- If you offer a suggested correction then MAKE SURE IT IS CORRECT. The author may say Oh, I guess that's a mistake, I better make the correction having thought that you read it carefully. While that may well be the authors responsibility, be very careful. The first rule of proofreading is DO NO HARM.
- If the paper is a preprint then the author should be VERY GRATEFUL since they will be able to make the correction before it becomes official. But see next point.
- If the paper is already in a journal the author might want to correct the version on their own website. I can picture a day when the version on the authors website or arXiv are BETTER than the so-called official version. So the author should be grateful here as well.
- For arguments sake, lets say that in Karp's classic paper Reducibility Among Combinatorial Problems, where he proves 21 problems NP-compete, he made a mistake on 0-1 programming. The problem IS NP-complete and the correct proof is in many textbooks (also, anyone reading this blog can probably do it themselves). Is it worth wasting Karp's time with this?
- Most authors will be surprised and delighted that someone read their paper.
- Some authors won't care. Either they left the field or they don't care about the constant they got wrong or they don't want to be bothered. That is their right; however, what to do? You can't publish an erratum for them.
In High School while studying some Combinatorics
I came across the following passage.
The number of ways to arrange n distinct objects is n × (n-1) × ... × 1. For example, the number of ways to arrange 5 distinct objects is 5!.I did not understand why they were so excited about the answer. Using an exclamation point seemed over the top. And CLEARLY there were two mistakes!
- The answer of 5 is WRONG. The answer should be 5 × 4 × 3 × 2 × 1 = 120.
- There is a spurious period after the exclamation point.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
If you find a mistake in someone elses paper you should....
What do you do if you read a paper or book and find mistakes in it? My first impulse is to say: Email the author. Always be polite and admit (which is true) that you may be misunderstanding something. A few thoughts: