Sign Error: Five Papers Retracted

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

Via Genome Biology (free registration for trial access required), news that scientists from the Scripps Institute have to retract five papers published in various prestigious journals because of a sign error in a computer program. As Gregory Petsko says in the article:

Their mistake has consequences beyond the damage to the unfortunate young investigator and his team. For five years, other labs have been interpreting their biophysical and biochemical data in terms of the wrong structures. A number of scientists have been unable to publish their results because they seemed to contradict the published X-ray structures. I personally know of at least one investigator whose grant application was turned down for funding because his biochemical data did not agree with the structures. One could argue that an entire sub-field has been held back for years...

If I was a twenty-something working toward my PhD, I'd be thinking very hard about how I was going to validate the programs I was writing—the odds are growing steadily that journal editors and granting agencies are going to start demanding some sort of due diligence, sooner rather than later.

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