‘Science Has a Nasty Photoshopping Problem’

Dr. Bik is a microbiologist who has worked at Stanford University and for the Dutch National Institute for Health who is “blessed” with “what I’m told is a better-than-average ability to spot repeating patterns,” according to their new Op-Ed in the New York Times.

In 2014 they’d spotted the same photo “being used in two different papers to represent results from three entirely different experiments….”

Although this was eight years ago, I distinctly recall how angry it made me. This was cheating, pure and simple. By editing an image to produce a desired result, a scientist can manufacture proof for a favored hypothesis, or create a signal out of noise. Scientists must rely on and build on one another’s work. Cheating is a transgression against everything that science should be. If scientific papers contain errors or — much worse — fraudulent data and fabricated imagery, other researchers are likely to waste time and grant money chasing theories based on made-up results…..

But were those duplicated images just an isolated case? With little clue about how big this would get, I began searching for suspicious figures in biomedical journals…. By day I went to my job in a lab at Stanford University, but I was soon spending every evening and most weekends looking for suspicious images. In 2016, I published an analysis of 20,621 peer-reviewed papers, discovering problematic images in no fewer than one in 25. Half of these appeared to have been manipulated deliberately — rotated, flipped, stretched or otherwise photoshopped. With a sense of unease about how much bad science might be in journals, I quit my full-time job in 2019 so that I could devote myself to finding and reporting more cases of scientific fraud.

Using my pattern-matching eyes and lots of caffeine, I have analyzed more than 100,000 papers since 2014 and found apparent image duplication in 4,800 and similar evidence of error, cheating or other ethical problems in an additional 1,700. I’ve reported 2,500 of these to their journals’ editors and — after learning the hard way that journals often do not respond to these cases — posted many of those papers along with 3,500 more to PubPeer, a website where scientific literature is discussed in public….

Unfortunately, many scientific journals and academic institutions are slow to respond to evidence of image manipulation — if they take action at all. So far, my work has resulted in 956 corrections and 923 retractions, but a majority of the papers I have reported to the journals remain unaddressed.

Manipulated images “raise questions about an entire line of research, which means potentially millions of dollars of wasted grant money and years of false hope for patients.” Part of the problem is that despite “peer review” at scientific journals, “peer review is unpaid and undervalued, and the system is based on a trusting, non-adversarial relationship. Peer review is not set up to detect fraud.”

But there’s other problems.

Most of my fellow detectives remain anonymous, operating under pseudonyms such as Smut Clyde or Cheshire. Criticizing other scientists’ work is often not well received, and concerns about negative career consequences can prevent scientists from speaking out. Image problems I have reported under my full name have resulted in hateful messages, angry videos on social media sites and two lawsuit threats….

Things could be about to get even worse. Artificial intelligence might help detect duplicated data in research, but it can also be used to generate fake data. It is easy nowadays to produce fabricated photos or videos of events that never happened, and A.I.-generated images might have already started to poison the scientific literature. As A.I. technology develops, it will become significantly harder to distinguish fake from real.

Science needs to get serious about research fraud.
Among their proposed solutions? “Journals should pay the data detectives who find fatal errors or misconduct in published papers, similar to how tech companies pay bounties to computer security experts who find bugs in software.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Can Talking to Strangers Make Us Smarter?

Smartphones “have made it easier than ever to avoid interacting with the people in our immediate environment, writes New York City-based author Joe Keohane.

But is that always good? “Some social scientists believe teaching kids that literally everyone in the world they hadn’t met is dangerous may have been actively harmful.”

For several years, I researched why we don’t talk to strangers and what happens when we do for my book, The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World. This effort put me in the company of anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, archeologists, urban designers, activists, philosophers, and theologians, plus hundreds of random strangers I talked to wherever I went. What I learned was this: we miss a lot by being afraid of strangers. Talking to strangers — under the right conditions — is good for us, good for our neighborhoods, our towns and cities, our nations, and our world. Talking to strangers can teach you things, deepen you, make you a better citizen, a better thinker, and a better person.

It’s a good way to live. But it’s more than that. In a rapidly changing, infinitely complex, furiously polarised world, it’s a way to survive….

