One thing that the feature on confessing research mistakes (“To err is human; to admit it, trying” (26 January)) does not get into is journals’ review processes.
A journal stakes its reputation on the quality of the papers that it publishes, but I can imagine that it can be nearly impossible to check the findings of a given submission. And the sheer number of article submissions must make peer review somewhat daunting. How do you organise the reviews? Who does them? Under what conditions?
In the humanities, much can be checked simply by following the paper trail of references and notes (but even that is time-consuming). For the sciences, reviewing a paper could be next to impossible: does any journal have the technical resources and manpower to double-check every finding?
The underlying problem is one of trust: errors will occur, and they must be corrected. That will require that space must always be allowed for them to happen and for subsequent corrections to appear. We can learn as much from our mistakes as from our assertions – provided we demand honesty over perfection.