Retraction vs. Correction?

Thanks for the answer. As I said, my goal here is to calibrate my standards, period. If my standards are inappropriate, I want to know. That is the purpose of my questions, that’s it.

As for tagging @glipsnort, I already tagged him, and I certainly want his opinion. I want to calibrated. That is why I did not mention any organizations or individuals too.

@sfmatheson that is just about how I would answer…do you think I am missing something important here?

I’m trying to figure out why you needed to ask about the difference between retraction and correction. That’s like asking about the difference between a research article and a book review. Looks like a garden path to me.

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Well, to be honest, you recently and correctly called me out on a mistake of calling something a retraction that wasn’t. You were right, and I immediately corrected it.

I wasn’t speaking in hyperbole at the time, but made a real mistake, and significant one at that. This provoked some introspection, and I wanted to be sure I understood this well so I did not make a related mistake again in the future.

Turns out, I agree with your answer but also wouldn’t have said it with such clarity. I supposed I soaked up culturally the meaning, but did not have some of the details in place, probably because I’ve never been responsible for a large journal, like you. As one example, I had never heard of COPE, and never read those guidelines. I would still not know about them had I not asked you.

As for “garden path”, I’m not sure what you mean. As I’ve noted to you privately, I did not plan to (and can publicly state I won’t) quote or cite your comments in this thread in any context. If it makes you more comfortable, I can even make this a private thread.

I’m glad you asked about retraction and correction. I would not have assumed that a busy scientist would have read the COPE documents, but I did think you should understand retraction and correction. It’s a good sign, for you, that you haven’t had any personal experience with these things. :slightly_smiling_face:

There is no need to make this private and you are welcome to cite my comments about retraction/correction and how journals think about it.

To understand why I smelled a garden path, consider the context of your harshness toward BL people, and look again at your last question. Yes of course the questions look fine outside of any context, but that’s not where they live. Food for thought.



I can be harsh with them, which is part of the reason I’m asking this question too. I don’t want to be unfairly holding anyone to overly high standards.

Perhaps I’m off base here too, but I have higher expectations of organizations and people that are carrying the torch of mainstream science.

I applaud that. BioLogos bears that responsibility because it has earned respect. Other organizations that frequent your forum do not. Let’s be frank: you aren’t going to subject the pitiful Discovery Institute to this kind of scrutiny, are you? Do you plan a series of posts calling on those authors and that organization to correct errors or retract falsehoods? Again, I agree that BL should be held to a higher standard, but that’s because it deserves to.


Well, I do. Do you recall these posts?

Well, yes I did, and I do. So I’m not sure what you are getting at here. In fact, I have regularly stated that ID has major problem with trust because they won’t retract anything. Though occasionally and rarely there are exceptions by one or two scholars, most of them never do. It is anti-scientific.

I pressed the case on ID scholars quite often. In the case of Behe, they were pretty unhappy with me, and he still did not retract (and is part of why we don’t see @Agauger here any more). I’m not exactly sure how you’ve come to the impression I use kid gloves on them.

The difference between DI and mainstream scientists is that I don’t expect DI to do right on these points, at least not for the most part, but do expect mainstream scientists to do right. Moreover, I don’t have credibility to call DI to the mat (as I often do) unless I’m willing to do the same to others in mainstream science.

I also agree with this. Honestly, my problem is not with BioLogos per se, or with the majority of scientist affiliated with them. It is with some (in my view) unscientific arguments and unscientific ways of managing errors that is hopefully confined to a few people and on the topic of population genetics. I suppose one reason I tend to react so strongly, on a personal level, is because it reminds of me of the dishonest versions of creationism (in this confined area, to be clear). That is not something I personally know how to tolerate from mainstream scientists yet.


Good to hear. Of your two examples, both are Behe, whose abuses of science are petty compared to other crap, and one is about jacket blurbs. I haven’t seen calls for retraction or correction, but if you regularly do this, then great.

Both Ann and Paul Nelson are tragedies IMO. Both should know better. Really sad.

As for “kid gloves,” I don’t mean to say that you don’t criticize the pitiful crap that the DI coughs up. I’m just uncomfortable with a tone used against BL that seems out of proportion. But look. I’ve had my say. My parting word is this: I do think that deleting an article, about science, from a website of the prominence of BL’s, is a mistake. My preference is what I would have done: leave the post there, with clear notes that it has been corrected, pointing to the post where that happens. That approach would be consistent with the practices of the professional scientific literature, and it would be the opposite of what we all expect from anti-science disinformation dispensaries.


I’m actually not sure that the norms of scientific publishing provide the best framework for this issue. Retractions and corrections in the scientific literature normally concern one’s own findings and methods in primary research. I don’t recall seeing a correction to a paper (much less a retraction) because an author misinterpreted some aspect of their field in a paper’s introduction or discussion. Instead, mistaken ideas are generally refined or replaced in new publications, by the same or by other authors. I suspect broader principles of integrity, accuracy, and transparency provide a better basis for framing this discussion.


I agree. I think it is a shame that @Agauger left here, but its got be hard when she does seem to follow a different path than the rest.

