be accepted? –
    – High GPA
    Commented Jul 12 at 20:01
  • 1
    @HighGPA you will not get very far in academia with this attitude. Focus on writing good work and publishing it, and you will have a good career. Spend your time and energy ranting about perceived injustices, and you will get nowhere. If your paper was rejected, try to understand the reasons why this happened and how you can move on - possibly the work is still publishable if you approach this with a positive attitude, for example by making appropriate improvements to the paper and submitting to another journal.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jul 13 at 5:10
  • 1
    @HighGPA as for the other author's paper getting accepted, that should be of zero interest to you. Any time you spend complaining about it is time you could be doing actually useful work that will get you ahead in your career goals.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jul 13 at 5:11
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    @HighGPA I think the point you're (perhaps) missing is that an erratum is not a new publication: it is an update to an existing one. Whereas a new article (i.e. your submission) has to be inherently substantial and interesting to the readership, an erratum does not -- the substance lies in the original submission.
    – avid
    Commented Jul 14 at 9:42
  • @DanRomik The lesson I learnt here is that, in academia, correctness is not very important and contribution is judged subjectively. To more further I have to make friends, amass power, and reject competitors' papers.
    – High GPA
    Commented Jul 21 at 9:27
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It looks to me like you have different expectations than the course of action they took in response to your paper. I have two ideas for you:

  • Contact them about it and explain your situation. There are people on both sides, and there can be emotions involved, like yours right now. The best you can do is to communicate your problems with each other and come to a conclusion on how to resolve them together.
  • If you are just unhappy that your paper won't get proper recognition, publish it on your own site and ask them to include it in the errata or find other ways to better point to your paper.

I understand that situations like this can bring up many emotions, but taking any unreasonable actions while facing small problems like this will only bring you harm in the future.

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  • May I ask, for example, what is an unreasonable action?
    – High GPA
    Commented Jul 11 at 8:28
  • Sorry, I was referring to your comments in different answers and I should be more specific. What I had in mind were mainly comments about disclosing all communications between editors and trying to disputing the current result (using errata instead of your paper). Commented Jul 11 at 8:33
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    @HighGPA be careful with words like demand. Only use it if you have the power to enforce that demand. What are your options if you demand that all communications between editors be disclosed and the journal says "no"? Demanding without the power to back it up just sounds unprofessional, weird, unreasonable, etc. This is true inside and outside academia. Commented Jul 11 at 9:41

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