Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×

Ununoctium Wrapup 234

rkowen writes "Finding superheavy element 118 would have been a giant step in the quest for the conjectured island of nuclear stability. But now the claimed discovery is thought to have been part of a pattern of deception by one physicist that goes back to 1994." We've done several previous stories: the discovery, hints of trouble, possible fraud. Between this and the Schon case one might think the physics community was full of frauds.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ununoctium Wrapup

Comments Filter:
  • Shut it Michael. (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by juuri ( 7678 )
    Between this and the Schon case one might think the physics community was full of frauds.

    Yes because of these TWO examples, the whole body of work from the physics community is a total and complete farce.

    Michael, why don't you keep your inane banter to yourself?
    • Michael, why don't you keep your inane banter to yourself?

      Agreed. Just the facts, Michael. Every industry and science is prone to human fallibility/fraud, from archaeology to chemistry and physics. That's not news or even noteworthy.

      If you had some kind of worthwhile editorial comments to add, you wouldn't get this backlash. You've added nothing but a sniping comment that has absolutely nothing to do with science and the realities of the GOOD things that come out of it every day, and shows nothing but contempt, ignorance, and a tendency towards tabloid-style knee-jerk reactions.

      To paraphrase Marge Simpson:
      "THINK before you say the words!"

    • Yes because of these TWO examples, the whole body of work from the physics community is a total and complete farce.

      Well, this emphasis by the media on fraudulent cases really is a big problem. I would wager that a lot of John and/or Jane Does out there are probably thinking the same thing. You are correct that it's only two high-profile cases but you rarely hear about the successes that physics has. In fact, I bet if you say the words "Hubble Telescope" to most people, they'll respond with something along the lines of "Isn't that the orbital telescope that doesn't work because NASA didn't check the mirrors?" The fact that Hubble has given us incredible images never got the press that the original blunder did.

      This can become a real problem if people start lobbying their representative and senators to stop funding science. Rather than screaming at Michael, why don't we all take time to reflect on how unfortunate it is that science fraud makes news while science successes never get more than a brief mention.

      GMD

  • ... one might think the physics community was full of frauds ...

    I'm still trying to get over that world isn't flat thing, 'kay. Let alone this element 118 stuff 'kay.

  • by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:18PM (#4267395)
    Is that sooner or later as prooved there somebody will want to check your result. And if they fail they will try to find explanation. And when they fail to find explanation, they will call for verification and review and finally when all else fail, cast doubt on the theory/experiement. Ask for a redo.

    So fraud are rarer and rarer. Comapre the number of fraud in science, with (haha) economical fraud, political fraud (corruption), religious fraud (sect, breaking your own vow like abusing children and so forth).

    CAll this a flamebait, but in comparison to many of the other mentionend system, science has a remarkable low rate of fraud.
    • Is that sooner or later as prooved there somebody will want to check your result.

      Precisely. There is no problem with fraud in physics, it is simply that fraud has absolutely no place in physics. It is always discovered and then the fraudulent claims are discarded. You could say that by its very method, the field of physics will always lead toward truth, and any pitiful attempts at fraud get discarded along the way.

      This inherent dependence and insistence on testability, repeatability, and integrety of reputation, make physics one of the purest fields you can find.
      • You're pretty optimistic when you say fraud is "always discovered." I believe that the physics community is demonstrating its general integrity in the treatment of these cases, so I think it is unlikely that fraud goes undiscovered for very long if the field is an active one, and the results major.

        At least in the Schon case, the discovery of the alleged fraud relied pretty much on blind luck. A pretty major player was paying enough attention to the actual graphs to notice a very subtle similarity between traces of unrelated graphs. If you think about this, it is a pretty remarkable thing to have noticed. If Schon had been only slightly more careful (assuming it actually was deliberate fraud), he could have applied some random perturbations to the curves, and avoided this really damning "coincidence."

        People were having trouble reproducing Schon's results, and eventually, he would have been unable to back up his main supporting claim, which was that his oxide barriers were much better quality than his competitors'. That's only because his competitors eventually would have insisted on watching Schon produce samples for their measurements. And that's only because Schon was really making a lot of noise about his results.

        I'm quite confident that if I had fraudulently produced fake data in my thesis and publications, no one would have discovered it. Hell, not too many people noticed the truthful data. I just don't matter enough to the physics community for them to bother checking me out so carefully.
      • ...by its very method, the field of physics will always lead toward truth...

