Major Journal Retracts Controversial Paper on the Dangers of Microbeads

Oona M. Lönnstedt
Oona M. Lönnstedt

A wave-making article on the effects of plastic microbeads on sea life has been retracted by the journal Science after an independent review board found its authors “guilty of scientific dishonesty.”

The original study, published in June 2016, reported that ingesting plastic microparticles like those found in cosmetics and toiletries made baby fish “smaller, slower, and more stupid,” and overall less likely to survive, as Mental Floss reported at the time.

Oona M. Lönnstedt

These conclusions were not terribly surprising, as other studies have found that plastics and the chemicals that cling to them can significantly affect animal behavior, growth, and mortality. But this particular study raised some serious red flags for other experts in the field.

In response to allegations of misconduct from the scientific community, the authors’ institution, Uppsala University, ordered a preliminary investigation, which was inconclusive. But the concerned researchers had also notified the Central Ethical Review Board of Sweden (CEPN), which launched a more thorough investigation of its own.

As experts began poring through their files, authors Oona Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv contacted Science to notify the publication that their data was missing and could not be recovered or examined—the result, they claimed, of a stolen laptop. In response, Science published an Editorial Expression of Concern.

Back in Sweden, CEPN hired ichthyologist Bertil Borg of Stockholm University to review the work, and Borg found Lönnstedt and Eklöv’s paper to be riddled with problems and holes. “The suspicions of deceit cannot be denied,” he wrote to the board.

The CEPN group’s final report [PDF] was damning. In addition to the missing data, the board found that the authors had failed to acquire the right ethics-board permissions to experiment on the fish—and that it’s possible they may never even have conducted the experiments. The report concluded that Lönnstedt and Eklöv’s responses to the allegations “have been in all essentials deficient, at times contradictory and have not infrequently given rise to further questions.”

The report chided Science, one of the most prominent scientific journals in the world, for ever publishing the study in the first place.

Despite telling the journal that they disagreed with elements of the report, the authors requested on April 28 that it retract their study, and on May 3, Science did just that.

Some researchers feel a retraction is not a sufficient response to the extent of the authors’ misconduct, and have pressed Uppsala to investigate further.

“We take what has happened very seriously,” university representative Johan Tysk said in a statement. “It may damage confidence in the University and in research. It is also very difficult for all those involved. We intend to thoroughly review all aspects of the case, but we cannot say at present exactly how we will go about this.”

11 Masks That Will Keep You Safe and Stylish

Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods
Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods

Face masks are going to be the norm for the foreseeable future, and with that in mind, designers and manufacturers have answered the call by providing options that are tailored for different lifestyles and fashion tastes. Almost every mask below is on sale, so you can find one that fits your needs without overspending.

1. Multicolor 5-pack of Polyester Face Masks; $22 (56 percent off)

Home Essentials

This set of five polyester masks offers the protection you need in a range of colors, so you can coordinate with whatever outfit you're wearing.

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2. 3D Comfort Masks 5-Pack; $20 (25 percent off)

Brio

The breathable, stretchy fabric in these 3D masks makes them a comfortable option for daily use.

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3. Reusable Face Masks 2-pack; $15 (50 percent off)

Triple Grade

This cotton mask pack is washable and comfortable. Use the two as a matching set with your best friend or significant other, or keep the spare for laundry day.

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4. Active Masks 3-pack; $23 (14 percent off)

RipleyRader

Don’t let masks get in the way of staying active. These double-layer cotton masks are breathable but still protect against those airborne particles.

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5. Washable Protective Cotton Face Masks 2-pack; $13 (35 percent off)

Its All Good

Avoid the accidental nose-out look with this cotton mask that stays snug to your face.

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6. Washable 3D Masks 12-pack; $24 (44 percent off)

Elicto

With this 12-pack of protective masks, you can keep a few back-ups in your car and hand the rest out to friends and family who need them.

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7. Reusable Dust-Proof Mask with 5 Filters; $22 (45 percent off)

Triple Grade

This dust-proof mask can filter out 95 percent of germs and other particles, making it a great option for anyone working around smoke and debris all day, or even if you're just outside mowing the lawn.

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8. Reusable Fun Face Cover / Neck Gaiter (Flamingo); $20

Designer Face Covers

Channel some tropical energy with this flamingo fabric neck gaiter. The style of this covering resembles a bandana, which could save your ears and head from soreness from elastic loops. Other designs include a Bauhaus-inspired mask and this retro look.

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9. Seamless Bandana Mask; $8 (52 percent off)

Eargasm Earplugs

This seamless gaiter-style mask can be worn properly for protection and fashioned up into a headband once you're in the car or a safe space. Plus, having your hair out of your face will help you avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth before washing your hands.

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10. Two-Ply "Love" Face Masks 2-Pack; $18 (40 percent off)

Design Safe

These statement masks allow you to have a voice, even if your mouth is covered.

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11. Neoprene/Fleece Neck and Face Mask (Purple); $10 (66 percent off)

Its All Good

This mask will definitely come in handy once winter rolls around. It features a fleece neck, face, and ear covering to keep your mask secure and your face warm.

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Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

Does Putting a Penny in the Microwave Really Make It Shrink?

J E Theriot, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
J E Theriot, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It's a lesson even the worst home cooks (hopefully) know: Putting metal in the microwave is a recipe for disaster. Thanks to a viral image circulating on the web, some people may be tempted to ignore this piece of common sense in the name of experimentation. The picture shows one normal-sized penny next to three smaller pennies with the caption: "This is what happens when you put a penny in a microwave for 2 minutes." But according to Snopes, microwaving a penny won't cause it to shrink—if anything, it will just leave you with a broken microwave.

Microwave ovens heat food by bouncing microwaves around a metal box. Certain molecules, like the molecules in your leftovers, absorb these waves via dielectric loss and convert them into heat. Not all substances are compatible with microwaves, however. Metal contains high concentrations of electrons, and when microwaves hit a metallic surface, these electrons become very active and block the wave's path. Instead of absorbing into the metal, the microwaves bounce off, which can cause electrical sparks. Sometimes these sparks are strong enough to burn a hole in the oven's walls and damage the electronic equipment.

Even if you could somehow shrink coins in a microwave, the science explained above should be reason enough to resist the urge to try it at home. Anyone who tries the experiment against their better instincts will be disappointed. The photo that's been shared on social media is a hoax, with Snopes explaining that the smaller pennies likely originated in a magician's trick kit.

The post inspired some people to share false claims of their own. One response to the image showed a melted microwave that had allegedly fallen victim to the penny trick. In reality, the years-old picture came from a blogger who set their microwave on fire accidentally while heating a pot of oil. So while microwaving a penny may cause some sparks and potentially damage your appliance, a dramatic explosion isn't likely. (Please just take our word on that, too.)

[h/t Snopes]