Scientists Make Hilarious Proofreading Error


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

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229 Scientists Make Hilarious Proofreading Error
Robert Lanfear. The unfortunate highlighted line was not picked up by authors, editors, or reviewers until four months after publication.

While newspapers the world over sack subeditors and academics complain that students graduate without proofreading skills, the text above shows why it matters. The exact quote is from a paper published in Ethology on the mating behavior of fishes.

In other words, this unfortunate question was missed not only by all five authors and the editors at Ethology, but also the peer reviewers. Fears that peer reviewers are now so overworked that they don't spend enough time to examine papers in-depth would appear to have some confirmation.


The paper was published in July, but the mistake was only spotted this week, attracting widespread amusement

For the "International Journal of Behavioral Biology,” which has an impact factor of 1.556, this is probably the most attention it has ever received. That's a pity. Who wouldn't want to know more about “Visual Discrimination Learning in Octopus ocellatus” or the “Relative Influence of Male and Female Identity and Morphology on Complex Courtship Displays in a Newt Species?” 

Best of all, there is, “Sex discrimination via anal gland secretion in a territorial monogamous mammal,” which is open access. (Not being ironic at all by the way—we fucking love animal behavior research here).

Presumably, the publishers do not believe that any publicity is good publicity as the paper has since been removed while it is re-edited.


Zach Culumber told Retraction Watch that “Neither myself nor any of the co-authors have any ill-will towards any other investigators, and I would never condone this sentiment towards another person or their work. We are working with the Journal now to correct the mistake. As the corresponding author, I apologize for the error.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Caitlin Gabor of Texas State University has co-authored a paper with one of the authors of this piece, and knows others. She said, “I would appreciate an apology from all of the authors.” Whether any of her papers are substandard is beyond our capacity to assess, but one of them has been cited a very impressive 115 times and it is clear that Gabor deserves to be publicly known for more than an accidental insult.

Still, it is likely that as a result of this mistake more people will learn about the influence of pigmentation on the mating behavior of southern Mexican fish than would ever have occurred otherwise, so it is not all bad news. 

Dr. Meredith Carpenter of Seriously, Science? also pointed out to Slate that the fact that the paper will eventually be corrected is an example of successful “Post-Publication Peer Review,” something advocates of discredited scientific theories like to ignore in those cases where they manage to slip a dodgy paper into a normally reputable journal.


H/T io9 


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