I do this regularly, and also on far more tehcnical points. I picked those because they are understandable to the public, which is critical if you are going to call out a scientist on something he is unlikely to correct. You need to do that on things the public understands. If he won’t retract things everyone knows he got wrong (and are not central to his case), then we can’t trust him to retract more nuanced things.

Of course, I’ve addressed many more of the technical points in detail. In those cases, my goal is helping the public understand, and also ensuring I didn’t miss something. See this for example: Which Irreducible Complexity?.

We’ve also called out people to engage with errors that other scientists (e.g. @art) have found: Art Hunt to Doug Axe: Invitation to Discuss.

I do think my tone can be different with BioLogos, largely this is when I’m dumbfounded that they are not following standards I just expect everyone to follow in mainstream science. I’m not surprised, in contrast, when a young earth creationist scientist executes nonsense. That’s what I expect from them.

Well, now that we are talking about it, that is one of my concerns. Though I’m sure BioLogos is not following the COPE guidelines, Haarsma did articulate a policy, a policy they seem to have violated the same day she announced it.

I agree with this too. However, that silent deletion fails on these grounds too.

This is where I also feel there is a massive missed opportunity. Handling these mistakes well would have put others (e.g. DI) really to shame, and would take away any reason I personally have for objecting to them. We all make mistakes. Some of us make large mistakes. And sometimes we don’t fix them quickly enough. If we put that all out there, and are transparent and apologetic, well then I think everyone should move to asking why other origins organizations are not doing the same. It is fairly tragic that this is not what is happening now.

To be clear though @glipsnort, Dennis made several novel claims that are not found in the mainstream scientific literature. I don’t know how closely you’ve examined his work, but many of his primarily claims and conclusions were never established findings in the literature, and in fact were never subject to peer review. That is fine of course, except they were presented as the established consensus of mainstream science, and no scientist at BioLogos was able, willing, or allowed to question his scientific work.

My unspoken point was that those larger principles mostly set a higher standard of behavior than publishing norms.


Sorry for the side note, but this one made me LOL because if they were to start retracting errors in their articles, the effort would completely consume them for years. Every day brings new articles with factual errors in them.


Both are serious, but correction is less serious than retraction. Correction means you described something incorrectly, or there was some error in the methods or data that were inconsequential to the conclusion. A retraction usually means that there were major flaws that invalidate the conclusions.

There is a fine balance between punishing people for publishing poor papers and encouraging scientists to be honest in reporting errors. I think we need a little more carrot and a little less stick.

Promptness is part of being an honest scientist. Report it as soon as you learn of it.

I think there is also an expiration date. I don’t think scientists should be going back to 30 year old papers and fixing them in the light of new technologies or newly understood errors inherent in older methods. A new paper is probably called for at that point. It’s a tough call, though.

Standards should be just as high when we communicate with the public as they are when we communicate with other scientists.

One of the hurdles is the amount of nuance you are able to use in each setting. Peer reviewed papers use strongly hedged language and are full of nuance with respect to methods and data. That language is very confusing to the public, and even to scientists from different disciplines. Communicating to the public requires a balance of specificity and generalization, and error can become a problem if those are balanced incorrectly.


Below are 5 examples, 4 corrections and a retraction, from the latest Newsletter. The retraction appears to be a case of rush to publish before we get scooped, and retracting when they could not verify their own results. This is unfortunate, but not uncommon is some very competitive fields.

Amendments & Corrections

Author Correction: H2A.Z facilitates licensing and activation of early replication origins
Haizhen Long, Liwei Zhang, Mengjie Lv et al.

Publisher Correction: Dietary salt promotes cognitive impairment through tau phosphorylation
Giuseppe Faraco, Karin Hochrainer, Steven G. Segarra et al.

Publisher Correction: Nanomagnetic encoding of shape-morphing micromachines
Jizhai Cui, Tian-Yun Huang, Zhaochu Luo et al.

Publisher Correction: TGF-β orchestrates fibrogenic and developmental EMTs via the RAS effector RREB1
Jie Su, Sophie M. Morgani, Charles J. David et al.

Retraction Note: Microglia-dependent synapse loss in type I interferon-mediated lupus
Allison R. Bialas, Jessy Presumey, Abhishek Das et al.


I see hundreds of manuscripts in the last 20 years, and therefore a lot of corrections that slipped pasted the first reviews. I don’t recall there ever being a need for corrections due to statistical errors. There could be minor corrections I was never made aware of.

I don’t have any papers that were retracted. I’ve seen a few where the statistician (myself or others) refused to participate unless changes were made. I don’t think I have any published papers that are out-and-out wrong - but there are a few that might be useless.

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I’ve never had a scientific paper retracted, though I have retracted claims in my communication with the public.

Haven’t we all? I don’t think that’s necessarily the same as a scientific retraction. It’s more like updating a Bayesian estimate with new information.

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I suppose I meant it here in a less formal sense, but with more seriousness than making a silent correction.

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Retraction: Based on new information, or reconsideration of existing information, statements previously make were incorrect and/or can no ;longer be supported. Honesty and professionalism require these statements be removed from the record.