        And the philosophers cry out that we have no grounds for believing that pragmatic methods like Ockham's Razor and the scientific method lead toward truth. :-)
    • I agree. But doesn't it seem like we're seeing a lot more fraud in all areas of late?

      Corruption destroyed the Roman Empire and it will destroy western civilization in the same way that it destroyed the Soviet Union.
    • I'm a bit surprised this was modded up, considering the muddy thinking it voices (championed by myopic pocket-protector types, mayhap?)

      The title of the message, as mispelled as it is, refers to physics, a discipline that is inherently resistent to fakery. But the poster doesn't stop there; he then includes *all* of science:

      So fraud are rarer and rarer. Comapre the number of fraud in science, with (haha) economical fraud, political fraud (corruption), religious fraud (sect, breaking your own vow like abusing children and so forth).

      This is clearly an error in reasoning, an over-inclusive generalization (the exact fallacy type I leave to the forensic amongst you.) Physics is a *branch* of science, not Science Itself, which, incidentally, appears here to take on a quasi-religious reverence.

      And that is the whole point. Science with a capital S is little more than religion with a little r these days: it is a hierarchal functioning body where the folks with the ideas that sell best define the environment where their ideas are "accepted" by their peers. In this particular case, some guys needed to justify their funding, and they got caught. However, as only nominal research into any "science" where dollars are at stake will show (think AIDS research, tabacco "science", or even the bet-the-farm ideologies of the nuclear power industry), it's the money that often decides who speaks first and loudest. I'm sure there *are* legitimate scientists out there, but to unequivocally state that your fellow humans are incapable of being human--and therefore are "better"--just because they wear a lab coat is silly. Further, to equate all scientists with physicists is, as noted, simply a fallacious grouping.

      Which leads me to my final point: if you're talking about REAL physics, then you might have to consider the Catastrophe of the Infinite Regress and whether or not Shroedinger's Cat has eigenstate(s), and place that at the base of your reasoning. In that context, how much of science (or any faculty, for that matter) is anything more than the imaginings of hairless primates attempting to understand the hologram they find themselves trapped in?

      • I am a bit suprised someone modded you up.

        You have presented a straw man argument.

        AIDS research, tabacco "science", or even the bet-the-farm ideologies of the nuclear power industry

        When someone fudges their data for alterior motivations, that is not science - no more than Hitler was a Christian.

        And I am not commiting any sort of fallacy here, because science *gasp* actually has definitions for itself, and I am most absolutely sure that tobacco science qualifies for almost none of those definitions.

        And as for your second claim, science does not present the absolute and almighty Truth and it does not proclaim to do so. If you were let down, then I am sorry, none of us really has a clue.
  • one might think the physics community was full of frauds.

    Well, it must be. Look what all of those fraudulant physicists did to suppress cold fusion. And they still haven't looked into the anti-gravity system and the infinite movement devices I've developed. And they're secretly loosening the straps that hold on my tin foil hat, too.

    Physicists... Bah!

    • Well, that was exactly the problem with Cold Fusion ... it requires copious amounts of element 118. Now it can be told.
  • rkowen writes...

    For those playing at home, rkowen didn't write shit. That is, unless rkowen is Bertram Schwarzschild (or an editor) over at Physics Today who wrote the abstract in the friggin' article [aip.org] linked to in the /. summary.

    One might think the /. community is full of frauds...

  • by DougJohnson ( 595893 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:20PM (#4267421)
    This kind of simple accounting error could be corrected by requiring the CEO's to sign off on all newly found elements. "I was told by our accounting department that we had 118 protons, it seems that we counted 3 of those protons twice, as we sold them to einsteinium and bought them back at a reduced rate"
  • The Island? (Score:1, Funny)

    by FortKnox ( 169099 )
    the quest for the conjectured island of nuclear stability

    Isn't that the fabled island where Amelia Earhart's plane crashed into?


    *rimshot*
  • Frauds (Score:4, Funny)

    by bytesmythe ( 58644 ) <bytesmythe@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:22PM (#4267436)
    one might think the physics community was full of frauds.

