Two years of stonewalling: What happened when a scientist filed a public records request for NASA code

Nathan Myhrvold

Retraction Watch readers may know Nathan Myhrvold, who holds a PhD in physics, as the former chief technology officer at Microsoft, or as the author of Modernist Cuisine. They may also recall that he questioned a pair of papers in Nature about dinosaurs. In that vein, he has also been raising concerns about papers describing the sizes of asteroids. (Not everyone shares those concerns; the authors of the original papers don’t, and astronomer Phil Plait said Myrhvold was wrong in 2016.) Last month, Myhrvold published a peer-reviewed paper as part of his critique. The final version of that paper went live today, as did a story about the science in The New York Times and a detailed explanation by Myrhvold in Medium. As the discussion over the results continues, here he shares his experience trying to obtain details about the methodology the authors used.

Two years ago, I uploaded a preprint to arXiv.org describing what I considered serious problems, including apparently irreproducible results, that I had uncovered when analyzing a set of research articles published by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) NEOWISE project. NEOWISE is the largest scientific analysis of asteroids ever conducted; the researchers on the project have so far published estimated sizes of more than 164,000 objects in the solar system, estimates they have claimed were all derived by applying a standard approach to raw observations from the WISE space telescope.

My findings generated quite a stir in the media, including stories in The New York Times, Science, and Scientific American, among other outlets. My hope and expectation was that shining light on these troubling issues would spur the JPL researchers to retract or correct their papers. At the very least, I thought, they would release the various unpublished techniques that they had used in a series of highly cited papers, stretching from 2011 to 2015, thus lifting the veil of secrecy that had prevented me and other astronomers from replicating their results. Continue reading Two years of stonewalling: What happened when a scientist filed a public records request for NASA code

Now-retracted chem paper’s problems “should have been noticed by the referees,” group says

Last year, chemist Marcus Tius at the University of Hawaii saw a paper describing the synthesis of some organic compounds, and was “struck by the implausibility” of the reported structures. So he joined up with some colleagues to try to replicate the data.

While Tius and his team were trying to repeat the experiment, however, in December 2017 the journal — Organic Letters — retracted the paper. The journal, published by the American Chemical Society, noted that the authors had not been able to produce crystal structures that confirm they had synthesized those compounds in particular. So Tius and his colleagues knew they couldn’t replicate the findings — but carried on their experiment anyway:

Continue reading Now-retracted chem paper’s problems “should have been noticed by the referees,” group says

Survey says: A researcher wasn’t sure if he needed to correct a paper. So he created a poll.

Craig Jones

When geophysicist Craig Jones realized a figure in one of his published papers contained an error, he was on the fence about what to do. It was a clear mistake, but he’d seen much larger mistakes go uncorrected by other authors. Unsure if it warranted a correction, Jones polled readers of his blog to see what they thought.

The answer: 37 people responded, 23 of whom (62%) said he should correct the paper. In an update, Jones said he was prepping a correction to submit to the journal.

Jones, who is based at the University of Colorado Boulder and blogs under the title the “Grumpy Geophysicist,” told Retraction Watch:

Continue reading Survey says: A researcher wasn’t sure if he needed to correct a paper. So he created a poll.

Thousands boycott new Nature journal about machine learning

More than two thousand researchers have signed a petition to boycott a new Nature journal over the fact it will be available only by subscription.

The new journal — Nature Machine Intelligence, about machine learning — plans to charge readers for access, unlike most other journals in the field. The researchers who signed the petition have pledged not to submit their work to the new journal, and will decline to review or edit papers for it, as well.

Most journals published by Nature Publishing Group are available only by subscription — but that doesn’t work for the machine learning community, the signatories argue:

Continue reading Thousands boycott new Nature journal about machine learning

Chemists duke it out over who was first to discover a 30-year-old technique

Decades ago, unbeknownst to each other, two chemists were independently working on a screening approach to identify new potential drugs. Both published papers about the technique around the same time. So now, when scientists write papers that cite the technique, who should get credit for discovering it?

