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Allison, Brown, George, and Kaiser comment on difficulties involved in correcting errors in peer-reviewed literature

March 18, 2016

In the commentary “Reproducibility: A tragedy of errors,” published in the February 4, 2016 issue of the journal NatureDrs. David B. AllisonAndrew W. BrownBrandon J. George, and Kathryn Kaiser address the difficulties involved in correcting factual inaccuracies or unacceptable procedures that may greatly affect studies’ conclusions in peer-reviewed literature.

After a period of roughly 18 months in which the investigators notified the respective authors or journals of over two dozen mistakes they detected, they were able to identify three errors commonly occurring related to study design, meta-analyses, and baseline comparisons. They further determined and discuss six basic problems in rectifying issues with the publishing journals once they were discovered: a lack of knowledge of the appropriate channels to inform about mistakes; editors who are hesitant to take action; fees being charged to address other people’s errors; journals that are hesitant to publish retractions; journals or authors not giving proper consideration to informal objections; and the absence of a standard process for requesting raw data for review.

“After our commentary was published, several researchers contacted us to share similar experiences,” Dr. Allison noted. “Although ours was not a formal survey of the literature, it appears our experiences are not uncommon.”

The authors are hopeful that sharing their experiences will “positively contribute to the conversation about how to improve research reporting quality and research reproducibility,” Dr. Brown said.

Dr. Allison is a distinguished professor and director of UAB’s Office of Energetics and Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC); Dr. Brown is a scientist in the Office of Energetics and NORC; Dr. George is a statistician in the Office of Energetics; and Dr. Kaiser is an instructor in the Office of Energetics.