Two young faculty members—Marie, an epidemiologist in the medical school, and Yuan, a statistician in the mathematics department—have published two well-received papers about the spread of infections in populations. As Yuan is working on the simulation he has created to model infections, he realizes that a coding error has led to incorrect results that were published in the two papers. He sees, with great relief, that correcting the error does not change the average time it takes for an infection to spread. But the correct model exhibits greater uncertainty in its results, making predictions about the spread of an infection less definite.
When he discusses the problem with Marie, she argues against sending corrections to the journals where the two earlier articles were published. “Both papers will be seen as suspect if we do that, and the changes don’t affect the main conclusions in the papers anyway,” she says. Their next paper will contain results based on the corrected model, and Yuan can post the corrected model on his Web page.
What obligations do the authors owe their professional colleagues to correct the published record?
How should their decisions be affected by how the model is being used by others?
What other options exist beyond publishing a formal correction?