    • Einstein knew that god DOES play dice (and always rolls boxcars)...
    • Richard Feynman's degree was from the Cordon Bleu.
    • Heisenberg was really certain, but wanted to cover his tracks about his research.
    • Bohr's model of the atom was originally developed by playing with Tinker Toys.
    • Planck's Constant is actually a variable. Shhh!
    • E = mcHawking [mchawking.com]
    • There are a wide variety of people discussing the idea that "constants" (such as Planck's as mentioned) may indeed be variable. Although I'm not sufficiently nerdy to vouch for this [ox.ac.uk], it is certainly something interesting. Discusses some of the possible instances of observed variance as well as some of the larger implications to theory that would result if the observations are correct.
  • Sounds like Kenny Lay and the Enron boys found new jobs!
  • I can't help but think of LEXX when I hear about scientest's attempts to find heavier and heavier atoms. Does anyone think we could eventually have a disaster on our hands? The amount of energy it takes to create these particles is astounding. Just a thought, besides it's always nice to think of the late LEXX. :-)
    • Actually there are some physicists currently trying to build microscopic black holes.

      They say there's no danger... ;-)

      [Actually there really is no danger- the energy from cosmic rays is so stupendously more than we can make in the lab- if making a dangerous blackhole were that easy- we'd be dead years ago. It turns out that microscopic blackholes are unstable due to hawking radiation, so that they never can grow big enough to swallow more than an atom or too, and that won't keep a hungry blackhole happy for long enough to avoid starvation!]

      • Actually there are some physicists currently trying to build microscopic black holes.
        They say there's no danger


        That reminds me of the time we all played around with little balls of mercury in chemistry class.

        "Hey look, Meckel is asleep at his desk; let's put one of these hole puppies in his ear!"

    • Just a quick question. I got 2 Troll moderation votes on this post. I don't even know what a 'Troll' vote is. Can someone tell me what that means??? Thanks!
  • by Dr.Seuss ( 94326 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:25PM (#4267463)
    Obligatory link to NPR stream [npr.org] of same.
  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:26PM (#4267475)
    Taken from
    http://www.dartmouth.edu/~chance/chance_news/recen t_news/chance_news_11.02.html#item11 [dartmouth.edu]


    The third example is Robert Millikan. Here we read about the experience of Gerald Holton studying Millikan's notebooks related to his famous oil droplets experiment to measure the charge e on a single electron. He found some variability in his estimate for e in difference sets of observations. Millikan gave a personal quality-of-measurment rating to each of the sets of observations in his original 1910 experiment. He then used these to obtain a weighted average of the values obtained from his sets of observation which gave him the estimate for e of 4.85*10^(-10) electrostatic units. The simple average would have given him 4.70*10^(-10) which would have been closer to the currently accepted value of 4.77*10^(-10). Holton also found that, referring to specific sets of observations, Milliken wrote: "publish this", "beauty", and "error high, will not use."


    Milliken guessed or decided beforehand what he wanted the electrostatic constant to be and kept fudging his results until he got the one he wanted.
    • by glenmark ( 446320 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:43PM (#4267600) Homepage
      Having performed the oil drop experiment in an undergraduate lab (and getting REALLY bad data), I can understand why Millikan would have added a subjective quality weighting to his data. Squinting through a little eyepiece and measuring how long it takes for a microscopic drop of oil to drift between two points is tedious work, with a lot of room for error to creep in. He wasn't aiming for a certain pre-determined value. He was merely uncertain as to how accurately some of his measurements were made. ("I blinked. Is that the same drop I was watching a second ago? Damn, drifted out of the focal plane...")

      Of course, the correct way to compensate for this is to collect more data points to get a better statistical sampling, and outright von Neuman rejection of data points which were clearly erroneous, not weighting the values. Nevertheless, there is no denying Millikan's cunning as an experimentalist (on a par with J.J. Thompson). The experiment is simple and elegant, and works quite well given enough care and patience.

    • Milliken guessed or decided beforehand what he wanted the electrostatic constant to be and kept fudging his results until he got the one he wanted.
      On the contrary, David Goodstein [caltech.edu] has argued convincingly [caltech.edu] that Millikan was painstaking and critical in his selection of which drops to use in his estimate, that Broad and Wade were "profoundly incorrect" in accusing Millikan of "extensively misrepresenting his work in order to make his experimental results seem more convincing..."
      • This is a good point. Millikan may have had some undesirable qualities, but I don't think an inclination to fraud was one of them. The whole thing stems from one sentence in his paper, "It is to be remarked, too, that this is not a selected group of drops but represents all of the drops experimented on during 60 consecutive days...", that is arguably taken out of context by those claiming fraud. See this [sigmaxi.org] for an additional recounting in favor of Millikan.
    • The case has been rather overstated. David Goodstein, a current professor of physics at Caltech, wrote an article on this subject [caltech.edu] (warning: PDF). The relevant portion starts on page 3 - in summary, the data points that were discarded were being used to verify a separate formula for Stokes' law. A more recent analysis [americanscientist.org] of all the points, published and not, doesn't show a bias regarding the charge value.

