Kudos to Daniele Fanelli for suggesting that authors deserve credit for retracting papers that result from honest errors (Nature 531, 415; 2016). Journal editors and co-authors can be helpful, collaborative and efficient — as they were in the case of two papers I retracted in 2013 (see go.nature.com/jp9meh). However, this is not always the case.
The editorial process can often be lengthy. After waiting for more than two years for the formal resolution of a potential notice of error for another, related paper, I decided to use PubMed Commons to alert the scientific community (see go.nature.com/jzpjfk).
Authors themselves can be uncertain about how to correct the scientific record promptly, even when they suspect errors. They might have moved on to new projects, key contributors may have left the lab, or perhaps they are reluctant to use precious funds to repeat old experiments. Maybe the materials that are needed to repeat the experiments are no longer available, or the authors are slow to reach a consensus on appropriate action.
In my view, these problems could be rectified by standard guidelines for researchers, editors and databases on how to handle self-reported amendments. Terms that are more nuanced than 'correction' or 'retraction' — such as 'notice of concern' or 'error alert' — could be used for situations that are less clear-cut.