back to article Microsoft quantum lab retracts published paper: Readings that cast doubt on crucial discovery went AWOL

A paper published in Nature two years ago and spearheaded by a Microsoft scientist has been retracted after it emerged that the data presented simply didn't add up. The work was produced at a quantum computer lab set up by Microsoft and QuTech, a research center co-founded by the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Not very reassuring

    The future of quantum computing apparently relies on the discovery of a theoretical particle that is its own antiparticle. That seems to be quite the barrier to entry.

    On the other hand, "they were unable to replicate their study’s results " means that the study was clearly not conducted in a scientific manner. When you're a scientist, you're supposed to check, double check and, in a case like this, triple check your data and your results. When you can reliably replicate your results, then you can publish.

    So this was not a proper scientific study. It was, however, a perfectly valid Microsoft study : throw something on the wall, see if sticks, publish.

    Way to go.

    1. Red Ted

      Re: Not very reassuring

      "did not pay enough attention to data that did not suit their purpose"

      There's a really fine line between that and manipulating the results, if there is even a line at all...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not very reassuring

      Photons are their own antiparticle. To be honest, without knowing what a "Majorana zero-mode quasiparticle" is, I couldn't tell you if it's allowed to be its own antiparticle or not.

      1. Cuddles

        Re: Not very reassuring

        It is by definition it's own antiparticle. Photons, plus other bosons, are allowed to be their own antiparticles and there's nothing controverisal there. All the fermions in the standard model, on the other hand, are not their own antiparticles*. Fermions that are their own antiparticles were hypothesised quite early on in the development of quantum physics, and are called Majorana fermions after the person who came up with the theory, in contrast to the rest which are called Dirac fermions.

        Quasiparticles are essentially things that aren't actually single particles, but behave like them. So things like phonons travelling through solids, or holes moving in semiconductors. So a majorana quasiparticle would be some kind of collective phenomenon within a material that looks pretty much like a particle and also acts as its own antiparticle.

        So the idea itself isn't particularly controversial. The basic theory is well known and has been around for a long time, and the individual parts have all been fairly well tested. The problem is just that an actual Majorana particle has never actually been found, so it would be a pretty big discovery (at least among condensed matter physicists) if it were true.

        * We're still not entirely sure about neutrinos.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not very reassuring

      Not to say anything good about M$, but this sounds much more like a professor seeking fame and grant money than anything else.

  2. Warm Braw

    Caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment

    If only we'd known about the propensity of quanta for entanglement.

  3. Chris G

    What I don't understand

    Aside from quantum physics, is why anyone who is producing a paper they know is going to be peer reviewed by people who are at least on par with them, would massage the results?

    I would be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    1. sreynolds

      Re: What I don't understand

      Errrm, peer review doesn't mean that someone is actually going to rely on what you said and/or even bother looking at it unless they have a vested interest. Sure some people will skim over it.

      Wasn't the paper that convincingly statistically at least proved that autism was a direct result of the MMR jab? Peer review, surely you jest.

      1. Wayland

        Re: What I don't understand

        MMR I think is a case of politics triumphing over science.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Not politics

          The core problem, QM isn't the definition of matter, its an approximation to it (see all the entanglement/teleportation exceptions). Any mathematical proofs you have of particles, is therefore not a proof.

          All those impossible things, that defy logic, but must be true because [mathproof] are not true, because [mathproof] derives from an incorrect initial model.

          So derive all you like, you have to ignore the logic fail and focus on the math, and that breeds a special kind of scientists willing to fit the observation to the model, rather than model the observation. Maybe not "breeds", rather, it "filters" for them. The qualification requires you accept the fail as fact, ergo it *filters* for people prepared to ignore logic.

          Matter *is* in motion, therefore electric and magnetic are oscillating forces, and every particle you've ever detected has been the net effect of oscillating matter detected by an oscillating force.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What I don't understand

      Within physics (specifically organic semiconductors), the Hendrik Schoen case is probably better known. He faked results for years, and got several Nature papers published (all peer-reviewed) before he was found out. From memory, he was caught when he re-used a graph to describe something completely different, with different axis labels, but the same data shown. His competitors spent years trying to reproduce his results, and losing grant-funding because they were always second to publish.

      This is horribly embarrassing for the researchers here, but they have formally retracted, and shown the working which proves they were wrong. So they have done the right thing.

    3. Persona

      Re: What I don't understand

      You don't need to massage the results, all you need to do is make a mistake. A not terribly bright acquaintance of mine had completed a PhD and was demonstrating his findings to peers. A smart friend of mine looked at his experimental setup and pointed out that what he had actually done for the last couple of years was measure the input characteristics of his test equipment hence his findings were bogus. He changed the inputs to another range and the results were completely different.

    4. Wayland

      Re: What I don't understand

      This thing has stood for two years before being retracted. Pretty successful BS.

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: What I don't understand

        Maybe the people questioning the results were more careful than the people publishing the results. The problems were "obvious", nevertheless they requested the original data first.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    So you can't tell if there's a qubit in the box

    Until you open it?

    Looking in the pockets, obv. -->

    1. sreynolds

      Re: So you can't tell if there's a qubit in the box

      Or until, it would appear you cut and paste data that you like. I am sorry, is that right? Are they saying that the data was cut and pasted? And if so from where?

  5. Conundrum1885

    I found the problem

    It appears that someone collapsed the paper's wavefunction by observing it too much.

    (Gets coat)

    1. Wayland

      Re: I found the problem

      Drained all the truth out of it. Ooops, it was perfectly fine until you looked at it, now it's dead.

  6. Pirate Dave Silver badge

    So, err...

    more vaporware from Microsoft? Hardly surprising. But this time, they got called-out on their science BS by People Who Know. Too bad there's not a similar group for their disastrous UIs.

  7. DS999 Silver badge

    Fooling themselves

    Because they wanted to believe they had found what they're looking for. Not the way to do science.

    Years ago I dated a girl who was a postdoc doing research with a well regarded professor of Physical Chemistry. Her professor insisted on viewing all experimental data with the utmost skepticism - basically she said "we need to do our best to prove our results wrong, because if someone else does it after we publish our reputations are ruined". That's how science is supposed to be done!

    1. Wayland

      Re: Fooling themselves

      I built a little hover craft at school once. It did sort of hover and I claimed that the air blown by it's electric fan gave it a cushion of air. It actually hovered because the fan was so unbalanced it vibrated the whole craft.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    We remain confident in our topological approach to scaled quantum computing [ ... ]

    Really? You just retracted an article published in Nature.

  9. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    ...took feedback from the scientific community...

    Scientists have previously caved in to Microsoft over gene naming.

    Microsoft might have surmised that they could get away with it every time.

  10. Wayland

    Sinclair already did Quantum computing back in the 1980's

    Motorola 68000

    1. Jason Hindle

      Re: Sinclair already did Quantum computing back in the 1980's

      Actually the 68008. Controversial at the time as 16 bits squeezed through 8.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yet more Azure being trumped up to be what it's not

    If you want to host your Office in the cloud, fine. But don't pretend much else is anywhere near the competition.

  12. Jakester

    Also not found...

    ... but reported to exist at one time are Microsoft QA "particles"...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An golden opportunity for a new paper on the relation between "zero-bias research" and "zero-bias conductance".

  14. JRStern

    "And by then, we may have such advanced quantum computers that Majorana qubits will have even longer to catch up."


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