      Unrelated but perhaps relevant, Goodstein also has an article titled Conduct and Misconduct in Science [caltech.edu] online.
      • Unrelated but perhaps relevant, Goodstein also has an article titled
        Conduct and Misconduct in Science online.

        It's not unconnected at all. In addition to teaching physics, Goodstein teaches (or taught, I'm not sure since I took it 10 years ago) an outstanding class on ethics in research. It's something that more schools should include in their curriculum. I argued in favor of making the class a part of the Core curriculum; it didn't happen, but it was (and probably still is) a popular class.

    • Milliken guessed or decided beforehand what he wanted the electrostatic constant to be and kept fudging his results until he got the one he wanted.

      This is an unduly harsh analysis of Millikan's result and publication. There is no evidence to indicate that Millikan had guessed what he wanted, and then chose to the data to fit that. I suggest that you check out an article in The American Scientist [americanscientist.org] (available freely in a posting [caltech.edu] by David Goodstein (Caltech)).

      To briefly summarize that American Scientist article, Millikan had very exacting standards for the data that he would publish. If the oil drops were too small, too much effected by Brownian motion, or affected by innaccuracy in Stoke's Law (which he documented completely), the results were not published. If the drops fell to quickly for accurate measurement, the results were not published. So a marking like "error high, will not use" probably meant that he could not be certain of the numbers that he recorded. Likewise, even drops that were labeled "the best one I ever had" were not published. Even if the results of all his observations were taken into account, and not just the observations he published, his end result would have not changed significantly.

      In short, to say that Millikan "guessed the answer" is at the very least unfair. He chose data that he was confidant had been recorded in a reliable fashion. You might fault him for other things, but not for choosing an answer before hand and then picking experimental results to support that.

    • Milliken guessed or decided beforehand what he wanted the electrostatic constant to be and kept fudging his results until he got the one he wanted.

      I believe the issue is more complicated than you think. I refer you to a paper by David Goodstein [caltech.edu] that details the Millikan "controversy" and gives a little perspective.

  • We are in trouble. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The physics community is in trouble... read another article in the latest Physics Today:


    http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-55/iss-9/p55.html [physicstoday.org]


    Not to mention the sort of perpetual game of "who's the smartest" that takes the place of constructive dialog at all levels of physics discourse. Nobody at physics seminars actually understands more than about the first 20% of a talk, but no one will speak up for fear of looking like an idiot. Some physicists are very adept at putting together a few keywords from a talk that they didn't understand and asking a question that makes them look smart. The presenter, if he's "good", will repond with some more key words that the questioner will pretend to understand. But if the presenter doesn't have an answer, or hasn't heard of some theory or thought about how it would apply to his work, then he's the one that's stupid.

    • "Nobody at physics seminars actually understands more than about the first 20% of a talk, but no one will speak up for fear of looking like an idiot."

      Most talks people go to during the week are in fields that aren't their own. So they're not in a position to ask very in depth questions. Big deal. It's not about looking like an idiot, it's about not being able to ask questions because you don't have much background knowledge on the subject. But then again, that's why they go to these talks, right? So they can get this background information and not be isolated in their own field.

      So I agree that many if not most people at these talks don't understand everything that's said, but the lack of questions isn't from a fear of looking stupid, it's from a lack of thorough understanding of the subject.

      Now you might ask, "well why don't they ask not-so-in-depth questions, more general types?" The answer is because the general types a) usually take a long time to answer, more than the talk allows, and b) because this general sort of information is something that can be found elsewhere.

  • by Saxerman ( 253676 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:29PM (#4267503) Homepage
    Many people don't have a lot of faith in science. Which is why we have those who doubt the moon landing and believe in alien abductions. [slashdot.org]
    • Just because somebody believes that we're not alone, doesn't mean that we don't understand science. Do you think the researchers at SETI don't know what a molecule is or advanced chemistry? Some of the smartest people of our time have theorized about the existance of extraterrestrial life.