Talking to strangers can also make us wiser, more worldly, and more empathetic, says Harvard University professor and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, Danielle Allen. When she was teaching at the University of Chicago, Allen was repeatedly warned by colleagues to stay away from the poorer side of town. She believes that this “fear of strangers was actually eroding a lot of [her peers’] intellectual and social capacities”. She declined to stay away, and did some of her most admired work in those neighbourhoods. She has since devoted her career to fostering connections between people and groups that otherwise would not interact. “Real knowledge of what’s outside one’s garden cures fear,” Allen writes, “but only by talking to strangers can we come by such knowledge.”

By talking to strangers, you get a glimpse of the mind-boggling complexity of the human species, and the infinite variety of human experiences. It’s a cliché, but you get to see the world from the eyes of another, without which wisdom is impossible…. When these interactions go well — and they generally do — the positive perception of the stranger can generalise into better feelings about people. For me — and many of the respected experts and complete strangers I’ve spoken to — it comes down to a question of data. If I based all my perceptions of humanity on what is available through my phone or laptop, I would have a fantastically negative view of most other people.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Computing Pioneer Who Invented the First Assembly Language Dies at Age 100

“Kathleen Booth, who has died aged 100, co-designed of one of the world’s first operational computers and wrote two of the earliest books on computer design and programming,” the Telegraph wrote this week.

“She was also credited with the invention of the first assembly language, a programming language designed to be readable by users.”
In 1946 she joined a team of mathematicians under Andrew Booth at Birkbeck College undertaking calculations for the scientists working on the X-ray crystallography images which contributed to the discovery of the double helix shape of DNA….

To help the number-crunching involved Booth had embarked on building a computing machine called the Automatic Relay Calculator or ARC, and in 1947 Kathleen accompanied him on a six-month visit to Princeton University, where they consulted John von Neumann, who had developed the idea of storing programs in a computer. On their return to England they co-wrote General Considerations in the Design of an All Purpose Electronic Digital Computer, and went on to make modifications to the original ARC to incorporate the lessons learnt.

Kathleen devised the ARC assembly language for the computer and designed the assembler.

In 1950 Kathleen took a PhD in applied mathematics and the same year she and Andrew Booth were married. In 1953 they cowrote Automatic Digital Calculators, which included the general principles involved in the new “Planning and Coding”programming style.

The Booths remained at Birkbeck until 1962 working on other computer designs including the All Purpose Electronic (X) Computer (Apexc, the forerunner of the ICT 1200 computer which became a bestseller in the 1960s), for which Kathleen published the seminal Programming for an Automatic Digital Calculator in 1958. The previous year she and her husband had co-founded the School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Birkbeck.
“The APE(X)C design was commercialized and sold as the HEC by the British Tabulating Machine Co Ltd, which eventually became ICL,” remembers the Register, sharing a 2010 video about the machine (along with several links for “Further Reading.”)

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Developer Proposes New (and Compatible) ‘Extended Flavor’ of Go

While listening to a podcast about the Go programming language, backend architect Aviv Carmi heard some loose talk about forking the language to keep its original design while also allowing the evolution of an “extended flavor.”
If such a fork takes place, Carmi writes on Medium, he hopes the two languages could interact and share the same runtime environment, libraries, and ecosystem — citing lessons learned from the popularity of other language forks:
There are well-known, hugely successful precedents for such a move. Unarguably, the JVM ecosystem will last longer and keep on gaining popularity thanks to Scala and Kotlin (a decrease in Java’s popularity is overtaken by an increase in Scala’s, during the previous decade, and in Kotlin’s, during this one). All three languages contribute to a stronger, single community and gain stronger libraries and integrations. JavaScript has undoubtedly become stronger thanks to Typescript, which quickly became one of the world’s most popular languages itself. I also believe this is the right move for us Gophers…

Carmi applauds Go’s readability-over-writability culture, its consistent concurrency model (with lightweight threading), and its broad ecosystem of tools. But in a second essay Carmi lists his complaints — about Go’s lack of keyword-based visibility modifiers (like “public” and “private”), how any symbol declared in a file “is automatically visible to the entire package,” and Go’s abundance of global built-in symbols (which complicate the choice of possible variable names, but which can still be overriden, since they aren’t actually keywords). After a longer wishlist — including null-pointer safety features and improvements to error handling — Carmi introduces a third article with “A Proposition for a Better Future.”
I would have loved to see a compile time environment that mostly looks like Go, but allows developers to be a bit more expressive to gain maintainability and runtime safety. But at the same time, allow the Go language itself to largely remain the same and not evolve into something new, as a lot of us Gophers fear. As Gophers, why not have two tools in our tool set?

