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Elements 116 and 118 are Bogus? 322

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the fraudium-hoaxium dept.
prostoalex writes "In this era of corporate misbehavior and overstatement of results who can you trust? Scientific sources, of course. Well, turns out people at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory lied about their discovery of elements 116 and 118. Associated Press has the story, quoting the lab officials charging the researchers with "scientific misconduct"."
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Elements 116 and 118 are Bogus?

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  • Just one person (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:35PM (#3887955)
    Why does the story submitter say "people" and "the researchers" when the AP story clearly states that the fabrication was done by one person?
    • Re:Just one person (Score:4, Informative)

      by martissimo (515886) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:39PM (#3888016)
      Well considering that much of the problem is not just the one physicists bogus claims, but the fact that the rest of the people involved at the laboratory obviously neglected to verify his claims...

      i'd say it's pretty safe to use the plural version
      • Re:Just one person (Score:4, Insightful)

        by caesar-auf-nihil (513828) on Monday July 15, 2002 @03:49PM (#3888719)
        The rest of the lab did verify his claims, which is why the scientist who made the discovery was fired.
        It takes a VERY LONG TIME to peer-review high energy atomic physics, let alone duplicate the experiment. So just because they didn't catch it when they first read the data DOES NOT MEAN THEY OBVIOUSLY NEGLECTED TO VERIFY HIS CLAIMS.

        Data fraud does occur, but it is almost always caught by the peer review process.

        • Re:Just one person (Score:5, Informative)

          by martissimo (515886) on Monday July 15, 2002 @04:05PM (#3888901)
          I'm not saying that they didn't eventually catch it, because the article points out that they certainly did. But also taken from the article...

          Shank admitted that basic verifications necessary for such lofty scientific proclamations were not followed.

          "In this case, the most elementary checks and data archiving were not done," Shanks said.


          When the lab's director says that "basic verifications"..."were not followed", i feel pretty safe in saying they "obviously neglected to verify his claims" (at least for a good while)

      • Re:Just one person (Score:2, Interesting)

        by mike77 (519751)
        As someone who works in science, I can say that the review process can take a very long time. The experiments themselves often time take many long months and sometimes a few years to come to any useful results, so in reviewing it, you almost have to do the whole damn thing again. The fact that they found it, says alot for their process.

        I'd also say that it was probably just one scientist. Say he's expected to do some work and collect some data, gets bored, screws it up, and then fabricates it. Lucky he now looks like he did it right and is ok. Plus, if you work a place like Lawrence, it's expected of you to be a top notch scientist. Which is quite likely why no one thought to check his results.

  • by Bigger R (131370) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:36PM (#3887968) Homepage
    I have this sinking feeling prior earnings may have been overstated...

  • by WPIDalamar (122110) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:36PM (#3887974) Homepage
    And in related news... Element 142 nicknamed CowboyNealium has been discovered by a crack team of wallruses in antarctica.
  • Is it possible.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TibbonZero (571809) <.Tibbon. .at. .gmail.com.> on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:36PM (#3887978) Homepage Journal
    Is it possible for elements to be "missing" actually. Like gaps in the chart? Do there have to be continuous numbers? Or can you count them ... 114, 115, 117, 119???
    I am not a really big physics person, but I thought that there would be a way to put the extra proton in there and throw in an electron to make a heavier one...
    Also, how did they mess it up in "Thinking" that they had found them, when they really hadn't? Again I am not a subatomic physicist, so this could be a stupid question..

    • by Rupert (28001) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:39PM (#3888019) Homepage Journal
      These elements are extremely short lived. You can't keep them around and poke at them until you're sure of what they are. You can just look at the tracks in the bubble chamber and see if you can construct what that lead nucleus used to be a microsecond ago.
      • by Rand Race (110288)
        Not neccesarily, these are supposed to be "island" elements. Element 114 lasted over 30 seconds - in comparison Element 112 lasted 280 milliseconds - before decaying and the island should include 116 although 118 would be pushing it.

        Then - assuming any stability can be achieved past 120 - we'll get the superactinides around 122...

        • Then - assuming any stability can be achieved past 120 - we'll get the superactinides around 122...

