Home>Articles>Caltech Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold Retracts Paper: ‘Not Reproducible’

Caltech Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold Retracts Paper: ‘Not Reproducible’

Green New Deal: research on the harmful effects of carbon dioxide also ‘not reproducible’

By Lloyd Billingsley, January 8, 2020 6:21 am

‘Science that touches on political agendas has contributed more than its share of problems to the irreproducibility crisis.’


“I am totally bummed to announce that we have retracted last year’s paper on enzymatic synthesis of beta-lactams.”

That was a tweet from Nobel laureate Frances Arnold, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology. Professor Arnold published the paper in the prestigious journal Science but last week retracted it because “the work has not been reproducible.” A Princeton grad who earned her PhD at the University of California, Arnold understands the realities of science.

To be legitimate, a scientific study must be reproducible because replication allows examination of the data and the possibility of different conclusions. If the study is not reproducible, it is not really science at all. True to form, Arnold’s withdrawal of the paper drew praise in the scientific community.

“Seeing a Nobel laureate tweet about a paper retraction teaches how important it is for a scientist to be honest about their data,” tweeted Anmol Kilkarni. He holds 14 technology patents and earned a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Washington.

Lee Cronin, professor of chemistry at the University of Glasgow, wrote that “science should be a process, not winner takes all whatever the cost.” As it happens, reproducibility is now in a state of crisis.

“Science that touches on political agendas has contributed more than its share of problems to the irreproducibility crisis,” explains William Happer, emeritus professor of physics at Princeton and former director of energy research for the US Department of Energy. Happer notes that research on the harmful effects  of carbon dioxide was published by “scientists” in peer-reviewed journals, but “almost none of it is reproducible.” 

Happer was writing in The Irreproducibility Crisis of Modern Science: Cause, Consequences and the Road to Reform. As authors David Randall and Christopher Welser of the National Association of Scholars explain, “Most Americans don’t even know that the crisis exists.” On the other hand, Americans hear constant warnings about a crisis in climate, an existential threat.

On Monday, Assemblyman Rob Bonta proclaimed “science is telling us what to do,” as he announced the California Green New Deal Act. Bonta, a lawyer, warned of rising temperatures by the end of the century but offered no hard data that had been reproduced by others.

As Katy Grimes noted, Bonta’s Green New Deal bore similarities to the Green New Deal of New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose campaign manager conceded it was really about gaining control of the economy. In similar style, California Democrats seek to deploy their Green New Deal to fight inequality, poverty, and racial injustice.

The California Democrats were quiet on cost estimates but Assemblyman Bonta said the Green New Deal Act would be “big and expensive,” with any cost justified. According to the Oakland Democrat, “when Congress goes to war, we don’t ask how much.”

Democrat presidential candidates signing on to the Green New Deal include Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.

The presidential election is slated for November 3, 2020.

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