The “phantom reference:” How a made-up article got almost 400 citations

Pieter Kroonenberg, an emeritus professor of statistics at Leiden University in The Netherlands, was puzzled when he tried to locate a paper about academic writing and discovered the article didn’t exist. In fact, the journal—Journal of Science Communications—also didn’t exist. Perhaps Kroonenberg’s most bizarre discovery was that this made-up paper, “The art of writing a…

The improbable origins of PowerPoint

PowerPoint is so ingrained in modern life that the notion of it having a history at all may seem odd. But it does have a very definite lifetime as a commercial product that came onto the scene 30 years ago, in 1987. Remarkably, the founders of the Silicon Valley firm that created PowerPoint did not…

Sue the journal if it publishes an article critical of your research

Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson has filed a lawsuit, demanding $10 million in damages, against the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and a group of eminent scientists (Clack et al.) for their study showing that Jacobson made improper assumptions in order to claim that he had demonstrated U.S.…

Using big data to determine who betrayed Anne Frank

First published on Monday 2 October 2017 11.29 EDT A retired FBI agent has launched a cold case review into identifying those who may have betrayed the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family to the Gestapo in 1944. Investigative techniques developed in the past decade, including the crunching of big data to uncover leads,…

It shouldn’t be so easy to go to grad school

There is a limit, of course, to how sorry we should feel for people who borrowed lots of money for a graduate degree, and found that it wasn’t a surefire ticket to easy prosperity. I am sympathetic to those people; indeed, I am one of those people. But people with graduate degrees, even not-very-useful-ones, are…

The quants are ruining baseball

The owners of America’s baseball teams, gathered at a Houston hotel last year, were discussing once again how their games had become so plodding. This time, however, the explanation was different. Two Major League Baseball officials and a statistician told the group that the sport was being brought to a standstill by the very phenomenon…