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Background Info:

So, to make a long story short, I'm worried about paying for mistakes I made when I was a younger, unprofessional, ignoramus.

I'm an engineering PhD student at a U.S. University. I did my BS and MS at the same university which I'm doing my PhD. About 3 years ago, my previous advisor wanted me to publish my work (from late undergrad early MS stage) to a respected international conference. At this time I was young, nieve, and frankly did not care very much. I submitted the paper and it was accepted, and I presented at the conference. I have since left the lab, and changed fields to a different engineering discipline.

Years later, I have realized the conference paper has numerous errors, some are theoretical errors, others are sloppy errors. My initial reaction was that this does not matter because it's a different field (a conference/journal not relevant to my current field) and not related to my current PhD dissertation. However, upon further thought, there could be serious consequences to this.

MY QUESTIONS

1) What are the consequences for having submitted a conference paper with major errors? The paper is sitting in the proceedings with errors.

2) Are there actions/charges/reprimands the university can take against me for having submitted a paper with major inaccuracies while a student at that university? Can they expel or revoke a degree?

3) Since this work has errors, I worry about charges of rigged data/results. Since there are inaccuracies, this could lead to charges of rigged data (side note: paper was on theoretical and computational work, not experimental). The way to combat these allegation would be to reproduce the error-filled work - which would be very tough for me to do since (1) the work had errors and (2) the work was done a long time ago with some files now missing. Even though I did not falsify data, what are the charges for a grad student falsifying data? Although the paper is not related to my dissertation, allegations of rigged data could have serious consequences, what could they be?

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    Charges of data falsification are for people who intentionally fabricate data or modify the data they've collected to make it look better, not people who make honest mistakes and get invalid results because of it. Relax. – ff524 Jun 1 '16 at 4:33
  • Whatever errors you can correct (e.g., straightening out a proof), I'd consider submitting as a corrigendum. As you didn't falsify anything intentionally, see what @ff524 said. I think the actual question you should be asking - which might already have an answer here - is: other than correcting what you can, what should you do? Retract? ...? (Arrow, a Nobel prize winning economist, had reportedly a paper published in which he failed to check the second order condition for a maximum; it was indeed a minimum. I'm not sure if this is a true story, but honest errors happen even for stars) – gnometorule Jun 1 '16 at 5:11
  • @gnome: Can you even retract a conference publication, necessarily? (I honestly don't know.) – Pete L. Clark Jun 1 '16 at 5:18
  • @Pete: Me neither. :) Your answer, which was posted right after my comment, makes some good alternative suggestions, like using a personal web page for errata. – gnometorule Jun 1 '16 at 5:20
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To be honest, I find that most of the moral / cautionary tale in your story lies in the trend to push younger and greener students into publication. I feel strongly that having a professional-grade mastery in one's discipline should be a prerequisite to submitting a paper in a research journal. But note well that I am not scolding you: as a BS/MS student, you don't know the profession, the standards for publication, or (most likely) even your own level of mastery, really. Your advisor let you down. Moreover, a respected international conference should read its submitted papers -- especially from student authors, I would argue, but if you don't like that then OK, from everyone! -- carefully enough not to accept something that through the simple process of learning and maturing you will eventually find shoddy and embarrassing. You were too young to know any better: what was their excuse?

1) What are the consequences for having submitted a conference paper with major errors? The paper is sitting in the proceedings with errors.

Well, the consequence is that you have published something with errors. If you are worried that the errors will mislead other researchers, you should consider writing an erratum. For conference publication you may not be able to publish the erratum with the conference, but you could still include it on your webpage, and if e.g. you have a google scholar profile, that will go a long way towards giving people the right idea.

I should say that I am in a field (mathematics) where conference publication is quite rare nowadays, but I assume that the merit of conference publication is that it gets out results judged to be of interest to the community more quickly, and the corresponding demerit is that the results are more tentative and more likely to be wrong. Do you have a good reason to believe that your publication is especially shoddy compared to other work published in similar venues? In fact, the shoddier it is, the less likely it is to mislead: in my experience, most serious researchers have a good nose for taking the good and avoiding the bad in published work. A certain kind of subtle error in a striking result can be really insidious, but once again you make it sound like once you matured a bit you find the mistakes rather obvious. So maybe other people will too? It might be good to get some expert opinions on this.

2) Are there actions/charges/reprimands the university can take against me for having submitted a paper with major inaccuracies while a student at that university? Can they expel or revoke a degree?

Practically speaking: no. You are at least an order of magnitude too worried about this. Degrees only get revoked for substantial academic dishonesty. Making mistakes, even embarrassing ones, does not qualify...thank goodness. Does it make you feel better if I tell you that one of the six major theorems in my Harvard PhD thesis is false? Suffice it to say that I can keep my degree.

3) Since this work has errors, I worry about charges of rigged data/results. Since there are inaccuracies, this could lead to charges of rigged data (side note: paper was on theoretical and computational work, not experimental).

@ff524 has the right answer here: just relax. Move on and try to do better in your current work, which people will take much more seriously than one early paper, especially if it's in a different (sub)field. At the most, write an erratum and include the erratum on your CV.

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