I was working during the last year on developing an approach that determines human age class (young or old), but after I got exciting results I've discovered that I made a mistake when implementing some lines of code. I think that the mistake is a bit critical because I was comparing my approach and literature's ones. The mistake I made was during the classification task, where the data was entered in the right way but the experience was badly managed.

What should I do? Do I have to stay quiet or do I have to fix it? Note that the paper is not yet published nor peer reviewed.

  • From your question, it's not clear whether your erroneous results have already been peer reviewed and published. Please edit your question to add this information.
    – Pont
    Dec 5, 2015 at 16:29
  • 22
    So, what keeps you from correcting the error before submitting?
    – damian
    Dec 5, 2015 at 16:35
  • 6
    If it's wrong and you know it, it is unethical to try to pass it off as fine. "Negative results", which is in your tags, is a different thing. Something like "Theory X predicts that Y happens at rate Z, but our data rules out Z as the correct rate" would be a negative result: you had a theory and a hypothesis to start with and end up refuting it. Dec 5, 2015 at 16:36
  • 7
    "Is it bad to lie?" Um, yes. Yes, it is. Dec 6, 2015 at 19:41
  • 2
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit in German, the term for scientist is Wissenschaftler, meaning knowledge maker. I guess the point in a scientific context is: Do not make knowledge worse when publishing. Make it better, or else you're not a Wissenschaftler. Dec 6, 2015 at 21:50

2 Answers 2


Publishing things that you know are erroneous is a good way to get a really bad scientific reputation. Depending on how severe it is, it might go so far as to be labelled fraud and formally sanctioned, basically killing your career.

If it's important, then yes, you need to fix it.

If it's not published yet, then fix it before you publish it. If it's published, then you will need to submit a correction or possibly even a retraction. Good scientists do this, and it's much better to acknowledge your errors and retract than to have others expose you as a liar.

  • I appreciate your answer i will certainly fix the mistake. What should I do about my master thesis that was submited before i discover the issue?
    – user45545
    Dec 5, 2015 at 16:48
  • 15
    Find out if your university will allow you to submit a correction. Many will allow this. If not, at least make sure you note the existence of the error in the follow on peer-reviewed publication, which will be understood to supersede it in any case.
    – jakebeal
    Dec 5, 2015 at 16:59

I think it is better to do so. Because when you have results which are inaccurate or which are wrong, people who have access to that paper will surely have to redo the results and even the whole paper (study) if necessary. By doing this, some of the missed concepts of the study may be filled up during the second study. I had a task to come up with a term paper within a semester. Little did I know that the results were inaccurate. My lecturer instructed me to redo the paper and to my surprise I found new information which I didn't find during the first study.

  • 5
    I disagree. It's nothing more than an act of academic misdemeanor. The OP clearly knows there has been an error and its his responsibility to correct it. I couldn't understand how you can actually improve our current understanding of a subject by pumping in false information on intention.
    – Sathyam
    Dec 5, 2015 at 23:25
  • 1
    Homework assignments aren't really comparable with peer-reviewed publications so I don't see the relevance of your answer. Dec 6, 2015 at 13:02

You must log in to answer this question.