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Fallibility in science cuts both ways: it poses dilemmas for the scientist who discovers errors in their own work, and for those who discover errors in the work of others. The ethical response to finding errors in one's own work is clear: they should be claimed and corrected as rapidly as possible. Yet people are often reluctant to 'do the right thing' because of a perception this could lead to reputational damage. I argue that the best defence against such outcomes is adoption of open science practices, which help avoid errors and also leads to recognition that mistakes are part of normal science. Indeed, a reputation for scientific integrity can be enhanced by admitting to errors. The second part of the paper focuses on situations where errors are discovered in the work of others; in the case of honest errors, action must be taken to put things right, but this should be done in a collegial way that offers the researcher the opportunity to deal with the problem themselves. Difficulties arise if those who commit errors are unresponsive or reluctant to make changes, when there is disagreement about whether a dataset or analysis is problematic, or where deliberate manipulation of findings or outright fraud is suspected. I offer some guidelines about how to approach such cases. My key message is that for science to progress, we have to accept the inevitability of error. In the long run, scientists will not be judged on whether or not they make mistakes, but on how they respond when those mistakes are detected.
This is a preprint of a commentary commissioned for Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science (AMPPS), and is based on a talk given on 7th July 2017 at a meeting on Reprodcible Science for Early Career Researchers, organised by David Mehler at the University of Cardiff.