      In other words, shut up. People can be smart and believe that there is more to life than just us.
      • In other words, shut up. People can be smart and believe that there is more to life than just us.

        To be critical of alien abductions is not to claim that ET doesn't exist. I would like to hope that alien life exists (and is friendly). I mean, otherwise the universe seems like a huge waste of space, right?

        The slashdot article I linked to cited a national study which reported that a growing majority of people believed in pseudosciences while a simular majority didn't have an understanding of basic science. I found the results of the study rather scary.

    • Many people don't have a lot of faith in science.

      That is because science has given us cheap, readily available rich chocolately junk food, but no easy weight-loss solution yet.

      Science keeps supplying the proverbial hooker without the proverbial condum to go with it.
    • Its also why we have religion.
  • Yeah, that's it, element 119. But it's so small you can't see it. Oh, yes, and it only exists for a fraction of a second inside a nuclear explosion. That's the ticket!

    • I've got # 119 5/8! It's composed of broken sub-atomic particles that have recombined, so that you have photrons and neutons. Unfortunately, it's highly unstable, and always explodes within five picoseconds of coming into existence. However, if you're lucky enough to have a crystal of these things (note, crystal only lasts 4.384 picoseconds) and can get a picture of it, you'll notice it looks like a blue bunny. That's why I've named it Bunniculum.
    • I have discovered a truly remarkable new element, but it's decay path is too long to fit in this comment.
  • culture of celebrity (Score:4, Interesting)

    by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:31PM (#4267519)
    Mistakes and fraud will happen, and they will slip through peer review--that's inevitable. The problem is not that this happens, but that science, and physics in particular, have a celebrity culture kind of like Hollywood does so that these things end up hurting other people--a popular fraud can attract more funding and attention than a dozen people coming up with less glamorous results. And many of the most hyped results turn out to be more good PR than breakthroughs when things have calmed down.

    While scientists only recently started promising getting bigger penises [abc.net.au] in a serious way, they have been announcing get rich quick schemes and a cure for cancer for a century, and people keep falling for it. Science even has its tabloid press, of which The New Scientist and certain section of Nature are a good example (but Nature at least also contains a lot of good science).

  • Absolutely! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Snarfvs Maximvs ( 28022 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:34PM (#4267536)
    one might think the physics community was full of frauds.

    Of course it is; all of my physics professors claimed to be able to teach!
  • Where are Ponds and Fliechman now those 2 model physicists who discovered cold fusion..

    On the plus side the system seems to work. Those that fake it are found out
    • Ahem. Pons and Fleischmann were *chemists*. That was one of the reasons that the physics world descended on their research like crows eager to pick the eyes out of a corpse.

      The F&P incident is a good example of the ethical side of the physics community. F&P made dozens of errors contrary to what physicists consider the 'right' way to perform an experiment. Then they aimed for publicity and fame instead of peer-review and verification. So the physics community crucified them, as well they should. Hopefully the same thing will happen to Dr.s Ninov and Schon.

      (Disclaimer: Yes, I am a physicist. :) )
    • They were/are chemists, and there are some subtle differences in the way that chemists and physicists conduct experiments. That's why many physicists initially jumped on them ("bad procedure") and why the results haven't been confirmed elsewhere (it really was bogus data due to bad procedure).
  • by vlad_petric ( 94134 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:38PM (#4267568) Homepage
    What's so difficult to believe about 118 ? I mean, we know from Star Trek that much heavier elments exist, like the Ilium 629.

  • Also look at today's article on salon for more physics trouble:
    here [salon.com]
  • This hoax should have easily been detected much sooner and without all the brouhaha.

    Any good logical linguist knows:
    Un-Un-octium = not( not( octium ) ) = Octium [octiumchip.com] (a spoof on the P4 chip from "back in the day").

  • by tjrw ( 22407 )
    It seems to me that a big problem regarding objectivity in science (which, let's face it, is a fundamental aspect of science), is the source of funding. Scientists are much more likely to attempt fraudulent activity, or cling to theories based around results which fit their model, conveniently suppresing those that do not, if they stand to lose their funding if they do "the right thing".

    Not sure that there's an obvious solution here, although peer review works well a lot of the time, but it seems to me that this is becoming more of an issue.
  • Between this and the Schon case one might think the physics community was full of frauds.