Decades later, that question still hasn’t been answered — and the researchers continue to argue, this time over one’s decision not to cite the other’s work.  

More than 30 years ago, Árpád Furkanow retired from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapestdeveloped an approach he says has had “outstanding importance” in drug development. The technique, called split-mix synthesis, made it possible to synthesize and screen millions of peptides at once, instead of one by one. Furka patented the method in 1982, presented an abstract in 1988, and published a paper in 1991. Continue reading Chemists duke it out over who was first to discover a 30-year-old technique

Author under fire has eight papers retracted, including seven from one journal

A researcher whose work on the use of nanomaterials has been heavily scrutinized on PubPeer — with one critic alleging a paper contained “obviously fabricated” images — has lost eight papers. [Editor’s note: See update below.]

The eight articles — seven from Biosensors and Bioelectronics and one from Analytica Chimica Acta, both published by Elsevier — all cite issues related to duplications, and conclude with some version of the following:

Continue reading Author under fire has eight papers retracted, including seven from one journal

That study reporting worrisome levels of zinc in tuna? It’s being retracted

Recently, a rash of news outlets posted concerns that canned tuna and other products may contain potentially dangerous levels of zinc. They were all wrong.

News outlets such as The Daily Mail and The Sun reported findings from a recent study, which showed that canned foods such as tuna may contain 100 times the daily limit of zinc — raising concerns about how such huge doses of the mineral could be causing digestion problems. The last author of the study told Retraction Watch the paper is going to be retracted, because the authors made a fundamental error calculating the amount of zinc present in canned foods.

Last week, the UK’s biggest health website NHS Choices posted a critique of the paper, in which they recalculated the levels of zinc present in canned foods:

Continue reading That study reporting worrisome levels of zinc in tuna? It’s being retracted

Chemistry journal retracts highly criticized paper

A chemistry journal has retracted a nanoparticle paper following heavy outcry from readers, who alleged the paper contained signs of obvious manipulation.

After the paper appeared in 2017, one critic lamented it contained “obviously fabricated” images, and asked the journal to retract it. Another suggested the presence of one image merited “an instant lifetime ban.”

The first comment about the paper appeared on PubPeer three months ago; earlier this month, the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering retracted the paper.

Here’s the notice:

Continue reading Chemistry journal retracts highly criticized paper

“Major advance” in solar power retracted for reproducibility issues

The authors of a highly cited 2016 research letter on a way to improve the efficiency of solar panels have retracted their work following “concerns about the reproducibility.”

Given the potential importance of the data, it would be nice to know what exactly went wrong, and why. However, the retraction notice doesn’t provide many details, and doesn’t even specify if the authors did indeed fail to reproduce the data.

The letter, titled “Graded bandgap perovskite solar cells,” was published in Nature Materials by a group out of the University of California at Berkeley and the affiliated Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The 2016 article has been cited 16 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, earning it the ranking of “highly cited.”

Berkeley heralded the findings in a press release as a “major advance” in the field of solar energy:

Continue reading “Major advance” in solar power retracted for reproducibility issues

Unusual: Author uses a reference list to accuse a paper of plagiarism

Here’s an unusual way to allege plagiarism: Do it in the reference list.

That’s what Brian Levine, a professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, did when he came across a paper he wanted to cite but suspected of plagiarism. When Levine published his 2017 paper, he cited the paper in question as:  

R.Rajan, “ Feasibility, Effectiveness, Performance and Potential Solutions on Distributed Content Sharing System [plagiarized],” Intl. J. Engineering and Computer Science, 5(1):15638–15649, Jan 2016 http://www.ijecs.in/ issue/v5- i1/30%20ijecs.pdf.

Levine’s paper, which explores a way of identifying perpetrators of online child pornography, provides no further details about the nature of the plagiarism or from what source the paper allegedly plagiarized. Continue reading Unusual: Author uses a reference list to accuse a paper of plagiarism