Corrections, Retractions, Republications and Version Control

Honest errors are a part of science and publishing and require publication of a correction when they are detected. Corrections are needed for errors of fact. Matters of debate are best handled as letters to the editor, as print or electronic correspondence, or as posts in a journal-sponsored online forum. Updates of previous publications (e.g., an updated systematic review or clinical guideline) are considered a new publication rather than a version of a previously published article.

If a correction is needed, journals should follow these minimum standards:

  • The journal should publish a correction notice as soon as possible detailing changes from and citing the original publication; the correction should be on an electronic or numbered print page that is included in an electronic or a print Table of Contents to ensure proper indexing.
  • The journal also should post a new article version with details of the changes from the original version and the date(s) on which the changes were made.
  • The journal should archive all prior versions of the article. This archive can be either directly accessible to readers or can be made available to the reader on request.
  • Previous electronic versions should prominently note that there are more recent versions of the article.
  • The citation should be to the most recent version.

Pervasive errors can result from a coding problem or a miscalculation and may result in extensive inaccuracies throughout an article. If such errors do not change the direction or significance of the results, interpretations, and conclusions of the article, a correction should be published that follows the minimum standards noted above.

Errors serious enough to invalidate a paper's results and conclusions may require retraction. However, retraction with republication (also referred to as “replacement”) can be considered in cases where honest error (e.g., a misclassification or miscalculation) leads to a major change in the direction or significance of the results, interpretations, and conclusions. If the error is judged to be unintentional, the underlying science appears valid, and the changed version of the paper survives further review and editorial scrutiny, then retraction with republication of the changed paper, with an explanation, allows full correction of the scientific literature. In such cases, it is helpful to show the extent of the changes in supplementary material or in an appendix, for complete transparency.

Next: Scientific Misconduct, Expressions of Concern, and Retraction