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Surprise! Sometimes Science Gets It Wrong. Here Are 5 Examples From This Year.
by Jill Pantozzi | 11:05 am, December 28th, 2011
We’ve covered tons of science(!) stories over the past year but this is an extra special one. Why? Because science apparently got a bunch of stuff wrong. Cut them some slack, this isn’t an exact science.
There’s countless reasons scientific discoveries may be later proved wrong. New evidence may surface, lab mistakes or even the scientists themselves screwing with the results. Here are the top 5 science journal discoveries that were retracted this year:
5. Los Angeles marijuana dispensaries lead to drop in crime.
The RAND Corporation had claimed that medical marijuana dispensaries saw lower crime rates because of guards and security cameras around facilities. “The city’s lawyers soon found critical flaws in RAND’s data collection, largely stemming from RAND’s reliance on data from CrimeReports.com, which did not include data from the L.A. Police Department,” says the report. “RAND blamed itself for the error, not CrimeReports.com, which had made no claims of having a complete set of data, and, in fact, didn’t even know about the study.”
4. Butterfly meets worm, falls in love, and has caterpillars.
This seemed like some sort of crazy, overlooked logic but it’s kind of turned into a science war. The original study by zoologist Donald Williamson, said that “ancestors of modern butterflies mistakenly fertilized their eggs with sperm from velvet worms. The result was the necessity for the caterpillar stage of the butterfly life cycle.” Williamson hasn’t actually retracted his work, researchers Michael Hart and Richard Grosberg have refuted it on the grounds of “we think you’re nuts.” Actually, “they based their arguments entirely on well-known concepts of both basic evolution and the genetics of modern worms and butterflies. When Symbiosis published its butterfly-meets-worm article in January 2011, Hart raised questions with the editor. As of November the paper is no longer available.”
3. Treat appendicitis with antibiotics, not surgery.
Got appendicitis? Don’t worry about removing that useless organ, just take some antibiotics! Or at least, that’s what some Indian researchers claimed. “Italian surgeons had raised a red flag with the study in a lengthy letter published in 2010 in the same journal, politely citing a multitude of problems with the study’s methodology. The Indian researchers responded a month later with their own two-paragraph letter defending the methodology and calling for a larger study to establish the superiority of antibiotic treatment over surgery,” according to the report. The journal editors did a retraction on the basis of alleged plagiarism.
2. Litter breeds crime and discrimination.
Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel is accused of fabricating data on this one. Why? Well it seems he’s a frequent liar. “The journal Science retracted the paper in November upon realization that Stapel, a media darling whose name frequented the New York Times, may have faked data in at least 30 papers.” Stapel has since been suspended from his job pending investigation.
1. Chronic fatigue syndrome is caused by a virus.
Researchers from the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada claimed connections between CFS and something called xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV). Unfortunately, things got fishy when no other lab could replicate the results they found. “Science issued an ‘Editorial Expression of Concern’ in July after the authors themselves refused to retract their paper.” The authors did finally retract part of their paper due to “contaminated samples,” but the damage was done. The journal is now investigating whether or not the samples were purposefully contaminated because of an incident in which “senior author Judy Mikovits was fired from the Whittemore Peterson Institute in September and arrested in California in November over charges for possession of stolen property and unlawful taking of computer data, equipment and supplies.”
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