Corrections: For the sake of Science!

I was reading this thread back at Peaceful Science regarding Prof. Deborah Haarsma making a dramatic round of retractions (you know, my mother’s name was Deborah!) :

[Edit: The title of the thread was changed. The word Retractions was replaced with the word Corrections.]

Specifically, it is discussing this article:

I was wondering what the general reaction was to this article. And, of course, I encourage people to post either at the thread in Peaceful Science, or here.

I found the article to be extremely carefully crafted. It traversed a huge topography of subject matter, and it did it with an almost liquid mercury seamlessness.

I wonder if you and others are using the word ‘retraction’ differently than I am used to. ‘Retraction’ is very different from ‘correction’. When a scientific paper is retracted, it is disclaimed by its authors and/or by the journal, and is effectively removed from the scientific literature. The evidence that the article existed, and the fact that it was retracted, are left as important components of that literature. When a paper is corrected, this is also indicated clearly in the literature, but the paper is not removed and it remains a part of the literature.

I didn’t see any retractions, but I may have missed something. Instead, I saw corrections. For example, I noticed that people are correctly disclaiming references to the nylonase literature, because there are errors in that literature, but this is not retraction, and not even close to it.

I can easily envision a situation in which it would be appropriate or necessary to retract an entire article from the BioLogos site, and I would applaud both that action and transparency about it. But I don’t think that has happened here (nor does it seem to have been necessary), and I personally find the use of the word ‘retraction’, and especially the phrase “dramatic round of retractions,” to be inappropriate.



It is certainly a valid question. I look forward to asking @swamidass about how he sees the distinction.

But I wonder if it is too ambitious to seek a full “disclaimer” by the authors of the various articles. Do you have to retract a whole paper if only one sentence or one paragraph is flawed?

If only a small part has to be “corrected”… isn’t that a “retraction” of the small section?

You just heard from the editor-in-chief of a major biology journal.

If you mean the authors of the published papers wrt the nylonase story, that would not be realistic, and it’s not what I was talking about.

No, definitely not. That’s when a correction is the right process.

No. The word ‘retraction’ simply does not mean that, in the context of scientific publishing.


Hey… I just got the word … Joshua has changed the title of the thread!

First Round of “Corrections” !!! I’m scrolling back up and change the link there.

@sfmatheson, I can now see a note where Joshua mentions your input.

Wow, that is impressive and I must express gratitude and admiration all around. Both @DeborahHaarsma and Joshua are conducting a clinic on how to correct errors. [bows]


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