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12 October 2019, 7:34 pm

Python Code Glitch May Have Caused Errors In Over 100 Published Studies science.slashdot.org

Python Code Glitch May Have Caused Errors In Over 100 Published Studies

Over 100 published studies may have incorrect results thanks to a glitchy piece of Python code discovered by researchers at the University of Hawaii. An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: 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]." Yuheng Luo, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, discovered the glitch this summer when he was verifying the results of research conducted by chemistry professor Philip Williams on cyanobacteria... Under supervision of University of Hawaii at Manoa assistant chemistry professor Rui Sun, Luo used a script written in Python that was published as part of a 2014 paper by Patrick Willoughby, Matthew Jansma, and Thomas Hoye in the journal Nature Protocols . The code computes chemical shift values for NMR, or nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a common technique used by chemists to determine the molecular make-up of a sample. 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 researcher who wrote the flawed script told Motherboard that the new study was "a beautiful example of science working to advance the work we reported in 2014. They did a tremendous service to the community in figuring this out." Sun described the original authors as "very gracious," saying they encouraged the publication of the findings.

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