    Is it any wonder that people whos lives depend on the research funds don't fudge the numbers sometimes? I mean, we have Enron, MCI Worldcom, and god knows how many other HUGE corporations doing the *exact same thing*. If any one of those corporations donate to research, they'd probably be wanting status reports...and if the researcher doesn't deliver, whoops! No more money.

    In the end though, we're all human, and humans make mistakes. Some more than others, though.
  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @02:48PM (#4267640) Homepage
    Science has never guaranteed 100% infallibility. What it guarantees is an unrelentless pursuit of the truth, even if takes decades to discover the answer to a problem or uncover a mistake, as the case might be. It also promises a ready acceptance of the new evidence, at least as compared to the readiness of all other human endeavours to accept fault.

    This is exactly what we saw in these few sad cases of fraud. There was no coverup, no meetings in the middle of the night, no deep throat.
    • Science has never guaranteed 100% infallibility. What it guarantees is an unrelentless pursuit of the truth, even if takes decades to discover the answer to a problem or uncover a mistake, as the case might be. It also promises a ready acceptance of the new evidence, at least as compared to the readiness of all other human endeavours to accept fault.

      Wow! Is this the reason that more than four hundred years after Newton and close to a century after the publication of Einstein's relativity, physicists (Hawking, Thorne, Feynman, and the rest) are still talking about time travel as if it were a physicial possibility? Even kids can understand that time cannot change if you explain it to them. The late science critic Paul Feyrabend said it best:

      And a more detailed analysis of successful moves in the game of science ('successful' from the point of view of the scientists themselves) shows indeed that there is a wide range of freedom that demands a multiplicity of ideas and permits the application of democratic procedures (ballot-discussion-vote) but that is actually closed by power politics and propaganda. This is where the fairy-tale of a special method assumes its decisive function. It conceals the freedom of decision which creative scientists and the general public have even inside the most rigid and the most advanced parts of science by a recitation of 'objective' criteria and it thus protects the big-shots (Nobel Prize winners; heads of laboratories, of organizations such as the AMA, of special schools; 'educators'; etc.) from the masses (laymen; experts in non-scientific fields; experts in other fields of science): only those citizens count who were subjected to the pressures of scientific institutions (they have undergone a long process of education), who succumbed to these pressures (they have passed their examinations), and who are now firmly convinced of the truth of the fairy-tale. This is how scientists have deceived themselves and everyone else about their business, but without any real disadvantage: they have more money, more authority, more sex appeal than they deserve, and the most stupid procedures and the most laughable results in their domain are surrounded with an aura of excellence. It is time to cut them down in size, and to give them a more modest position in society.

      From Against Method [www.hi.is] by Paul Feyerabend

      If you are sincere about discovering the crackpottery and outright deception that is endemic in the pysics community check out this site: Nasty Little Truth About Spacetime Physics [sbcglobal.net]
      • I'm sure your science critic has some reasonable criticisms of the scientific commununity, but because of your ridiculous arguments I'm not even going to bother reading him.

        more than four hundred years after Newton and close to a century after the publication of Einstein's relativity, physicists (Hawking, Thorne, Feynman, and the rest) are still talking about time travel as if it were a physicial possibility?

        Someone writing in the 1600s could have written: "two millenia after Aristotle explained why evidence is unimportant to scientific method, and nearly that long after Ptolemy formulated his model of the cosmos, we have these upstarts Newton and Copernicus, inspired no doubt by that buffoon Galileo, spouting about an invisible force and the earth not being the center of creation!" Science makes progress. Knowledge may not increase monotonically, but it does increase. Your appeal to the authority of Newton and Einstein probably wouldn't impress this Feyerabend fellow.

        Even kids can understand that time cannot change if you explain it to them.

        What does this even mean? Kids "understand" anything that is explained to them by an adult who wants them to. This is why we have som 8-year-olds knee-bobbing in madrassas and others repeating verbatim the racist jokes that they heard from their fathers. I've heard more ridiculous theological postulation from children than from the parents they were parroting.

        In future, you would be wise to make your entire post a quote.

        later,
        Jess

      • A physicist conjecturing about time travel is a form of mental masteurbation. I don't know of a singe physicist that really believes in time travel. Name some scientists that have stated that time travel is a physical reality, that can be reproduced in the lab. Oh and Alex Chu doesn't count.