          "Stability" in this context would mean having a half life measured in something longer than fractions of a second. Since such an element does not exist on Earth now, if it ever was there it must have decayed completely. As with any transuranics and technetium which might have been present when the Earth was formed.
    • Every space in the Periodic Table should have a corresponding element. However, these elements may not occur in nature (eg. Technetium) or may have infinitesimally short half-lives (eg. most atomic numbers > about 100).
      • However, these elements may not occur in nature (eg. Technetium) or may have infinitesimally short half-lives (eg. most atomic numbers > about 100).

        Actually, technetium has been discovered in nature. Just in infestimally small quantities. Also, plutonium was discovered around a natural "nuclear reactor" in Africa.
      • Every space in the Periodic Table should have a corresponding element. However, these elements may not occur in nature (eg. Technetium) or may have infinitesimally short half-lives (eg. most atomic numbers > about 100).

        Relative to the age of the Earth these elements have short half lives. Which is why they don't tend to be found on Earth. There is no reason why supernova explosions would not create all elements (up to some limit probably rather higher than 92). AFIAK transuranics end up joining one of the "natural" decay chains at some point or other.
    • by Christopher Thomas (11717) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:41PM (#3888048)
      Is it possible for elements to be "missing" actually. Like gaps in the chart? Do there have to be continuous numbers? Or can you count them ... 114, 115, 117, 119???

      The atomic number is just the number of protons in the atom, so you could in principle build all of them without gaps.

      However, you can have gaps between stable (or almost-stable) elements, with only very-unstable elements in between. That's the whole idea of the "magic island of stability" mentioned in the articles.

      Even-numbered heavy elements also tend to be more stable than odd-numbered elements (as even-numbered nuclei tend to be more energetically favourable, and there's an easy decay path that turns odd nuclei into even ones [beta decay]).
      • However, you can have gaps between stable (or almost-stable) elements, with only very-unstable elements in between. That's the whole idea of the "magic island of stability" mentioned in the articles

        You don't even have to look at transuranics to see this. Most obvious would be francium which is very much less stable than either radon or radium. Or technetium...

        Even-numbered heavy elements also tend to be more stable than odd-numbered elements (as even-numbered nuclei tend to be more energetically favourable, and there's an easy decay path that turns odd nuclei into even ones [beta decay]).

        Alpha decay will leave an odd element as odd and even as even.
    • by prof187 (235849)
      If my memory of science serves me right, which it could very possibly not, one of the earliest periodic tables had many gaps. They were just assuming that there would be elements to fill in those empty spots, and amazingly (for that early of science), they were correct.
      • The genius/insight of Mendeleev (and his other table-making predecessors like Newlands) was to realize that introducing gaps into the sequence of atoms arranged by MASS allowed a table to exhibit the periodicity. The modern concept of atomic number could only exist after positing that there was something other than mass that determined the properties of atoms. Until then, the atomic number was basically a bookkeeping device, denoting the order in weight. One couldn't be sure that there wasn't some rare or unknown element that might be discovered between two elements.

        Today, we know the determining property is the atomic number, i.e., the charge of the nucleus, and the atomic number is discrete, since one can only have an integer number of protons in a nucleus. Until Moseley's X-ray data, there wasn't any experimental proof that atomic number was a physical property.

        This development process is really what made chemistry into a hard science in the 19th century.
      • I thought that the earliest periodic tables had only four elements. . .
    • If memory serves the numbers are continuous, but the actual element at the number may not be producable (because other atomic structures are more desirable). Or more likely they are producable, but only in very specific conditions, by spending alot of energy, and even then they won't exist very long before decaying into something more stable.
    • The real issue is stability. How long must a nucleus hang together to be qualified as stable? Anything radioactive obviously isn't.

      I know that there are stability "gaps" in the total number of nucleons (protons AND neutrons) that can be in a nucleus. This is a big problem in trying to figure out where the heavy (ie: not hydrogen/helium) elements came from.

      The theory is that they came from fusion in stars. In calculating these reactions, we usually assume two-body collisions, since they're overwhelmingly more probably than multi-body ones. What you run into is the 5/8 gap. There are no stable nuclei with 5 or 8 nucleons.

      So how do you get anything above 8 nucleons? It's got to be from multi-body collisions, because no two-body collisions can create one! (Actually, 7 + 2 or 7 + 3 break you out, but forming 7 is already unlikely). It's kind of cool that all of the heavy elements come from these chance occurances.

