The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

What Are Student Journals To Do When Authors Refuse To Change False Claims?


This post is based on my experience with Professor Xiao Wang's article, but addresses a broader issue: what should a student journal do when an author refuses to correct a false claim. I think there are three ways to approach this question.

First, imagine during the review process, the journal identified an error in the author's paper, and asked the author to make the change. The author steadfastly refused to make the correction, convinced he was correct. The journal could rescind the offer of publication. Or the journal could post some sort of editor's note on the article, to flag the error. But in most cases, the journal may decide that the article has the author's name on it, and it is the author's problem. I'm not sure I agree with that sentiment, but it probably describes how publishing works in practice.

Second, imagine during the review process, the journal fails to identify the error in the author's paper, and only becomes aware of it after publication. Here, there was a failure of the editorial process (to one degree or another). What are the options here? The journal could post a correction, with the consent of the author. Or the journal could post an editor's note, without the author's consent. Or, perhaps in egregious circumstances, the journal could withdraw the article altogether.

Third, imagine that the error was only identified after publication, but the journal takes no action to acknowledge any correction. Perhaps the author refuses to acknowledge the error, and the journal stands by that decision. At that point, the error will stand in perpetuity.

Among these three options, I would have the most sympathy for the students in the first scenario. They did their due diligence, and tried to get the author to correct an error, but ultimately acquiesced. I am also partially sympathetic to the students in the second scenario. Even where the author refuses to make the change, the editors can exercise their prerogative to distance themselves from the error. I am least sympathetic to the students in the third scenario. Their review process failed to uncover the error, and now the journal takes no action to own that error on their part.