Calibration error sends moisture paper down the drain

wrrcoverScientific experiments are like recipes: With the right components and the proper steps, the end result can be a thing of beauty. But if you start with a cup of salt instead of a cup of flour, well, even the neighbor’s schnauzer won’t touch that batch of sugar cookies.

That’s a little like the situation we have in “Controls on topographic dependence and temporal instability in catchment-scale soil moisture patterns,” a paper published in February in Water Resources Research by Michael Coleman and Jeffrey Niemann of Colorado State University.

According to the notice:

Withdrawn: The following article from Water Resources Research, ‘‘Controls on topographic dependence and temporal instability in catchment-scale soil moisture patterns,’’ by Coleman, M. L., and J. D. Niemann, accepted manuscript online on January 3, 2013 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been withdrawn by agreement between the authors, the journal Editor in Chief, Praveen Kumar, Wiley Periodicals, Inc., and the American Geophysical Union.

The withdrawal has been agreed as the authors have identified  an error in the calibration used in the model. Because the calibration was performed early in the logical flow of the paper, most of the figures and quantitative results are inaccurate.

Although the notice seems open enough, Wiley, which publishes Water Resources Research, gets an “F” for putting the retraction behind a paywall.

There seems to be some confusion about this article, however. Niemann told us that the retracted paper “was withdrawn before it was ever published,” and pointed us to the new version. The first version, it appears, was simply a figment of the imagination:

 [I]t wasn’t in early release or online.  It was never published in any form.

The retraction notice sort of says something different, yes? We’ve been around this sort of an “article in press” isn’t “published” stuff before.

We think that’s a bit of wishful thinking — in fact, the article was online — that reminds us of a little ditty Adam’s son cooked up about his sister:

If only, if only, Clio was a pony, I would be a magical boy.

Which we take to mean: Simply wanting something to disappear doesn’t make it happen.

 

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