ArsTechnica’s Policy On Retracted Papers

ArsTechnica is a site that covers science and technology. There are a lotof sites that do this, obviously, but what separates ArsTechnica from the pack for me is typified by its handwringing over a problem that most other sites don’t even recognize or care about–if you’re writing about science, what do you do when years later the research you were writing about turns out to be wrong or even fradulent?

ArsTechnica senior science editor John Timmer writes about this problem highlighting two recently retracted papers that had been covered by the site. One paper was retracted when other researchers pointed out some errors that related to the software used to analyze the data, but the other paper was actually fraudulent–a thorough investigation found the authors had never conducted the experiments they had written about.

Timmer writes,

When Ars discovers that a paper we’ve covered has been retracted, we make an effort to go back and provide a notice of it in our article. But until recently, we didn’t have a formal policy regarding what that notice should look like, and we typically didn’t publish anything new to indicate a retraction had occurred.

Having given it some thought, that practice seems insufficient. A failure to prominently correct the record makes it easier for people to hang on to a mistaken impression about our state of understanding. Perhaps more importantly, not reporting a retraction leaves people unaware of a key aspect of science’s self-correcting nature and how retractions can sometimes actually advance our scientific understanding.

. . .

Those of you who follow the steady flow of scientific foibles immortalized at Retraction Watch will know that it’s often not possible to find out why some papers are retracted, much less draw larger lessons from the retraction. But we’ll do our best to continue to keep you notified when the research we cover doesn’t hold up to critical review by the rest of the field.

Of course, we have to know about the retraction for that to happen. If you see that we’ve missed a case, please make sure to get in touch and let us know. Either email me directly, or use our contact form.

On the one hand, that is very forward thinking of Timmer and ArsTechnica. Anyone who visits the original article about the fradulent paper on ArsTechnical now sees a bold indication at the top of the article:

EDITOR’S NOTE: The paper this report was based on contained fraudulent data and is in the process of being retracted.

This will hopefully help diminish the number of situations where people continue to share older articles about studies that were long since retracted or disproven.

When The New York Times Put Fake News In Its Story (Partially) About Fake News

This was a fairly stunning correction by The New York Times considering the subject of the Nellie Bowles article it accompanied was about Facebook’s hiring of former CNN talking head Campbell Brown to tackle news-related issues for the social media company.

Correction: April 23, 2018 

An earlier version of this article erroneously included a reference to Palestinian actions as an example of the sort of far-right conspiracy stories that have plagued Facebook. In fact, Palestinian officials have acknowledged providing payments to the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis or convicted of terrorist acts and imprisoned in Israel; that is not a conspiracy theory.

Apparently Ms. Bowles could use a refresher about cognitive bias.

DVD+-R Life Expectancy

David Pogue apparently had some problems recovering data from some DVDs he burned a few years ago and is all up in arms at the apparently short life span of DVD+Rs and DVD-Rs,

Jeez Louise. A conference organizer asked if I could put together a DVD loop of my funniest Web videos, to play in the registration area while attendees stand in line. No problem, I thought: I’ve got all of the original iMovie projects backed up on DVD, in clear cases, neatly arrayed in a drawer next to my desk. (My hard drive wasn’t big enough to hold those 50 videos a year.)

Guess what? On the Mac I use for video editing, most of the DVD’s were unreadable. They’re less than four years old!

Tried them on another machine. About half of them were readable.

Tried them on a MacBook that I’d been sent to review. Incredibly, mercifully, they all came through fine. I was able to rescue all those original iMovie projects and copy them onto new, bigger, cheaper hard drives.

Pogue concludes from this that burnable DVDs are excessively fragile, but based on what he describes it sounds like either a) the problem was with the DVD burner(s) or b) he’s not storing them properly.

Let me provide a different perspective. In my basement I have about 8,000 DVDs burned over the last 5-6 years. For media, I’ve always picked up whatever was on sale at Best Buy or Office Depot. I file the DVDs into soft cases designed to hold 100 CDs/DVDs, put those cases in large plastic bins, and then file the bins on some shelves in the basement I bought for just that purpose.

After reading Pogue’s piece I grabbed a couple dozen DVDs at random from across projects and times and copied the contents back to a hard drive on PC I borrowed. I didn’t have a single problem copying data from any of the DVDs.

Which is not to say I trust DVD as the only or even primary solution for long term backup. In fact, the issue that is quickly approaching with DVD burning is that the cost of magnetic media is quickly falling to the point where it will soon be cheaper to store data on a hard drive than on a DVD.

Today, Amazon.Com will sell you a 1.5 terabyte hard drive for $130 or less than 9 cents per gigabyte. At that price, optical media is close to not being cost effective when you factor in the inconvenience of burning, storing and managing all of those DVDs.