A 1000-line Python script outputs different results on different operating systems, tainting 100 published studies.
A Code Glitch May Have Caused Errors In More Than 100 Published Studies - VICE
Scientists in Hawaiʻi have uncovered a glitch in a piece of code that could have yielded incorrect results in over 100 published studies that cited the original paper.
The glitch caused results of a common chemistry computation to vary depending on the operating system used, causing discrepancies among Mac, Windows, and Linux systems. The researchers published the revelation and a debugged version of the script, which amounts to roughly 1,000 lines of code, on Tuesday in the journal Organic Letters.
“This simple glitch in the original script calls into question the conclusions of a significant number of papers on a wide range of topics in a way that cannot be easily resolved from published information because the operating system is rarely mentioned,” the new paper reads. “Authors who used these scripts should certainly double-check their results and any relevant conclusions using the modified scripts in the [supplementary information].”
Luo’s results did not match up with the NMR values that Williams’ group had previously calculated, and according to Sun, when his students ran the code on their computers, they realized that different operating systems were producing different results. Sun then adjusted the code to fix the glitch, which had to do with how different operating systems sort files.
The discovery is a reminder that science is collaborative and ideally self-correcting, but that nothing can be taken for granted.www.vice.com