Jean Barilla, Consultant, ProMed Scientific Communications

Publication errors concern all of us whether we are writers, editors, authors, scientists, health care professionals, reviewers, planners, regulators, policy makers and ultimately patients. As medical publication professionals we are responsible for ensuring the integrity of scientific and medical publications and freedom from errors.

The importance of preventing/correcting publication errors was demonstrated in a recent study at Saint Louis University which showed that one fourth of errors made in medical publications can change the way data are interpreted. While misspelling of an author’s name or mislabeling of a table may not constitute a major error, mistakes in the text, figures or tables can alter the meaning of the information or findings. “This is a clarion call to authors to make certain that the information they are publishing is as accurate and error-free as possible,” said Paul Hauptman, M.D., professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University and principal investigator of the study.

Publication errors have myriad sources and can be related to:

  • Research content and scientific presentation

-unsupported conclusions
-unsystematic or illogical presentation of results
-provision of insufficient detailed methodology
-statistical errors
-improper review of literature
-scientific misconduct, expressions of concern, and retraction

-defining the role of authors and contributors
-author responsibilities—conflicts of interest
-responsibilities in the submission and peer-review process
-journal owners and editorial freedom
-protection of research participants
-overlapping publications

  • Writing and formatting

-lack of good grammatical writing
-publishing and editorial Issues
-corrections and version control
-sponsorship or partnership
-electronic publishing
-journals and the media
-clinical trial registration

This is not meant to be a comprehensive listing and you may think of errors from other sources. There is currently no resource that can give us the overview of medical publications and publication planning that would include a topic such as publication errors. However, with your feedback and help in 2015 we will have that resource: an ISMPP Publication Primer. The Primer will be a living online document for ISMPP members and sponsors. The Primer will reflect your feedback and alert you to changes that affect medical publications.

Our vision at ISMPP is: “To become the leading global authority on the ethical and effective publication of medical research to inform treatment decisions” – and being vigilant in our efforts to avoid publication errors is an important step in achieving our vision.

Journal Reference:
Paul J. Hauptman, Eric S. Armbrecht, John T. Chibnall, Camelia Guild, Jeremy P. Timm, Michael W. Rich. Errata in Medical Publications. The American Journal of Medicine, 2014; 127 (8): 779 DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.03.012