      (As a side note, the predicted abundances match those observed, so this is probably a pretty good theory)
  • At least they didn't go shredding atoms.... [rimshot]

    Looks as though they at least get the message that belated honesty is better than none at all.
  • Well.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by iONiUM (530420)
    I just hope there was no research studies which "used" these elements... :)
  • I just ordered a new case for my dual Athlon Linux box made of Ununhexium [webelements.com] with Ununoctium [webelements.com] details! Man did I get screwed...

  • Trust? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zebs (105927) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:37PM (#3887992) Homepage
    From a quick read of the article it doesn't like there's any big trust issue here...

    The scientists rechecked there data and retracted there claims... where's the cover up? Isn't that pretty much normal in the scientific community?

    (Ok... maybe they should have check their results before announcing anything, but its not like they denied anything or blatantly lied!)
    • Re:Trust? (Score:5, Informative)

      by marauder404 (553310) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (404reduaram)> on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:52PM (#3888173)
      Which article did you read? There are two articles linked in the Slashdot blurb. The first article [lbl.gov] links to the original announcement of the discovery dated June 7, 1999. In that article, there's a link to the retraction [lbl.gov], dated July 27, 2001. Today, July 15, 2002, there's an article [yahoo.com] reporting that the original discovery wasn't a discovery at all. It was fabricated data and the announcement was intentionally done based on fake information. That is fraud. That's a trust issue.

      Had the original announcement was a discovery that they believed was based on real, bona fide data, that would be different -- just part of the normal scientific discovery process.
  • Old News (Score:5, Informative)

    by Townshend (130057) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:38PM (#3887997)
    This is not new news at all, in fact Berkeley scientists retracted their paper back in 2001. Here is a link: http://enews.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/118- retraction.html [lbl.gov].
    • Re:Old News (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:41PM (#3888042)
      The news is not the retraction, but that the false signal was due to deliberate fabrication of the data rather than to a misinterpretation of "honest" data.
      • Re:Old News (Score:3, Funny)

        by WEFUNK (471506)
        And furthermore, the results were falsified (and then retracted) by the growing international conspiracy against fair use of used textbooks, forcing first year physics students to buy new editions every year.
  • Angry Woodworker [mathpuzzle.com]

    Here is the /. [slashdot.org] story.

  • by billbaggins (156118) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:39PM (#3888011)
    Stock in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory plummeted in afternoon trading, while the head researcher vigorously denied rumors that Arthur Andersen had provided proofreading services for the paper in question...
  • Within less than a millisecond after its creation, the element 118 nucleus decays by emitting an alpha particle...

    Why are these even elements, I mean, how can you even be sure of what you have in a millisecond. I guess they weren't.
  • Despite much funding from nestle:

    Choctonium:
    Atomic Number: 118
    Atomic Weight: Delicious

    will now have to be eliminated from the table.
  • by 4of12 (97621)

    Oh, no!

    Wasn't one of those elements up for being named "Bullonium" or "Baloneyum"?

    Didn't also figure prominently in the list of ingredients required to initiate cold fusion?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    So what you're really saying is that they HAVE discovered Unobtanium and Younoseeum!
  • I create element 120 in my kitchen sink. Look for my research to be published next month. I plan to call it slashdotium.
  • by Helmholtz Coil (581131) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:41PM (#3888053) Journal

    Very silly to pin the blame on one individual in the research group. Don't these guys read? Don't they know disgruntled physicists, especially when they're disgraced atomic/nuclear scientists, always come back as super-villains to wreak their vengeance on their enemies and an unsuspecting world?

    How long before their suspect builds himself an atomic-powered titanium alloy suit with miniature particle accelerator blasters?

  • Mmm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by writermike (57327)
    Krabappel:"Who can tell me the atomic weight of bolognium?"

    Martin: "Delicious?"

    Krabappel: "Correct. I would also accept snacktacular."
  • by ianscot (591483) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:43PM (#3888071)
    From the retraction in the original publication:
    The team of Berkeley Lab scientists that announced two years ago the observation of what appeared to be Element 118 -- heaviest undiscovered transuranic element at the time -- has retracted its original paper after several confirmation experiments failed to reproduce the results.
    That was dated July of 2001 if I remember right.