The essay proposes a new extended flavor of Go called Goat — a “new compile-time environment that will produce standard, compatible, and performant Go files that are fully compatible with any other Go project. This means they can import regular Go files but also be safely imported from any other Go file.”

“Goat implementation will most likely be delivered as a code generation tool or as a transpiler producing regular go files,” explains a page created for the project on GitHub. “However, full implementation details should be designed once the specification provided in this document is finalized.”

Carmi’s essay concludes, “I want to ignite a thorough discussion around the design and specification of Goat…. This project will allow Go to remain simple and efficient while allowing the community to experiment with an extended flavor. Goat spec should be driven by the community and so it needs the opinion and contribution of any Gopher and non-Gopher out there.”

“Come join the discussion, we need your input.”

Related link: Go principal engineer Russ Cox gave a talk at GopherCon 2022 that was all about compatibility and “the strategies Go uses to continue to evolve without breaking your programs.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

A Space Rock Smashed Into Mars’ Equator – and Revealed Chunks of Ice

The mission of NASA’s robotic lander InSight “is nearing an end as dust obscures its solar panels,” reports CNN. “In a matter of weeks, the lander won’t be able to send a beep to show it’s OK anymore.”

“Before it bids farewell, though, the spacecraft still has some surprises in store.”
When Mars rumbled beneath InSight’s feet on December 24, NASA scientists thought it was just another marsquake. The magnitude 4 quake was actually caused by a space rock slamming into the Martian surface a couple thousand miles away. The meteoroid left quite a crater on the red planet, and it revealed glimmering chunks of ice in an entirely unexpected place — near the warm Martian equator.
The chunks of ice — the size of boulders — “were found buried closer to the warm Martian equator than any ice that has ever been detected on the planet,” CNN explained earlier this week. The article also adds that ice below the surface of Mars “could be used for drinking water, rocket propellant and even growing crops and plants by future astronauts. And the fact that the ice was found so near the equator, the warmest region on Mars, might make it an ideal place to land crewed missions to the red planet.”

Interestingly, they note that scientists only realized it was a meteoroid strike (and not an earthquake) when “Before and after photos captured from above by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling Mars since 2006, spotted a new crater this past February.” A crater that was 492 feet (150 meters) across and 70 feet (21 meters) deep…

When scientists connected the dots from both missions, they realized it was one of the largest meteoroid strikes on Mars since NASA began studying the red planet…. The journal Science published two new studies describing the impact and its effects on Thursday….

“The image of the impact was unlike any I had seen before, with the massive crater, the exposed ice, and the dramatic blast zone preserved in the Martian dust,” said Liliya Posiolova, orbital science operations lead for the orbiter at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, in a statement….

Researchers estimated the meteoroid, the name for a space rock before it hits the ground, was about 16 to 39 feet (5 to 12 meters). While this would have been small enough to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, the same can’t be said for Mars, which has a thin atmosphere only 1% as dense as Earth’s…. Some of the material blasted out of the crater landed as far as 23 miles (37 kilometers) away.

Teams at NASA also captured sound from the impact, so you can listen to what it sounds like when a space rock hits Mars. The images captured by the orbiter, along with seismic data recorded by InSight, make the impact one of the largest craters in our solar system ever observed as it was created.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Pebble, the OG Smartwatch That May Never Die, Updated To Work With Pixel 7

Nearly six years after the Pebble smartwatch was purchased by Fitbit and discontinued, a new Pebble app for Android has been released by the Rebble Alliance, a group that has kept Pebble viable for its users since Fitbit shut down Pebble’s servers in mid-2018,” writes Ars Technica’s Kevin Purdy. “Pebble version 4.4.3 makes the app 64-bit so it can work on the mostly 64-bit Pixel 7 and similar Android phones into the future. It also restores a caller ID function that was hampered on recent Android versions.” From the report: Most notably, the app is “signed using the official Pebble keys,” with Google Fit integration maintained, but isn’t available through Google’s Play Store. Google acquired Fitbit for $2.1 billion, making it the steward of Pebble’s remaining IP and software pieces. Katharine Berry, a key Rebble coder and leader, works on Wear OS at Google and was one of the first to tweet news of the new update, “four years after 4.4.2.” That was the last Play Store update to the Pebble app from Pebble developers, one that freed up many of the app’s functions to be replaced by independent servers.

