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Thread by @gravity_levity: "1/ Who wants to hear some scientific intrigue? A few weeks ago, a group of physical chemists posted a paper online announcing the observatio […]"

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1/ Who wants to hear some scientific intrigue?

A few weeks ago, a group of physical chemists posted a paper online announcing the observation of superconductivity at room temperature.

Today I posted a comment pointing out something funny in their data.
arxiv.org/abs/1808.02929
2/ Room-temperature superconductivity has been a holy grail in physics for literally over 100 years. If we could find a material that was superconducting at room temperature, it would allow us to transport electrical power for free, and would revolutionize a bunch of industries.
3/ There is no fundamental reason (that we know) why some material couldn't be superconducting at room temperature. But after a century of trying to find such material the best superconductor still needs to be cooled to 90 Kelvin (-183 Celsius).
3/ So you can imagine how exciting/shocking it was to see two people claim to have found it (arxiv.org/abs/1807.08572). This was a very surprising result, since neither of the constituent materials (gold and silver) are superconductors at any temperature.
5/ I think the sheer surprisingness of the result led many people to dismiss the paper right away. It seemed too good to be true.

But if you started looking at the data, it all looked very good and consistent. Multiple independent measurements seemed to confirm superconductivity
6/ And the authors were from a reputable institution (the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore) and the PI had a reputable academic pedigree (for whatever that's worth). So a certain subset of physicists started to get very excited.
7/ In the two weeks since the paper was posted, there have already been at least two follow-up papers posted online, and I'm sure that plenty others are in process. Some people (even some I know at MIT) dropped everything to start working on this problem.
8/ Here's where I come in. Looking through the paper one evening, I got curious as to why one of their measurements showed lots of random noise at low temperature, but very little noise at high temperature. I thought I might be able to analyze the data by digitizing the plot.
9/ But when I zoomed in closely on the figure, I saw something very surprising. Look closely at the green and blue data points here:
10/ They have the exact same pattern of random noise. The blue data points are clearly identical to the green ones; they have only been shifted downward by a constant amount.
11/ These are supposed to be two independent measurements, separated in time and in the value of certain parameters. An exactly duplicated pattern of noise is not something you would expect.
12/ In fact, the biggest fraud in modern physics was eventually caught because people found the exact same pattern of noise in a number of supposedly independent measurements. Eventually it was proved that he had fabricated dozens of papers' worth of data
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sch%C3%B6…
13/ So this observation was potentially a big deal. Too big, in fact: I was completely paralyzed by the question of what to do about it. I spent the next week vacillating between feeling like I had a duty to point this out publicly and feeling like to do so would be irresponsible
14/ I talked, confidentially, to about a dozen experts in the field of superconductivity. I tracked down old theorists who had seen everything and prominent experimentalists and technicians who use the measuring equipment in question every day.
15/ In the end, the consensus was pretty clear: no one could imagine an explanation for how that pattern of duplicated noise could arise naturally. Which meant, at the least, that people thinking about the experiment needed to be aware of it.
16/ So I wrote a very short comment, stating only exactly what I noticed, and posted it publicly on the arXiv (the scientific server for publicly posting papers). Read it if you're curious: I promise you'll understand the point.
arxiv.org/abs/1807.08572
17/ I'm hoping this public comment will mark the end of this little bit of drama in my life. But I'll add to this thread later if something particularly interesting happens next.

(end. for now.)
Sorry, here's the correct link: arxiv.org/abs/1808.02929
18/ A few updates:

During the last 18 hours I've gotten a lot of emails. Mostly emails from colleagues, the kind where the whole body of the email is something like:
"Wow."
"OMG"
"Nice find!"
"This made my day."
"!!!!!!!!"
"This is the best paper you've written." (Which, ouch.)
19/ More importantly, I got a reply FROM THE AUTHORS THEMSELVES.

They took my comment in good faith, and their response is essentially:
"Thanks for pointing this out! We hadn't noticed this peculiar noise correlation. We don't know its origin yet."
20/ I had originally posted some other things from this email, which I have subsequently taken down out of an abundance of caution.

But let me just say: they are not backing down from their claims.
21/ I have encouraged them to post their own public comment about the identical noise patterns, so we'll see what happens.
22/ I've had another email exchange with the authors, and I will just say:
They are REALLY not backing down from their claims.

