Anybody Else Ever Make a Mistake? Asking for a Friend.

[Excerpts taken from the blog “Corrigendum: a word you may hope never to encounter” by Dorothy Bishop, published at BishopBlog]
“I have this week submitted a ‘corrigendum’ to a journal for an article published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics B (Bishop et al, 2006). It’s just a fancy word for ‘correction’, and journals use it contrastively with ‘erratum’. Basically, if the journal messes up and prints something wrong, it’s an erratum. If the author is responsible for the mistake, it’s a corrigendum.”
“I discovered the error when someone asked for the data for a meta-analysis….although I could recreate most of what was published, I had the chilling realisation that there was a problem with Table II.”
“I had data on siblings of children with autism, and in some cases there were two or three siblings in the family. … I decided to take a mean value for each family. So if there was one child, I used their score, but if there were 2 or 3, then I averaged them.”
“And here, dear Reader, is where I made a fatal mistake. I thought the simplest way to do this would be by creating a new column in my Excel spreadsheet which had the mean for each family, computing this by manually entering a formula based on the row numbers for the siblings in that family.”
“…I noticed when I opened the file that I had pasted a comment in red on the top row that said ‘DO NOT SORT THIS FILE!’. … Despite my warning message to myself, somewhere along the line, it seems that a change was made to the numbering, and this meant that a few children had been assigned to the wrong family. And that’s why table II had gremlins in it and needed correcting.”
“I thought it worth blogging about this to show how much easier my life would have been if I had been using the practices of data management and analysis that I now am starting to adopt. I also felt it does no harm to write about making mistakes, which is usually a taboo subject. I’ve argued previously that we should be open about errors, to encourage others to report them, and to demonstrate how everyone makes mistakes, even when trying hard to be accurate…”
To read the full blog, click here.

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