        And Paul Feyerabend is full of shit. You don't have to go through the "evil system" to do science. If a 12 year old Amish kid discovered the TOE and it was verifiable, then no one would give a shit what training he had. The only votes are experiment and experiment.

        You can try to argue that objective=shared subjective, you can philosophize all you want, but science is the simplest form of truth that there is - science is merely observation and little bit of thinking.
    • I'm not disputing that conspiracy in science is vastly harder to do and hold down for periods of time compared to virtually any other activity, but I think it's a mistake to think that this is a fluke.

      Take Walter Stewart as an example; first investigating the David Baltimore [t-online.de] case and then measuring scientific misconduct [t-online.de] as a whole, he found that "two thirds of a group of forty seven scientists had done something [...] either careless or irresponsible during a three year period." (Hindsights, ISBN 0446671150). His activities have caused him censure, reassignment, threats and worse [t-online.de].

      It would be interesting to see how much science gets by on the assumption that the scientific process has been followed. I suspect that a bunch of science papers are written like journalists write articles; written to the deadline, with only as much work as is barely necessary.
  • All you have to do is look at all the conjecture that flies as truth to know this.

    People are more interested in getting published than actually finding out somthing new. My sister even ran into this in her masters studies. The doctor she was working on research with flat out told her to massage the data to look more like what they wanted, ignoring experimental data that didn't fit, and worse.

    Not explain it, mind you, not try to figure out whether the experimentor made a mistake, or if the expectations were incorrect. Just ignore the data we don't want to pay attention to.

    Maybe it will come out in the wash, maybe not. If they are just papers to get published to keep your professorship and the like, then you can find a journal obscure enough where no one will care enough to double check your findings, especially if the research is obscure enough.
    • This is not true. There people out there that are interested in finding out the truth. In fact I'm willing to bet most scientists out there are truth-seekers. Remember, while being published is exciting, if you are found to be fraudulent, your career is over. This keeps people in check. All a professor needs to do is publish once in a certain amount of time to keep tenure and such. Seeing as how most professors publish far more than once in that time, fudging data is certainly not necessary.

      There is no room in science for fraudulence. That's why we have things like double-checking, and why more and more papers are being published with links to their raw data. The increased communications between scientists (if you're in the field, it is amazing how email has increased the communication over the past few years) has allowed for more ideas to flow back and forth, and for data to be analyzed by more people, different groups, etc. Two major cases of fraudulence in the past few years is an amazing rate, considering that hundreds of thousands of papers are published yearly. Find another field that has such a low fraudulence rate.

      Don't get me wrong, there are people out there that produce fraudulent data. But they are few and far between. Scientific method isn't dead. If it were, this sort of fraudulence would never be tracked down. Scientific method brought this scandal out.

      • There is fraud and there is data massaging. Forgetting a few rogue results is taught from an early stage in the science classroom. Regrettably it continues through to original research. This is a pity because sometimes those rogue results can open up a completely new area.
        • Pulling rogues out of your data is far from massaging it. Many experiment now obtain millions of data points in a matter of minutes. You're bound to have some rogues in there somewhere. But statistical analysis of your data tells you whether or not the "rogue" data should be considered in your data analysis. Yes, this means that you may miss something in your data analysis (those rogues may mean something after all), but if you spent the entire time trying to figure out where these rogues are coing from, you'd lose sight of why you did the experiment in the first place. This is why you repeat your experiment several times. Do it over and over again. If you see that the rogues are not random, then you need to understand where they're coming from. Otherwise chances are that they are just noise and can be omitted. This is standard data analysis that is taught to most college science majors. It's not sloppiness from the classroom.

          • Understanding the sources of experimental error is very important, but students are taught to produce results that 'fit', it is easier. Initially the reward is to pass more easily through exams, later it is more directly financial.

            Interestingly enough with the Internet and the availability of space to store large quantities of data, it becomes easier to store and share original data. This allows others to make the same judgement calls about which data to exclude and then whether it is reasonable.

    • While data manipulation will always occur, that doesn't mean that all science is fraud. And of course the amount of scrutiny with which the data is examined should be proportional to the importance of the result.

      With regards to the question at hand, I can personally vouch that there is (at least most of the time) a thorough checking of the data. I spent a summer in high school poring over thousands of pages of detector data from the LLNL experiment producing element 110. All to confirm that there was but one atom created.
  • 118 is a fraud!

    Noooooooooooooo!!

