What should student journals do if 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 student journals should do when an author refuses to correct false claims. 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 changes. The author steadfastly refused to be corrected, convinced that he was right. The journal may withdraw the offer of publication. Or the journal may post some form of editor’s note to the article to identify errors. But in most cases, the journal may decide that the article contains the author’s name and that 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 that during the review process, the journal author fails to detect an error in the paper and becomes aware of it only after publication. Here, there was a failure of the editorial process (to one degree or another). What are the options here? The journal may post a correction with the consent of the author. Or the journal may post an editor’s note without the author’s consent. Or, in perhaps extreme circumstances, the journal may retract the article altogether.

Third, imagine that the error was detected only after publication, but the journal takes no action to acknowledge the correction. Perhaps the author refuses to admit the mistake, and the journal stands by that decision. At that point, the error will be permanent.

Of 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 eventually conceded. I partially sympathize with the students in the second scene. Even where authors refuse to make changes, editors can exercise their prerogatives to distance themselves from errors. In the third scene I am at least sympathetic to the students. Their review process failed to uncover the error, and now the journal takes no action on their part to own up to the error.