Preservation of the version of record.
Every article we publish constitutes the Version of Record (VoR), that is, the final, definitive, and citable version in the scholarly record. NISO (2008) defines the VoR as the
"fixed version of an [...] article that has been made available by any organization that acts as a publisher by formally and exclusively declaring the article ‘published’. This includes any ‘early release’ article that is formally identified as being published even before the compilation of a volume issue and assignment of associated metadata, as long as it is citable via some permanent identifier(s). This does not include any ‘early release’ article that has not yet been ‘fixed’ by processes that are still to be applied, such as copy-editing, proof corrections, layout, and typesetting" (p. 3).
It is our policy (in common with most publishers) not to amend or alter the published VoR. Indeed, and as mentioned by STM (2006) in their guidelines on preservation of the objective record of science,
"[a]rticles that have been published should remain extant, exact and unaltered to the maximum extent possible. [... S]uch actions must not be undertaken lightly and should only occur under exceptional circumstances, such as: infringements of professional ethical codes, such as multiple submission, bogus claims of authorship, plagiarism, fraudulent use of data and the like; legal infringements, defamation or other legal limitations; and false or inaccurate data, especially those that if acted upon could pose a serious health risk" (p.1).
As such, and following the STM’s aforementioned guidelines, we keep our VoRs extant, exact and unaltered to the maximum extent possible, and publish corrections to the VoR as errata or corrigenda, only in the event of serious and exceptional circumstances. We do not publish corrections that would not affect the article in a material way, nor significantly impair the reader's understanding of the article. Authors should therefore make every effort to check for errors in their proofs before the paper is published.
An erratum will be used if a significant error has been introduced by us during editing or production for which we take responsibility. Our policy is to correct such errors in cases where they distort the scientific meaning, or where they have significant potential to damage the reputation of the authors, the publisher and/or third parties.
A corrigendum will be used if a significant error has been introduced by the authors of the article, for which they take responsibility. Our policy is to allow authors to correct such errors in cases where they distort the scientific meaning, or where they have significant potential to damage the reputation of the publisher or third parties. All corrigenda are normally approved by the editors. Corrigendum fees will apply.
On occasion, circumstances may arise where an article is published that must later be retracted. According to COPE, (http://publicationethics.org/)
"[r]etraction is a mechanism for correcting the literature and alerting readers to publications that contain such seriously flawed or erroneous data that their findings and conclusions cannot be relied upon. Unreliable data may result from honest error or from research misconduct. Retractions are also used to alert readers to cases of redundant publication (i.e. when authors present the same data in several publications), plagiarism, and failure to disclose a major competing interest likely to influence interpretations or recommendations".
To sum up and following COPE’s guidance, editors should consider retracting a publication if
- they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error);
- the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication);
- it constitutes plagiarism;
- it reports unethical research.
And editors should consider issuing a correction if
- a small portion of an otherwise reliable publication proves to be misleading (especially because of honest error);
- the author/contributor list is incorrect (i.e. a deserving author has been omitted or somebody who does not meet authorship criteria has been included).