    So they said they'd found something, but the confirming experiments didn't come through. They've retracted their claim. That's pretty much how it works. Seems like you can still trust science, precisely because of stories like this. Right?

    • The issue is that after they retracted last year one member of the lab was found to have forged the results. The news here is the misconduct, not the fact that the elements doesn't exist.
    • I see that you haven't bothered to read the links. Go no further in the second link than the headline and you will find "Lab: Scientist Fabricated Research".

      I understand that reading the links on /. is way out of the ordinary for those who post comments, but at least skim the headlines!

  • by thewheeze (466050) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:44PM (#3888085)
    So when should I expect to see the girls of Lawrence Berkley issue of Playboy?
  • element names (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jucius Maximus (229128) <zyrbmf5j4x@s n k m a i l . com> on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:47PM (#3888118) Homepage Journal
    Maybe they announced their 'discovery' because they thought they were close to really producing the element, but did not want to let some other country (probably Russia or England) discovering it first and thus getting naming rights. There have historically been fights about who discovered what element first because everyone wants to get a chance to name an element in the periodic table.
    • IUPAC decides the names, regardless of who discovers it, althought they have some input. The last time a whole batch of heavy elements were named it was a mix of countries represented.
  • ScienceWire(SW) Press Release:

    ScienceWire has learned that Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (DOE:LBNL) is under investigation from the Nobel Physics Committee regarding possible fraud with respect to the existence of Elements 116 and 118.

    Lab director, Beef Shank, is "shocked, shocked, I tell you" that fabrication of research went on under his watch. "We have since fired Arthur Anderson from our peer review committee, and have commenced an aggressive investigation in concert with the Nobel Committee, and intend to release our findings when the facts come to light. No further comment."

    The individual singled out by Shank, but not identified by him [what the fuck? sometimes satire writes itself -- Editor], was identified by several newspapers as fired physicist and author Victor Nabokov.

    Nabokov was suspended by the lab in November, later fired, and has a grievance pending regarding his dismissal for writing books about a quest for an island of stability in a sea of daughter radioisotopes with short half-lives.

    Shank lauded his own department for ferreting out the fraud. "There is nothing more important for a laboratory than scientific integrity," Shank told lab employees. "Only with such integrity will the Congress, which funds our work, provide us with more grant money. On the bright side, at least we can conclusively say that we've found at least two candidates for the element Unobtainium."

    LBNL stock found no such stability, closing down almost 70% today, to $1.14 (US protons), or $1.84 (Euro neutrons), on heavy volume.

  • Several engineering companies are distraught over learning that discoveries of the super-strong, super-light element known as Unobtanium were falsified as well.Unobtanium was reportedly discovered by the marketing departments of several prominent firms, but the discoveries were never confirmed by actual engineers.
  • Happens all the time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SirSlud (67381) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:53PM (#3888180) Homepage
    Preachers arnt the only ones that can be caught with their pants down.

    Case in point: My mother worked for a university (I'll save them face, because I'm sure it happens at every university) where her co-worker had faked his PHD, and was working on bogus research. All results faked. He didn't have a clue what he was doing.

    Okay, no problem, you say .. somebody finds out, and he's gone, right? Nope. How do you think a university feels about having to answer to the fact that nobody actually _checked_ his PHD with the university he got it from? Pretty badly. So when my mother reported him, the university told her to shut up or find another job.

    A few years later, they found a way of quietly dismissing him on legit grounds. Its all about vested interest - it makes these schools look stupid to admit that they dont have the time/money (nevermind that trust is still important, IMHO) to cross-check every single research project and prof they hire.

    It's an unfortunate consequence of life - some people scam, and sometimes the scammed party wants to keep the details silent (having been sexually abused, its the same deal - you feel (wrongly) stupid for being the victim, although with the university, alot more than my pride is involved .. ie, lots of money and reputations).

    Anyhow, dont think this is an isolated case. Take everything with a grain of salt, considering the money and prestige involved in the stakes of science, until its powering your coffee-maker.
    • It's an unfortunate consequence of life - some people scam, and sometimes the scammed party wants to keep the details silent (having been sexually abused, its the same deal - you feel (wrongly) stupid for being the victim, although with the university, alot more than my pride is involved .. ie, lots of money and reputations).

