Doubling every 3 years

flower by josef.stuefer
Commentary: We apologize:
[Via Buried Treasure]

Attila Chordash over at “PIMM – Partial immortalization” discovered that Proteomics have now changed the abstract of the infamous paper by Warda and Han to be an apology to their readership:

This paper has been examined not only because the science is so off the mark that it brings up questions about the journal’s peer review process, but also because so much of it was plagiarized. The speed by which this was determined would have been astonishing in a pre-wired world. However, with so many journals online and accessible, finding plagiarism is almost trivial.

But what is very interesting about this post is his examination of the number of apologies on PubMed, the main biology database.

I was a bit surprised to see an apology being published via PubMed, but a quick search revealed that Proteomics is far from the only journal to apologize to their readers in this way. In fact, a systematic count of the abstracts mentioning the words “apologise(s)” or “apologize(s)” has increased exponentially over the past decade (note the logarithmic scale):

Exponential increase in the number of apologies

The number shown for 2008 is an extrapolation based on the first six weeks; if the apologies keep coming at the current rate, there will be 32 by the end of the year. The line shows an exponential fit of the data points from 1999 to 2007. The doubling time for the number of apologies is just 3 years whereas the number of papers doubles only every 22 years. If these trends continue, there will be more apologies than papers published from the year 2067 and onwards. I apologize for the extrapolation.

Of course the extrapolation is nonsense, but what is interesting is that the ability to rapidly post corrections, apologies, etc., is a feature not a bug. A corrigendum
might take years but online it can take minutes. Science is supposed to be self-correcting and this is a great example of the process. It upsets people who want to always be right but good scientists always have to hold out the possibility that they might be wrong. You just hope you are the one to discover that, not someone else.

Technorati Tags: , , ,