As we’re fond of repeating, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Which doesn’t jibe with the findings in an eye-catching 2018 paper that found people were less fearful of catching a contagious illness if they were in a dark room or were wearing sunglasses.
Fortunately for us, although not for the researchers, we no longer have to live with the cognitive dissonance. The paper, the journal tells us, will be retracted for flaws in the data — which, thanks to the open sharing of data, quickly came to light.
The authors of a 2018 paper on how noisy distractions disrupt memory are retracting the article after finding a flaw in their study.
The paper, “Unexpected events disrupt visuomotor working memory and increase guessing,” appeared in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, a publication of the Psychonomic Society. (For those keeping score at home, psychonomics is the study of the laws of the mind.)
The article purported to show that an unexpected “auditory event,” like the sudden blare of a car horn, reduced the ability of people to remember visuomotor cues. Per the abstract:
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.
A few months ago, Dirk Werling discovered he had made a horrible mistake: He had inadvertently plagiarized in his recent review.
On January 20, Werling said he came across a 2016 paperwhile working on a grant and realized he had published some of the text in his 2018 review in Research in Veterinary Science. Werling — based at Royal Veterinary College at the University of London — told Retraction Watch:
When Alexander Harms arrived at the University of Copenhagen in August 2016, as a postdoc planning to study a type of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, he carried with him a warning from another lab who had recruited him:
People said, “If you go there, you have to deal with these weird articles that nobody believes.”
The papers in question had been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011 and Cell in 2013. Led by Kenn Gerdes, Harms’s new lab director, the work laid out a complex chain of events that mapped out how an E. coli bacterium can go into a dormant state, called persistence, that allows it to survive while the rest of its colony is wiped out.
Despite some experts’ skepticism, each paper had been cited hundreds of times. And Harms told us:
I personally did believe in the published work. There had been papers from others that kind of attacked [the Gerdes lab’s theory], but that was not high-quality work.
Last spring, a group of environmental scientists reported an impressive finding: Hydraulic fracturing (better known as fracking) in the Marcellus Shale region of the eastern United States was leaking enough methane to power a city twice the size of Washington, D.C. (We didn’t come up with that comparison, apt though it may be.)
Researchers are retracting a 2016 PNASpaper that described a way to create gasoline-like fuels directly from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Senior author Frederick MacDonnell, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), told us he originally thought his team had made a preliminary breakthrough that might “solve the world’s energy problems.” Instead, he said:
In 2016, researchers at Oregon State University published a paper in PNAS that surprised the research community. They showed that certain fish species travel with their siblings — even fighting against the currents of the Pacific Ocean to stay together.
Needless to say, the research community was skeptical, given how difficult a feat this would be. And their skepticism appears to have been warranted.
Recently, the authors — led by Su Sponaugle — retracted the paper, saying a re-analysis of their data using newly developed research tools has erased their confidence in the results. According to Sponaugle, the quick reversal was thanks to the new technology and open data sharing, which led their findings to be successfully challenged within months of publication. She said her team conducted the study with the “best available knowledge we had at the time,” including what they thought were the most advanced tools available to them:
What Caught Our Attention: Potassium-rich diets are thought to be “heart-healthy,” and after examining the average dietary habits of Ghanaian adults, researchers determined the average potassium (K) intake to be well below global standards. However, the authors’ calculations of potassium intake per capita were too low by factor of 10, resulting in the incorrect conclusion that the average potassium intake was only 856 mg per day, an amount substantially lower than the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of 3510 mg/day. The new calculations show an average K intake of 8,560 mg/day, well over the WHO guideline.
We asked the corresponding author, David Oscar Yawson, about the source of the error, and he responded: