I found an error in two figures of my published paper. They are part of the main results of my PhD dissertation.

I am in the writing step of my PhD dissertation, and I put the new version of those figures. However I have to cite the paper (with the error) in the volume. I am concerning if the committee would ask about that.

What should I do?


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    Have you submitted a request for a corrigendum to the faulty paper where it was published? And what is the extent of this error? Is it a "everything I said is wrong and invalidated" error, or a "I made a typo and wrote 'teh' instead of 'the'" error, or what? – zibadawa timmy Mar 4 '17 at 13:45
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    @zibadawatimmy a Spreadsheet error. The values in the paper were not correctly computed. At least this did not change the conclusions in the results, only the value itself. – user57828 Mar 4 '17 at 13:50

I've come across one Ph.D. that I read, where the main body was just a collection of past published papers by that author. The subject was interesting to me, but I got a bit bored reading the same introduction many times over, as naturally many of the papers published had the similar introduction. Is your Ph.D likely to be like that, where the published paper is included in an unedited form?

If it not, then I don't see what your problem is. Just present your graph, and you can add a footnote that a similar graph, but containing an error was published in journal XX.

Unless your Ph.D. is similar to the one in the first paper I described, then you will be judged by the content in your thesis - not on what you may have published before.

Whilst publishing material before you complete a Ph.D. is nice, certainly where I did my Ph.D (University College London), there was no requirement to have published anything before getting a Ph.D. I myself had published some papers, but it was not a requirement.

I think you are worrying about nothing to be honest. But it is worth letting the editor of the journal know about the error, but as for it being a problem in the Ph.D, I really don't see it as an issue.


You should inform your advisor/PI/whatever of the error. And you should submit a corrigendum request to the editors of the journal where it was published (probably directly to the editor that handled it during the review process), which details the nature of the error and its implications, and clearly specifies the correction to the error and all corrections/adjustments that must be made to the paper as a result. The journal probably has specific policies about corrigendums that you can consult for exactly how to proceed.

If the error renders the paper invalid you'd have to request a retraction, instead, which is a pretty big deal. A corrigendum that corrects a non-critical error is less major but is something I'd say you should proceed with asap.

If the editor agrees that a corrigendum is needed and will be published, you have fixed your problem: you can now cite the corrigendum (as "to appear" if necessary) specifically for the relevant matters. Just be prepared to address why the problem happened to your committee (if they bring it up); they may want assurances that this was an honest error you've learned from, and not an indicator that you are prone to bad research practices and scholarship.

If the editor does not feel a corrigendum is necessary, you can place the corrigendum (or fully corrected version) online in some fashion (your personal webpage, for example). You may need to consult with the publishing journal's policies to make sure you do not violate your agreement with them by doing so. This makes a suitable follow-up question to the editor if he rejects the need to publish a corrigendum.

In any case, especially if it appears that the editor will not decide on the corrigendum before your defense will occur, you should include a copy of the corrigendum to your committee. Preferably well in advance of the defense, so that they can properly incorporate the changes into their opinions and so they do not end up asking questions that are resolved by the fix. You may wish to consult with your advisor on exactly how to phrase things to the committee.

Your worst case scenario would be if the editor (or your committee) decides that the problem in fact warrants a retraction. What you describe does not sound like it would fall into this, but I can't guarantee anything. It would be hard to predict the consequences of a retraction without a lot of specific details on your situation. They are potentially significant. And not just for you; your advisor can be impacted, as well.

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    This seems very exaggerated. Just cite the paper and add a remark about the corrected values of the spreadsheet. No big deal. A separate issue is to go after the publication of an errata by the journal. Should be fairly simple. – Shake Baby Mar 4 '17 at 18:19
  • @ShakeBaby I'm taking a fairly cautious view on the OP's claims about the severity of the issue, and trying to advise the course which puts him in the best position. If it's as minor as suggested, then as you say it's not a big deal and pointing out there was an error and what it's easy correction is should suffice for the committee. But it remains good science and academia to inform the journal (and his advisor) even if editors/advisors agree with it being of little significance. – zibadawa timmy Mar 4 '17 at 18:25

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