    It was a key component in the plans for my new Heisenberg Compensator. It's unique properties were going to make the Heisenberg Compensator dependent technologies feasible at last. Now it's back to square 1. 5 years of research down the drain.

    (sob)
    (choke)

    Must Control Fist of Death
    • Square 1.5?

      Would that be the same as Hexagon 1?

      Just curious...

      What's odd is that there are now two replies to this, and they both seem to mstake the 1 and 5 as being part of the same sentence... we're just not sure which one. (:
    • Please read as:

      ...back to square one.

      Five years of research down the drain...

      Remember when your English teacher told you to always spell out numbers less than ten? This is why.
  • They thought it might revolutionize their efforts in their nuclear program. However, when the suitcase was much lighter than expected, fraud was immediately suspected.
  • This being a consensus reality, the next likeable person who comes along with 118, we should just all agree, "She's got it!"

    Skepticism is the main impediment to the progress of science; that and jealousy in the profession, where there are a dozen naysayers to everyone who'd discover something obvious (like: after 117 the elements should just stop - of course there's a 118, so let's let someone have the fun of declaring it discovered). Compare computer science, where Windows is a great OS simply because so many people believe in it. Science should sometimes humble itself before the example of technology.

  • I got questions every few weeks before and I had answers like "It's the missing element, they found 118 and 116 so 117 must exist. My company provides the missing element in non-profit technology."

    Maybe now I'll just say I was drunk when I formed the company.

    ==Tom==
  • Between this and the Schon case one might think the physics community was full of frauds.

    WHAT?

    Someone calling me a fraud?

    And without the guts to say it to my face!

    Oh.. umm, never mind :o)
  • Isn't that CowboyNeal's One super-weakness?

    -Ed

    docbrown.net [docbrown.net] NEW!
    Graphic Design, Web Design, Role-Playing Games...all the good stuff
  • This guy was pushing his luck... But I can understand what might have driven him to do it.

    I used to work at one of the national labs on the civilian research side. Funding sources are scarce and cutbacks are common. Funding for particle research is particularly difficult to obtain. Almost everyone at the national labs wishes that the cold war was still going on. Right now the strategy of the labs is to prove that they still have a purpose. There's a lot at stake: "laboratory reputation", "project manager repuation", "theorist reputation", and most of all $$$ to get successful results.

    Once a project ends, you don't automatically get to work on another one. You usually don't have the luxury of lots of time to refine your experiment either. People DO fear for their jobs.

    At the lab, I did observe some instances of "padding" experimental results although I am experienced enough to know that it goes on in most experimental research endeavors (public and private).

    The motto at the national labs is "Publish or Perish". In practice, What percent of journal articles describe unsucessful experiments? Not many.

    Often in particle physics you are merely validating what is strongly expected from theory so he probably felt he had a good chance to "get away with it" without having to invent physical constants. He went too far though. Honesty does matter in the end.

  • Michael,

    Rather more likely is that members of the slashdot community would think that the slashdot editorial staff is full of incompetent idiots -- if we were unable to see that the stupidity of one doesn't necessarily reflect on the intelligence of the rest.
  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1855672.stm

    hope this isn't a reapeat, but this also just on the heels of that oak ridge fusion thing. you'd think people would have learned to be a bit more careful about announcing table-top fusion these days ...

  • It's not that "the physics community (is) full of frauds," rather it's the fraud community that is full of physicists.
  • Yeah, and how convenient that the theory of relativity is confirmed by ATOMIC clocks, clocks that would not exist if it hadn't been for Einstein's theory. Can you say tautology? As Kramer would say, Yeeeeaaaahhh!
  • C'mon people. This news has been out ages. It not new news if Physics Today prints an article about it. Nature had an article about 3-4 weeks ago about the element-118 case. The article on element-118 was published and had to be retrackted, but the publishers wouldn't post a correction if not all 15 autographs were under the letter. In the end a correction was print, even though only 14 people had signed the letter asking the editor to do it. One person still claims his data was correct. And this person also worked on the discovery of element-112.

    Physics is completely self correcting. If you claim to get cold fusion at 295K it isn't worth a thing till someone else has repeated it. If it can't be repeated and you don't have a decent excuse you can kiss your career good bye.
  • Can we do Cold Fusion with Ununoctium?

"There... I've run rings 'round you logically" -- Monty Python's Flying Circus

Working...