      Pardon me, but this seems to trivialize sexual abuse a bit too much

      T

      • I'm trivializing my sexual abuse here. Should have been more clear. _I_ was sexually abused.

        I'm only illustrating the dynamics of being a victim of something - your first tendancy is to want to hide it, and that desire is even more deeply embedded the higher the stakes are of disclosing your victimization.
  • by zCyl (14362) on Monday July 15, 2002 @02:56PM (#3888205)
    Fortunately, science already has systems in place to handle conditions like this. The same mechanism, science's dependency on reputation, which sometimes temporary mislabels new research as a crackpot idea, does an excellent job of protecting the integrity of science as a whole. Since he has been shown guilty by his peers, if Victor Ninov can't find a way to clear his name, he will have a hard time ever publishing work again. And no work he does publish will ever be taken for granted.

    Science requires trust to operate, he broke it, and science kicked him out of the game.

    As for the title "Elements 116 and 118 are bogus", the elements aren't bogus, this just means they weren't seen that time. It would be extremely surprising if 116 and 118 didn't exist, since very well supported theories show they are there and predict some of their properties.

  • by Pulzar (81031) on Monday July 15, 2002 @03:04PM (#3888269)
    According to this site [chemicalelements.com], element 112, Ununbium, was also discovered by this guy, V. Ninov, who forged the results of the discovery of 116 and 118.

    It begs the question -- is 112 bogus as well? If not, it makes you wonder why he did this, after previously discovering a new element already. One was not enough? :)
  • Maybe I read too quickly, but I didn't pick up on the names of the "missing" elements.

    Even if they don't exist, they can still have names, can't they? (I know that this wouldn't be scientifically valid, but hey, we're just naming numbers.) Presumably, if they're legitmately discovered, the discoverer gets to name them, but until then, we need placeholders.

    I say we name them! How about fraudium and forgium? Worldcomium? Enronium? Coldfusigen? (Of course, we need to draw on more languages than English.)
  • by Pulzar (81031) on Monday July 15, 2002 @03:08PM (#3888306)
    This page [chemicalelements.com] explains why all of the new elements have this strange Unun-something names, and how they are determined.
    • As far as names are concerned, there is a bitter dispute about who has the right to propose names - historically the first discoverer had the right to name it. Element 112 is especially interesting, since the "unnamed" scientist was a member of the team claiming priority on the discovery.

      More info on the naming issue [quinion.com], and here. [lanl.gov]

  • by FreeUser (11483) on Monday July 15, 2002 @03:10PM (#3888321)
    "In this era of corporate misbehavior and overstatement of results who can you trust? Scientific sources, of course. Well, turns out people at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory lied about their discovery of elements 116 and 118."

    In this particular case, one person lied. Not people, one person, and there was no coverup. Quite the contrary. Despite the fact that some basic check-and-balance procedures were not followed (designed to avoid emberrassment, as there will always be external peer review on this sort of thing as a matter of course), the standard peer review uncovered the fraud when other scientists couldn't duplicate the findings.
    At a speech to employees last month, the lab's director, Charles Shank, said the supposedly landmark discovery of elements 118 and 116 was the result of scientific misconduct by one individual of a 15-member team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


    Lab officials last year retracted the announcement of the discovery after the research team and other scientists were unable to duplicate the results,

    [...]

    Shank lauded his own department for ferreting out the fraud.

    "There is nothing more important for a laboratory than scientific integrity," Shank told lab employees. "Only with such integrity will the public, which funds our work, have confidence in us."

    The heavy element research fraud is a stinging embarrassment for the lab. Shank admitted that basic verifications necessary for such lofty scientific proclamations were not followed.
    It is all about checks and balances, whether you are talking about science, politics, engineering, or jurisprudence. Take away your checks and balances and things will go awry ... keep them firmly in mind, and firmly in place, and when aberrations like this occur they will be spotted quickly and dealt with.

    I only wish more people in our society were aware of this basic and very important fact. It is what allows science to function and progress, and it is what allows our democracy to function despite personal corruption. Anytime anyone suggests a "reform" or change, in policy or procedure, that in some way diminishes the checks and balances that are in place *cough* ceeding unprecendented powers to the FBI *cough*, like not doing "the most elemenary checks and data archiving" suspicions should be raised, significantly.