That’s exactly where Rebble picked up, providing web services to Pebble watches, including (for paying subscribers) voice dictation. But those services still relied on the core Pebble app to connect the watch and smartphone. If Android did make the leap to a 64-bit-only OS, it could have left Pebble/Rebble users in the lurch. Berry’s post on r/pebble offers “thanks to Google for providing us with one last update!” This is, to be sure, not the typical outcome of products that have been acquired by Google, even if second-hand.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Teleport Creators Raise $9 Million To Build Decentralized Uber Rival On Solana

The Decentralized Engineering Corporation (DEC) has raised $9 million in seed funding to create a decentralized ridesharing service on Solana — a concept that’s been theorized by Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin and attempted by various startups over the years. Decrypt reports: DEC announced today that it has raised $9 million in seed funding to build out The Rideshare Protocol, or TRIP, which is designed to power ridesharing apps from a variety of future companies. They’ll all share the same core technology to connect drivers with riders, and DEC is building Teleport as the first application to prove out the framework. The seed round was co-led by Foundation Capital and Road Capital, with participation from Thursday Ventures, 6th Man Ventures, 305 Ventures, and Common Metal. Individual strategic investors include Uber’s third-ever employee, engineer Ryan McKillen, as well as social media influencer Jake Paul, Flexport founder Ryan Petersen, and Farcaster co-founder Dan Romero.

Paul Bohm, CEO of DEC and founder of Teleport, told Decrypt that ridesharing giant Uber “essentially runs a monopoly — it’s very centralized.” Uber provides the platform that connects drivers to riders and takes a significant cut of the fee, commanding an estimated 72% of the U.S. ride-sharing market as of June, per data from Bloomberg. TRIP is designed as a decentralized protocol that various app makers can plug into as a marketplace that connects drivers and passengers, all without a centralized force at the heart. Bohm believes this will spur both cooperation and competition, encouraging participants to buck the model of giants like Uber and Lyft while also pushing companies to innovate to create the best app around a shared marketplace. A token will be used for decentralized governance of the protocol too, Bohm said.

Teleport is designed to look and act much like an Uber or Lyft app for seamless onboarding of riders and drivers alike with no crypto required. Riders can pay with either a credit card or the USDC stablecoin, while drivers are paid via USDC or a direct payment to a standard bank account. “We keep it very, very close,” Bohm said of the app experience. “We don’t want any extra steps on either the driver or rider side. But the difference is, you’re no longer part of a monopoly.” DEC will use the seed funding to fuel its rollout in the months ahead, with Teleport and TRIP holding demonstrations during Solana’s Breakpoint conference in Lisbon in November and Art Basel Miami in December.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Hong Kong Plans To Legalize Retail Crypto Trading To Become Hub

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Hong Kong is pivoting toward a friendlier regulatory regime for cryptocurrencies with a plan to legalize retail trading, contrasting with the city’s skeptical stance of recent years and the ban in place in mainland China. A planned mandatory licensing program for crypto platforms set to be enforced in March next year will allow retail trading, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public. Regulators are seeking to allow listings of bigger tokens but won’t endorse specific coins like Bitcoin or Ether, the people said, adding the details and timetable have yet to be finalized as a public consultation is due first.

The government is expected to flesh out its recently stated goal of creating a top crypto hub at a fintech conference starting Monday. The push comes amid a broader drive to restore Hong Kong’s credentials as a finance center after years of political turmoil and Covid curbs sparked a talent exodus. […] The upcoming regime for listing tokens on retail exchanges is likely to include criteria such as their market value, liquidity and membership of third-party crypto indexes, the people familiar said. That’s similar to the approach for structured products such as warrants, they added. “Introducing mandatory licensing in Hong Kong is just one of the important things regulators have to do,” said Gary Tiu, executive director at crypto firm BC Technology Group Ltd. “They can’t forever effectively close the needs of retail investors.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.