Friday, August 13, 2010



Until this week, I would have said that my super-powers are limited to the following:
  • Locating any spider's web within a 5 metre radius, using only my face
  • Locating submerged rocks in the ocean, using only my bare feet
  • Turning wine into water

However, over the last few days I have not only caused a peer-reviewed paper to be retracted, but also influenced the outcome of the upcoming US House of Representatives elections.

Inadvertent, but still impressive.

The paper retraction came about as a result of a tweet I posted after spotting something unusual in my journal table of contents RSS feeds:

The tweet inspired Bob O'Hara to write a post about the paper, and the story then got picked up by Tara C. Smith (as a direct result of Bob's post) and PZ Myers (I'm not sure where he first heard about the paper, but he linked to Tara's post).

The editor of the journal left comments on all the posts the next day, saying that the paper was being retracted, and apologising for the mistake! See Bob's comment thread for one example.

Blimey, I wasn't expecting THAT when I rattled off that quick tweet! I almost feel guilty*, except that the paper really was very bizarre and unscientific. I'm all in favour of the occasional silly entry in the peer reviewed literature (e.g. here), but feel that it should be marked as such, or made obvious by the date of publication. April 1st springs to mind... Also, it appears that at least one of the authors had intended the paper as a serious attempt at thought provocation.

I think the comments around the internet about "humourless atheists" are off-base, though - most of the comments I've read are full of humourous piss-taking!

My influence over the US elections came about as a result of this book review. Apparently the author is currently running for office as a US Representative, and someone who lives in that district found my book review when Googling all the candidates. This voter then emailed me yesterday, to thank me - he explained that he has a rule against voting for creationists, and based on my review he's decided not to vote for the book's author!

(For the record, I'm not sure that the author's an out-and-out old-skool religious creationist. From what I've read in the book and then in his comments on my review post, I'd classify him more as a proponent of some weird modified form of intelligent design).

I'm thinking that this might be a good week to buy a lottery ticket.


*I'd like to direct your attention to this egregious little bit of buck-passing:


  1. I'm thinking that this might be a good week to buy a lottery ticket.
    If you buy it as a gift, perhaps. The effects you've had this week have been on other people.

  2. Maybe I need to suggest to you that YOU buy a lottery ticket, and we can split the winnings?

  3. Right. I forgot you were all blaming it on me, because I introduced you to the wonders of Twitter. What would you have done if I had introduced you to Google Wave? Wait, I did. Look what happened to that! Cath, did you kill it?

  4. Oh so Cath's the one responsible for killing Google Wave.

  5. So if I join twitter, will I acquire superpowers, too? Or does one's name need to be one syllable only?

  6. oh, I would like that power... or setttle for wining the lottery. Apparently this month's winner will get something like $300 million dollars... Yes, if I won that Cath - i'd share it with you. (10% as a finder's fee? 50%? mayeb we need to decide that prior to the win ;) )

  7. Kyrsten and Bob: wow, my powers are strong indeed! I had no idea :)

    UR, try it and see!

    Chall, I'd be perfectly happy with 10% of $300 million...

  8. Wow, you are indeed all powerful. Do you have this influence on situations in closer proximity? If so, I would like to introduce you to a few people :).

  9. I'm afraid my powers don't seem to work in person - I've been trying all morning. I think I need an internet connection.

    Email me with some addresses :)

  10. Cath> you say that now....

    (how many kayaks can you buy for 30 millions? ;) but sure, I wonder if I shouldn't go and buy a lottery ticket on the way home. I've never done it so far here so why not?! need to adapt to the culture, right?)

  11. I promise you 100% that if you mail me a cheque for $30 million on Monday I will be not just happy, but over the moon and dancing in the street!

    I'd be more interested in buying a nice yacht to put the kayaks on, I think...

    (daydreams happily)

  12. My superpowers are limited to turning up in the kitchen when someone else has just completed the washing up.

  13. That's all you need though, really.

  14. I'm not sure if remaining your FB friend is wise at this point as all your powers have a negative effect on others. I mean, what if my status update isn't funny enough for you?!? What then?

  15. As long as you don't publish a paper based on a single sentence from the Bible, or publish a really boring intelligent design-inspired novel, you should be OK :)


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