Monday, 14 January 2013

Refreshing Honesty and Integrity

Here's a story which shows that one can retain dignity in failure. Short version is that a paper in Physical Review Letters has flaws pointed out to the author, twice. The first flaw isn't fatal but the second is uncorrectable, "I hereby retract my paper [1] due to a fatal error I explained in [2]. All my attempts to patch the error have failed."

Additionally, the author writes a completely new paper explaining why the approach in the original one fails, "Since the error from the original paper [1]—which makes the proposed setup unfeasible—proved to escape immediate recognition by the physicists who considered the details of the paper I think that it would be of service to the community to comment on the approaches that can and canot be taken in attempts to reach the aforementioned goal or to prove it unreachable."

Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone has the integrity to properly own up to them and to go the extra mile to help others making the same ones. Science is about being honest, with each other and to oneself, but especially with Nature. Simply wishing something was so does not make it true, something which is lost on denialists and fundamentalists. Admitting you were wrong gracefully is a sign of strength, not one of weakness.