speck of dust

April 18, 2014 at 10:43 am | | crazy figure contest, history, literature

The scope room dustiness post reminded me of the hilarious story of the first report of second harmonic generation (SHG) of a laser. The authors presented a photographic plate that showed the exposure from the main laser beam, as well as a “small but dense” spot from the doubled beam,

shg dust

See the spot? You won’t. Because the editor removed the spot, thinking it was a speck of dust on the plate. Ha!

When I first heard this story, I didn’t believe it. I assumed it was a contrast issue when the paper was scanned into a PDF. So I went to the library and found the original print version. No spot there, either!

That really made my day.

extraordinarily repeatable data

May 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature, scientific integrity

UPDATE: My friend on Facebook pointed out that Figure S5c in the supporting info is even more fishy (click on the image below to see a zoomed-in version). Clearly, some portions of the image were pasted on top of other parts. On the right, it is obvious that the top part of the image is from a different frame as the bottom part. On the left, it looks like there’s another image hidden behind (see the strip showing through on the left top part of the image). I’ve added red arrows to aid the eye.

This could possibly be mistakes by someone who doesn’t know how to use Photoshop layers, but I’m thinking there might have been some intentional manipulation of the data. Either way, this type of slicing and stitching and Photoshopping of scientific data is totally unacceptable. I think Nature editors and referees should be more than ashamed to have let this slide.

Nature editors announced that they are investigating.

(Original post below.)

This paper in Nature contains some serious errors: some of the images that are purportedly from different samples (different mice, even) appear to be identical! Note the triangle of spots in the two images below:

Many commenters have noticed the weirdnesses in the figures. This is my favorite comment so far:

2011-04-22 09:31 AM aston panda said:
This is an excellent article shows extraordinary .. skills and amazingly repeatable data. for example
Fig.1a, 2 middle vs 3 bottom left
Fig.1c, 2 right side vs 3 left side
Fig.S4, 1 left side vs 2 right side
Fig.S5, c4 middle right vs e4 middle left

I suspect that some sloppy organizing by the authors led to them mixing up some files on their computer. That’s my optimistic view. If they were trying to fabricate data, they wouldn’t use the same region of the same image of the same sample! It must have been sloppy bookkeeping. I hope their results stand up after they correct these errors.

It just goes to show that real science can’t get accepted into Nature and Science. ;)

UPDATE 2: RetractionWatch is surprised that this paper eventually was published with only a correction!

how to tell if your horse is dead?

September 10, 2010 at 7:46 am | | crazy figure contest, literature, nerd

(In reference to How to tell if your rabbit is dead.)

Apparently, you can’t tell.

By the way, one of those organisms is my friend.

(source: “Evolution: What Is an Organism?“)


August 23, 2010 at 8:50 am | | crazy figure contest, literature, nerd, science community, wild web

My (very nerdy) friends started a internetted-web-blog to celebrate/mock hilarious/terrible table-of-contents images: TOC ROFL. (In reference to NCBI ROFL.) I might even submit my own once in a while; you can too!

temperatures infograph

March 11, 2010 at 10:23 am | | crazy figure contest, science and the public

A graphic designer emailed me this cool “infotaining charticle” she made:

Cool. (get it?)

Although she did forget to include the temperature of my cold heart.

lobsters chelate

December 28, 2009 at 10:51 pm | | crazy figure contest

As a Mainer, I appreciate this table-of-contents artwork:



epi tube as a lava lamp

September 18, 2009 at 7:51 am | | crazy figure contest, literature

Nice, a lava lamp in table-of-contents artwork.


Oh, wait. That’s an epi tube.

protect the non-born-oppenheimer!

September 9, 2009 at 12:49 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature, wild web

This is how the table-of-contents artwork showed up in my RSS reader:


Oops. It turns out that the artwork was supposed to look like this:


It takes some balls to make your TOC “artwork” a big, complicated equation.

Pew Pew Pew Pew

July 8, 2009 at 4:54 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature


What the hell is happening here?  It looks like some sort of epic space battle against ghosts.

An Electromagnetic Sex Change, Metamaterial Voyeurism, and the Cup that is a Spoon

June 22, 2009 at 6:55 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

I haven’t had this much fun with a paper in a while.  Hot off the RSS press from PRL is the absolute gem:  Illusion Optics: The Optical Transformation of an Object into Another Object.  A number of things caught my attention in this one.  Their first application of their metamaterial image transformation is a feat of gender illusion.


Anyone who has spent one night in Bangkok (Choose your own adventure!  The semi NSFW Youtube here, or some boring lyrics here) knows this can be accomplished with far lesser means than metamaterials, but kudos.  Personally, I’ll stick with beer goggles.  Their next trick involves what I can imagine will be the next great party prank, turning a spoon (in this case what appears to be a 1um spoon) into the illusion of a cup.

Next is rendering a “virtual” hole in a wall.  You simply slap their mystical illusion device on the wall (you’ll love this Sam, all the details of what exactly such a device entails, aka the entire basis of the paper, are piled in the supporting materials), and you can look through the virtual hole like it was an actual hole.  I call the device of my own invention that can accomplish this a window(TM), but let’s not argue over semantics of fenestration.  Porky’s would be proud.

Even more ridiculous, they argue that one can even see into a closed container by simply turning on their device and projecting the illusion of free space where the container should be.  Which would totally work, except for this little thing called absorption.  So if you decide to hide 8-balls of Coke in a Mylar balloon, you’re totally screwed.  And an idiot.

great TOC

May 28, 2009 at 9:25 am | | crazy figure contest, literature

I love clever table-of-contents artwork. I’ve never seen any rules about TOC artwork: it could be just about anything that advertises the paper well.


I love this one. Pretty classy, and it gets the point across. The view also has a hint of 1984-esque industrialistic dystopia. I guess that’s Madison for you.

extraordinary (artist’s) rendition

April 29, 2009 at 4:10 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature, single molecules


This artistic rendering depicts electrocatalytic reactions one event at a time by measuring the burst of fluorescence (peaks) that occurs as each product molecule is reduced on a carbon nanotube (gray line).

This awesome figure is from C&E News, depicting single molecule fluorescence signals. I suppose that the “sun” in the background is the imaging laser. What are the stars, though? Dust? Well, at least they’re honest about the purity of the buffer.

make your science sexy

January 7, 2009 at 7:15 pm | | crazy figure contest, hardware, literature, science and the public, science@home

This machine is the closest some graduate students get to the Real Thing:


“Finally, theories proposed for the mechanism of breakage were investigated on a laboratory coital model.”

Source: White, N.; Hill, D.; Bodemeier, S. Male condoms that break in use do so mostly by a “blunt puncture” mechanism. Contraception 2008, 77, 360-365. (Also reported in Nature’s news section here.)

maybe split that into two plots?

December 11, 2008 at 4:08 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

Did anyone else see this awesome TOC image (from this JACS paper)? I love it!


I’m not really sure what I’m looking at, but I think they did several runs of whatever experiment that is. The abstract mentions “a large variety of qualitatively different conical intersections,” I wonder if that refers to those squiggles?

The rest of the paper looks reasonable and comprehensible. I suspect the authors took a little creative (and humorous) leeway in the TOC design. I applaud the authors in their bold jokestering.


October 31, 2008 at 12:26 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

Measuring the influence of UV reflection from vertical metal surfaces on humans buried up to their neck in sand:


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