    However, in this case peer review and the usual checks and balances did in fact ferret out the fraud and make it known rather quickly. I think this demonstrates that, while individual scientists are certainly capable of misconduct, the scientific method and peer review regime we have works pretty well, and is quite trustworthy.
  • Open your eyes! We've been lied to this whole time about element 8 as well!
  • Personally, I don't believe in Tungsten. And I'm not entirely sure I can trust Boron.

  • It kind of bugs me that they're constantly talking about "discovering" these "new elements". It's not like it takes a great leap of imagination to think that, "Hey, there's an element with 107 protons... maybe there's one with 108 protons too! *gasp*"

    I mean in theory any atom with any integer number of protons CAN exist for some period of time greater than Planck time, I just wish they'd say "created an atom of..." or "synthesized in the lab" rather than "discovered". It just seems kind of misleading. If someone comes up with a truly new way to combine various chemicals to do something, you can say they "discovered" it, because it's not like anyone could have predicted that exact process would exist... but on the periodic table, taking the highest element that has been shown to exist at some point, and then adding one to it, doesn't seem like much of a "discovery".

    Maybe I'm just nitpicking...
  • by ch-chuck (9622)
    I needed those for my cold fusion project...

  • Are they going to be eliminated or renamed Bogusium and Fullashitium?
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday July 15, 2002 @04:07PM (#3888920) Journal
    The new names for these elements will be
    "Fibbium" and "Bogusium"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 15, 2002 @04:12PM (#3888971)
    Man. This hit a little close to home. I was on the team that helped "discover" those elements. I want to explain a couple of items about elemental discovery and answer some questions I saw repeated many times on this thread. Superheavy elements haven't been dug out of the ground and looked at in about 60 years. They are made either by atomic explosions in salt caves (which the CTBT forbids now), or by beam on target collisions using a cyclotron. Accelerate some particles (we used Kr), slam them into a target (we used Pb) and you get a little bit of fusion, resulting in a new element with 82+36 protons: 118. Robert Smolanczuk predicted this would be a good reaction for "cold fusion" (not the kind you are thinking of), and we could expect to see ~1 to ~10 nuclei if our detector efficiencies were high enough, with about a week of beam. (That's constant beam-- I had three midnight to 8 AM shifts on this run). We used the Berkeley Gas-Filled Separator, which is basically two 30-ton magnets and some time-sensitive avalanche and PIIPS detectors. We were looking for a characteristic decay chain. We can get the material from the target area to the detector in microseconds, sweep it onto a detector surface, "listen" for a decay on the order of 10 MeV alpha, then wait for the the element-116 left afterwards to decay with another characteristic alpha energy in a characteristic time, and so on. During the week, we had no cherry responses. The data was mined and we thought we had three promising chains. I guess now they weren't so promising. Of course, I've been kept up to date on the retraction and so forth, but I just thought the data was reanalyzed and the chains were no good or outside of statistical significance. I had no idea of this possibility until reading it here. Victor's work in Germany for 110, 111, and 112 is unbesmirchable. Those elements have been confirmed (i.e., made in another lab using the same reaction). They aren't named because the German group just hasn't named them. We bothered them for years, and I'm sure they still get requests. I know they wanted to name one for the valley the lab was in: Hassium or Lassium or something. Still hasn't happened. I'm a little embarrassed. I've lost one of my best conversation pieces--and a resume entry for that matter.
    • Context: I'm from the Australian National University Nuclear Physics department; and this is a topic for discussion this morning :-)

      It has been suggested here that Victor Ninov is being made into a scapegoat.

      Facts that you might be able to confirm or deny:
      The Physical Review Letter was submitted when Victor Ninov was away for a few weeks.
      He was furious because he didn't think the data was ready yet. (Implication from my colleague; not all the checks had been performed yet; if they had been the original announcement might never have been made. Colleague saw him at a conference not long after the paper submission.)
      The paper was published based on the earliest analysis of the data. (I guess you've already half-confirmed this one.)

