A quick Physical Review Letters retraction after author realizes analysis was “performed incorrectly”

One of the authors of a paper in Physical Review Letters has withdrawn it, after someone pointed out an error.

The paper, “Coulomb Forces on DNA Polymers in Charged Fluidic Nanoslits,” was written by Brown University’s Derek Stein and one of his graduate students, Yongqiang Ren. It was published in February of this year, and the retraction ran on July 20.

The notice is forthright:

I recently determined that the analysis leading to the results in Fig. 2 of our Letter was performed incorrectly. A correct analysis produces results that seriously undermine one of the main claims of the Letter, specifically the claim that from the scaling of the size of a DNA coil with the physical height of a nanofluidic slit, we were able to experimentally infer the size of the electrostatic depletion regions that reduced the effective slit height. Since this claim is critical to our Letter, I wish to retract this Letter to avoid misleading the readership. I regret this error, and sincerely thank S. Levy for bringing it to my attention.

One thing we noticed was that only Stein signed the retraction; Ren didn’t. Stein tells Retraction Watch why:

My co-author and I could not come to an agreement on the existence or the source of the error in the original paper, therefore I am the sole author of the retraction.

Ren has also withdrawn from Brown’s physics graduate program, and returned to his homeland, China. Stein says he isn’t sure what Ren is up to.

“S. Levy,” it turns out, is Stephen Levy, a physicist at Binghamton University.

Hat tips: Eion B and Ivan Christov

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