Physics paper in Science retracted after Vanderbilt facility closes

If the facility you need to reproduce your experiments closes after you’ve discovered questions about your original findings, what do you do?

If you’re a group of physicists that published a 2006 paper in Science, “Desorption of H from Si(111) by Resonant Excitation of the Si-H Vibrational Stretch Mode,” you retract your study. Here’s the notice, from today’s Science:

In our 2006 Report, “Desorption of H from Si(111) by Resonant Excitation of the Si-H Vibrational Stretch Mode” (1), we reported resonant photodesorption of hydrogen from a Si(111) surface using tunable infrared radiation that corresponded to the Si-H vibrational stretch mode. Our recent attempts to reproduce these experiments have been unsuccessful, and the free electron laser facility at Vanderbilt, a unique light source for this experiment, has shut down, prohibiting further research. Because our conclusions are now in question, we retract the Report.

The paper has been cited 46 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Presumably, the group was trying to reproduce the findings to move the work forward. From the original paper’s conclusion:

The experimental findings reported above are unprecedented and unexpected. The precise underlying mechanism is still to be identified.

We tried contacting the corresponding author for more details, and will update with anything we hear back.

This is the third retraction in Science this month. Last week’s was a partial retraction of a 2009 XMRV-chronic fatigue syndrome study, and on September 3 the journal published a notice withdrawing a genetics paper

Hat tip: John Fleck

4 thoughts on “Physics paper in Science retracted after Vanderbilt facility closes”

  1. If a paper is retracted like this, but subsequently a third party is able to repeat and verify the original results, who claims precedence and would the second paper be able to refer to the retracted paper?

    On the face of it, the authors here are saying they followed up their surprising results originally published because they found them extraordinary. That seems to me good science and normal to continue developing a discovery. But, they are indicating the retraction is because the equipment needed to do the follow up work is no longer available, the original results are suddenly erroneous? Smells fishy to me – there must be more of a back story here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.