      People here have said that although it's clear some data was faked, it is *not* clear why or when. They see no motive for faking the original data, prior to the first publication. (We're talking about a field where the truth will out, sooner or later; one success should be followed within a year or two by someone else's confirmation. Even if that weren't the case, sooner or later false results get detected and replaced. It takes a lot of time, discussion, work, etc, to determine a) that something is wrong, b) which something is wrong, and c) why, but it happens. (I've recently been involved in exposing the limitations of a particular experimental method.)) It is suggested that the false data may have been inserted after the appearance of the PRL paper, when re-examination of the original data failed to return the 118 decay chains.

      And if *that* is the case, then it could all be a terrible mistake. Because I *can* imagine inserting a few events into a copy of the run data, just to make sure that the data mining was working as it should. Indeed, if results were disappearing on me, I probably *would* make such a set of test data. Would I label it t for test, f for fake, a for artificial? Actually, I personally tend to long filenames, but that's because I've learned from experienced programmers and I've seen the confusion that can arise when single letter codes are used.

      My point is that although one individual would know a set of data was faked, they might not realise that others in their group were doing datamining on the wrong files. Was data faked to test the analysis procedures? Or to cover someone's tails after the PRL publication came out? I'd suggest 'go over the logbooks' but combining computer analysis and handwritten logbooks requires a certain discipline that is rarely rewarded. Experiments are recorded in exhaustive detail - analysis often is recorded in patches. Why write down new filenames every half hour? And even if you think you've recorded what you've done, why, and where you plan on going next, you can find your own logbooks uninformative. So there's only a moderate chance that they'll reveal the whole story (I expect people have already reviewed them anyway.)

      I don't know. Ninov might be the one copping the flak because someone didn't like him. I met him at a conference in Australia about 18 months ago. He listened to my presentation, then asked why I didn't talk about some things and tried to explain to me that there was something wrong with my research. Being a student listening to a bigwig, I tried to get what he was on about. When we started the third round of the conversational loop, I gave up. He did the same thing to my supervisors - they had to tell him "shut up and let us finish explaining" three times before he *did* listen, and then admitted they were right. Being swift to imagine flaws in data or method is a good trait in a scientist. Combining that with being slow to listen probably *would* make you enemies.

      Rachel

  • Berkeley admitted that gold does not exist either. It was all nothing more than bronzed lead that was sprinkled into rivers and streams to build some hype and interest.

    "Boy is your girlfriend gonna be pissed", was heard just outside of a downtown jewerly store.

  • by solarrhino (581267) on Monday July 15, 2002 @04:53PM (#3889414) Homepage Journal
    ...Arthur Anderson was supposed to audit the research, right?
  • i remember talking about millikan's famous oil drop experiments in freshman physics class. turns out he selectively edited his experimental results, because he had a vision of what the right answer was.

    i'm not going to say with a straight face that what millikan did is the same as what this guy did. i'm just noting that these are two points on a behavioral continuum also known as "the slippery slope".

    this guy had already discovered one element. he probably truly thought these other two elements were right there and if didn't hurry up and find them, somebody else would, and if he was right, what's the difference? he knew what the data should look like.

    the lesson: peer review exists for a reason.

    -- p
  • by g4dget (579145) on Monday July 15, 2002 @06:27PM (#3890203)
    If you read Nature and Science, you'll see that there has been an uproar in solid state physics about a researcher who kept publishing the most amazing results ("superconducting buckyballs", "organic transistors", etc.) and seems to have been reusing the same graph over and over again for completely different results. He, too, had collaborators.

    What it tells us is that no scientific result is credible until it has been independently replicated by others.

    What is so depressing about these cases of fraud is that they discourage the replication of interesting but implausible results: if fraud is common, people aren't going to spend time and money on things that may be fraudulent. That is why this kind of thing really hurts science.

  • Scientists have just reported that Element 16 is also bogus.

    We now bring you to our correspondent who is on the eckkackkk kuhcc

  • "In this era of corporate misbehavior and overstatement of results who can you trust? Scientific sources, of course."

    Seeing most universities are businesses these days
    why should we expect the to behave any differently
    to any other business? Money and emphasis on growth is the all important thing that every entity must strive for. Lying and misrepresentation are something that a business does every day in order to attract investors, students, customers and employees. Why not lie about your research prowess too?
  • .......old news..... they've retracted their claim about 118 a long time ago.... id get the article for you, but im too lazy...
  • When they called one of the new elements "Upsidasium". What fools!

"If that makes any sense to you, you have a big problem." -- C. Durance, Computer Science 234

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