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I have submitted a paper to a reputed journal (computer science; computer vision to be specific). While i was keenly waiting for the reviews, they were getting delayed. So I began working on an extension of the work.

During that I realized that one of the qualitative figures in the submitted paper might be slightly wrong (a few pixels yet noticeable) due to miscalculation while generating the image. However, the final interpretation and the description of it in the paper still would not change. But, when I critically view the image I think the reviewer may conclude that it could be photoshopped. I checked on the journal tracking system that the reviews have been received. My questions are:

(i) I am ready for a rejection, but could such a mistake may lead to public shaming or ban from future publications?

(ii) Would it be advisable to write to the editor that I have found a mistake in the submitted paper and explain that it does not impact the discussion. Or should I wait and correct them in the next version?

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    If you find a mistake, it is good practice to mention that to the editor. It is slightly embarrassing, but not as much as if someone else finds it. – Captain Emacs May 24 '17 at 18:07
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    Plagiarism ≠ falsification of data. It seems like you intended the latter, not the former. – eykanal May 24 '17 at 18:24
  • @eykanal thanks. Yes I intended that. Updated the title. What should be my next steps – krammer May 25 '17 at 1:30
  • @Captain Emacs Thanks. Should I explain the technical intricacies to the editor that it was due to to a bug in the code. I am not sure what should be my response. O showed it to a colleague and he says the error is minor and probably won't be noticed. I may change it in the next version. However, since.the reviews are over I am not sure if informing editor would be helpful. – krammer May 25 '17 at 3:23
  • @krammer Really, hard to say - only you know how relevant the bug is. If in doubt, inform the editor. Keep in mind that, if your result is of any importance at all, people may be found that will try to reproduce it or may just stumble over it. How much are you going to waste their time? This is - as they say - your call. – Captain Emacs May 25 '17 at 9:41
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To answer your question, it sounds like the difference is so minor that this wouldn't be considered falsification but just a simple (and minor) mistake on your part. You said yourself: the difference doesn't change the conclusions.

Addressing the issue is what the editor is for. Contact them and point out that there was a bug that caused the figure to be generated slightly incorrectly (you are not the first person to have done this). He/she will evaluate it and likely conclude the same as what you have: it is minor, does not affect the overall conclusions of the work, and will have you update it for final publication.

The reviews are complete but it sounds like you haven't gotten the comments back. It's likely that any discussion you have with the editor can conclude with you rolling this image in with the reviewer comments.

Don't overthink it. Everyone involved in this process is human, despite carrying titles like "editor" and "reviewer." Those folks are in those roles because they have experience and know that these types of things happen.

  • One should note that if reviewers noticed this and recommended rejection, it may still be that the editor rejects the paper even if the authors point out their mistake. But I agree that the more severe consequences indicated by the OP would not happen. – silvado Jun 22 '17 at 5:33
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Do not worry at all! This is very common and you can fix it and add a note in the letter to the editor / answers to reviewers in the next revision, clearly explaining the mistake, how you corrected it, and what has changed in this version of the manuscript (figures, conclusions, etc).

As they have already pointed out, reviewers, editors, etc... are human and make the same mistakes than you, or more. Even if it were already published, you could submit a correction.

Falsification of data or fraud is a completely different thing than what you are describing here. Falsification of data is manipulating it on purpose knowing that something is actually wrong to "prove" some claim that benefits you but does not derive from the evidence.

Here you have a recent scandal in Spain: https://forbetterscience.com/2016/03/18/erc-on-susana-gonzalez-suspended-e2mio-grant-peer-reviewers-to-spot-manipulations/

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Actually, this exact scenario is not very uncommon. Newer insights into data and mistakes on earlier analysis/data/calculations/etc are found at every stage: before submitting the data, during review and even after publication.

The criterion is as follows: Did you, to the BEST OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE, believe your data & calculations; and conclusions that followed to be true AT THE TIME OF SUBMISSION? If yes, and if you find a significant change in either the data itself, calculations or conclusions, you can always communicate this to the editors with appropriate explanation.

You fear that reviewers might conclude wrongly that your image/data was 'photoshopped'. You can communicate this fear of yours in your letter and be upfront about it. Most editors will give you the benefit of doubt.

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