Recently I sent a letter to the editor to a major social science journal pointing out a problem in an article they’d published, they refused to publish my letter, not because of any argument that I was incorrect, but because they judged my letter to not be in the top 10% of submissions to the journal. I’m sure my letter was indeed not in the top 10% of submissions, but the journal’s attitude presents a serious problem, if the bar to publication of a correction is so high. That’s a disincentive for the journal to publish corrections, a disincentive for outsiders such as myself to write corrections, and a disincentive for researchers to be careful in the first place.Commenter WB wonders:
Why don’t journals simply post serious criticisms and important corrections on their websites? Any reluctance to admit mistakes and publish corrections seems inexcusable given how easy it is to post items online. Obviously, websites don’t face the strict space limitations of print journals. So online sections could be used to publish items that aren’t “in the top 10% of submissions to the journal,” but are nonetheless important and worth the attention of readers.And Gelman replies:
I suppose one reason they don’t do it is that it would take effort and expense to set up the website. Another difficulty is the need to review the critiques. If it were easier to publish a letter to the editor, I suppose the journal would get more submissions, then they’d need to find more reviewers, etc.Yeah, maybe. But for the time being I'll hypothesize that the cynical theory of journals explains a larger chunk of the variances.