Bad Computer Code Jeopardizes Results of 100 Academic Studies

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Scientists at the University of Hawaii have uncovered a computer glitch that brings into question the findings of over 100 academic research papers.

According to a report by Vice, scientists at the University of Hawaii discovered that a commonly-cited chemistry research paper was built around faulty computer programming. The original study’s authors issued an update to their paper last week, explaining that 1,000 lines of code that helped determine the outcome of the study were faulty.

The researchers claim that faculty coding was the product of a glitch that results from code running on multiple operating platforms.

An assistant chemistry professor at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa utilized a piece of code that was improperly programmed. The code was used to determine the molecular makeup of samples that are studied in laboratories

Under supervision of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa assistant chemistry professor Rui Sun, Luo used a script written in Python that was published as part of a 2014 paper by Patrick Willoughby, Matthew Jansma, and Thomas Hoye in the journal Nature Protocols . The code computes chemical shift values for NMR, or nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a common technique used by chemists to determine the molecular make-up of a sample.

The authors of the original report issued an update this week, encouraging researchers that cited their work to re-evaluate their findings.

“This simple glitch in the original script calls into question the conclusions of a significant number of papers on a wide range of topics in a way that cannot be easily resolved from published information because the operating system is rarely mentioned,” the authors wrote in the update. “Authors who used these scripts should certainly double-check their results and any relevant conclusions using the modified scripts in the [supplementary information].”

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