Researchers behind groundbreaking superconductor discovery demand retraction of their paper – Ars Technica

Image of a basketball player having his shot blocked.
/ Dikembe Mutombo rejects your flawed publication.

In a surprising move from journal Nature, a paper claiming a major advance in high-temperature superconductivity has been retracted. This marks the second retraction of a paper over the objections of Ranga P. Dias, a faculty member at the University of Rochester who led the research. It is implied that he objected to this retraction, as he reportedly refused to respond to Nature about the matter.

Dias’ work on superconductivity focuses on hydrogen-rich chemicals formed under extreme pressures. Research shows that pressure forces hydrogen into crystals within the material, enabling superconductivity. This allows these chemicals to superconduct at elevated temperatures. Dias’ two papers described chemicals that could superconduct at room temperatures and extreme pressures and under somewhat lower pressures, making it more accessible with readily available lab equipment.

However, problems with the first paper arose as the research community scrutinized the details. Dias’ team used a non-standard method for calculating the background noise and didn’t include these details in the paper. As a result, Nature retracted it, despite all nine authors objecting at the time.

It was surprising that the same journal accepted a similar paper from the same research group. However, similar problems occurred. Eight of the paper’s 11 authors expressed concerns that the paper did not accurately represent the experiments done in the lab.

In essence, the academic language translation provides little idea about how the images of the data in the paper were generated.

Regarding the retraction, Dias, along with two colleagues at the University of Rochester, has not responded. His spokesman reportedly told The New York Times that “Professor Dias intends to resubmit the scientific paper to a journal with a more independent editorial process.”

Nature’s failure is apparent, as they seemingly handled the peer review of the second paper independently from the first, disregarding the social context and focusing only on the presented paper. But it was also naive, given that the earlier paper was retracted for not accurately depicting the experiments.

Additionally, a third paper co-authored by Dias, published in Physical Review Letters, has also been retracted (again, over Dias’ objections). There are indications that a graph purportedly showing recent data was simply copied from Dias’ thesis, which was on a different topic. There are also accusations of plagiarized material in his thesis. The consequences resulting from the review will be difficult to miss.


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