They emphasize that they are focused on providing validation of their data, and will only post new data or a response to my note once they have done so.
23/ A small update:
Some physics professors are trying to put together the strongest possible plausibility argument for how two such curves really could have the exact same pattern of noise

Here's Prof. Pratap Raychaudhuri from the Tata Institute, Mumbai
facebook.com/pratap.raychau…
24/ I am personally not convinced by his argument, since it fails to explain why the "perfect correlation" between two curves would suddenly disappear at a particular temperature.
But I like the exercise of working from an assumption that the data is real and seeing where you get
25/ BUCKLE UP, BECAUSE THIS STORY JUST GOT A LOT WILDER

facebook.com/pratap.raychau…
26/ Let me introduce two new characters in this saga:
(1) Prof. Pratap Raychaudhuri (PR), a professor at the Tata Institute in Mumbai, and an expert in superconductivity and magnetism.
(2) Prof. T V Ramakrishnan (TVR), one of the most famous and senior physicists in India.
27/ PR has been working to find the most charitable/plausible explanation for the strange noise patterns. He has also been publicly critical of the authors for not sharing their data or their materials with others.
facebook.com/photo.php?fbid…
28/ Today PR received an email from his famous and distinguished colleage TVR, asking him to not criticize Thapa and Pandey (the authors of the original paper), and to be patient. At the bottom of the email was a forwarded friendly discussion between TVR and Pandey.
29/ PR replied with a "rather strong response" to TVR, including a cc to TVR's personal email address.

Shortly thereafter, he got a phone call from TVR.

It turns out that TVR HAD NEVER WRITTEN ANY SUCH EMAIL.
30/ Both the email asking PR not to criticize the authors, and the supposed discussion between TVR and Pandey were fabricated by someone pretending to be TVR.
31/ Looking back at the email supposedly from TVR to PR, they realize that it was sent from a mail server called protonmail, which is double-encrypted. Email address <wileslicher@protonmail.com>, which neither of them recognized.
32/ PR's description of the incident is here:
facebook.com/pratap.raychau…

Guys, it's hard to properly convey how surreal this all feels. It's way more drama than I ever thought I would encounter in physics.
33/ I swear I am not making this up.
Yesterday I got a Facebook friend request from someone I had never heard of, and I ignored it. I realize today that the person's name was "Wiles Licher". (Same as the email address above)
Zero friends, account one month old.

... should I??
34/ This is probably paranoid, but I'll give a warning anyway:

If anyone gets an email from me about this business, please reply to my MIT email address to confirm that it was actually from me.
35/ This thread has become way more sensation than it I wish it were.

So let me say something that probably needs saying: the mysterious "Wiles Licher" is very likely some third-party troll using this controversy as a chance to mess with people.
36/ The reality of the claims in the paper will be decided (by people closer to the situation and more expert in the field than I am) on the basis of data and reproducibility. Weird shenanigans are a distraction to the important question.
37/ So please don't think I'm weaving a conspiracy theory against the authors or anyone else.
38/ Strangely, though, the "Wiles Licher" account was created July 7. That's 16 days _before_ the paper appeared on the arxiv.
39/ Small update:
The Wiles Licher facebook account and the protonmail email account have both apparently been deleted.
PR is convinced from the fake emails that this imposter was "bright" and "subtle", good enough to convincingly mimic TVR:
facebook.com/photo.php?fbid…
40/ PR reports seeing a single public message on the Wiles Licher facebook page:
"Remember: Julius Caesar went too far!"
What I saw was the less threatening message "Julius Caesar. The Caesar that did not stop." So I hope PR is remembering wrong.
41/ A couple of us have been spending some time trying to figure out who "Wiles Licher" is.
There are a few clues from the (now deleted) facebook account:
(1) A listed birthday: June 17, 1984
(2) Three people who were "followed" by the account. All three people are in Bangalore.
42/ The three people are:
- the director of an art/architecture studio
- a grad student in biology
- the founder of a website/small business

They seem to have nothing in common other than their location (Bangalore) and age (30s, as far as I can tell)
43/ I contacted a two of these people, and they are completely baffled. They got a friend request from Wiles Licher on July 7, and declined it.

Both say they don't know either of the other 2, and they don't know anyone in physics or chemistry at the Indian Institute for Science.
44/ Wiles Licher update:
Both PR and I just received the following email.
45/ The facebook account has also been reactivated, and there are some troll-y new posts that are keeping with the Caesar theme while slyly referencing the experiment.

I am disinclined to give this person any more attention.
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