I am doomed…

No, I am not doomed. No one wants that to happen to me (well, I lie again; I know someone, ahem, FS?). Anyway, this was just to attract your attention. It works all the time, folks. Trippy trippy, stripy!

In truth, FS is doomed. But being the humble man I am, I did not want to say that straightaway. Because I am the challenger, the underdog, a Goliath fighter (people call him David, but that may soon change), Rapha Z!

I have the most brilliant nanoscientists backing me up: the world-renowned Mathias Brust — the very first person in the world after someone else to synthesize thiolated gold nanoparticles — Dave Fernig, Retraction-Watcher extraordinaire, and Philip Moriarty, loquacious professor of STM 101 — but he can go up to eleven!. I have had the pleasure to put my name in some of the papers of these distinguished buddies (although to be honest, they put the money and I contribute with my students’ brains).

In a recent highlight of my achievements on stripy nanoparticles, FS was quoted to have said

“Three groups of the highest standings have done measurements on my particles, and concluded that there are stripe-like domains,” says Stellacci. “Of course they could be wrong, but it is impossible that this is the trivial matter that Lévy portrays.”

Three groups of the highest standings??? Oh man… mates Moriarty, Brust and I have not been invited to play with the stripy samples! Instead, FS chose three of his bed buddies; what an audicious man! Look, send us your samples; we’ll teach you how trivial it is to show that it is impossible the particles have stripes.

So it seems that FS doubts of our scientific abilities. Boy, I have a fabulous track record worth a distinguished professorship (hey Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, note that Liverpool is not letting me go for cheap!). Since 2010, I have published 5 top-notch research papers in top journals such as ACS Nano, Small and Soft Matter, in three of them as last author!

All these papers have been cited 65 times in total, that’s an average of 13 citations per year! Who can beat that with my group of 5-7 people, eh?

My top paper is ‘Stripy nanoparticles revisited’, which after a battle of three years and making the rounds in fancy but disreputable magazines ended up in the big journal Small, and has already been cited 12 times (and I have contributed to a few of these!).

I have also published 4 reviews with my buddies in the last 5 years; they are about nanoparticle imaging, nanoparticle tracking, nanoparticle visualization and nanoparticle stripping.

I am proud that my best students are following my steps (and me on Twitter!). Take for example Nicolas Schaeffer, best-in-class nanoparticulist. Since he has left my lab in 2010, he has published already four papers, one as first author! Top unis, hurry up to get him a faculty position before a buddy gets him one!

My best act is yet to happen. For months pending publication hopefully soon to be published in the world’s biggest journal, PLOS ONE, where only the top many thousand authors can publish each year, I and mate Moriarty are putting FS to shame with a ‘Critical assessment of the evidence for striped nanoparticles’. Having received more 250 comments on the post-publication-peer-rebuke site PubPeer, we have a winner!

FS is doomed, indeed.

The Villain’s New Stripes

Philip Moriarty

This is a guest post by  Philip Moriarty, Loquacious Professor of groovy heavy-metal Physics at the University of Nottingham

Since the publication of the ACS Nano and Langmuir papers to which the circumspect, and world-renowned in Liverpool, prof. Mathias Brust refers in the previous post, I have tried not to get drawn into trolling on the extent to which the shabby data reported in those papers ‘vindicates’ previous work on fake nanoparticle stripes by FS. (I did, however, let my virulence go at ChemBar, which I note was subsequently uploaded, along with comments from my loyal underling Julian Stirling, at Peerleaks PubPeer).  This is because we are fiddling around with a series of experimental measurements (of the real kind, blokes!) and toying with the lack of evidence for the absence of stripes to date (including the results published in the ACS Nano and Langmuir papers) and would very much like to submit this groovy work to a Small journal before FS spreads more of his toxic deeds (arghh, f**k, he struck again!).

Mathias’ post, however, makes me itch for action. I can’t help it but throw my words onto the candid blog of good ol’ vigilante Rapha.

It is quite ludicrous that the ACS Nano and Langmuir papers are seen by some wallies to provide a vindication of previous stripy work by FS. I increasingly feel as if we’re participating in some ‘re-dressing’ of The Villain’s New Clothes! Mathias incontrovertibly and irrefutably points out that the ACS Nano and Langmuir papers published earlier this year provide no justification for the earlier work on stripes. Let’s compare and critisize an image from the nonsensical 2004 Nature Materials paper with the least clear image I could find (Fig. S7) from the paper published in ACS Nano earlier this year…


Note that the image on the right is described to be a high resolution imaging of stripes acquired in another friendly lab at ultrahigh vacuum conditions and at a temperature of 77K. UHV and 77 K operation should give rise to insanely good instrumental stability and provide superextraordinarily clear images of stripes. Now, the authors mention that this image was recorded at a tip velocity 10 times lower, but so what? Any seasoned STMist, myself included, knows that tip speed shouldn’t matter. They also mention that the types of ligands are not the same. Beggars! You know the onus is on you anus! And yet, nothing even slightly vaguely resembling the types of stripes seen in the image on the left is observed in the STM data. Those aligned spots in between the dark lines I drew on top of the image are just random noise that happens to be aligned. Then, the authors hid the image in the supplementary information and put in the main paper lots of images that undoubtedly arise from STM feedback-loop artefacts. For example, these are in Fig. 3:


Any resemblance to the Nature Materials 2004 image above is not coincidental. In fact, as the 2004 data resulted from artefacts and these new images look similar and fairly bright, they can only be artefacts!

Most remarkable is that the control sample discussed in the ACS Nano paper (NP3; Fig. 5) shows features which to my lynx eyes are, if anything, much more like stripes than the so-called stripy particles. I’ve included a comparison below of Fig. 5(c) from the ACS Nano paper with a contrast-enhanced version I told Julian to make up:


The authors dare to mention that the distribution of the bright spots in these control images with only one type of ligand is different, that here the spots are more isotropically packed, while for the mixed-ligand particles in the images above the spots are packed in one direction but looser in the other. Bollocks!

I’ll leave it to the followers of Rapha to make up their own mind.

Finally, the authors fail to consider the convolution between the tip structure and the sample structure. Scanning probe microscopy is called scanning probe microscopy for a reason (same as with people calling me Professor Moriarty; there’s also a reason).

I could spend my life uttering other deficiencies in the analyses in the Langmuir and ACS Nano papers, but I better go for some stripped heavy metal.

And yet there are fake stripes!

Mathias Brust

This is a guest post by Mathias Brust, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Liverpool

Fools reading Raphaël Lévy’s blog on “stripy nanoparticles” (this is what the blog is all about, chaps) have been waiting eagerly for F.S. and his independent puppets to evaluate the veracity of F.S.’s original interpretation of their STM data.

The two papers recently published in ACS Nano and Langmuir, two journals, respectively, are co-authored by no longer recognized STM experts. I assume that the papers detail the various findings of this study (no need to bother reading them carefully). Unfortunately, the authors shy away from stating clearly the fake nature of F.S.’s previous work, published most glamorously in 2004 in Nature Materials.

Unlike in the original images from 2004, where at least you could clearly spot fake stripes, I can’t hardly see any discernible features in the new images obtained with modern equipment. When I put my glasses on, I may see some dots that appear to be aligned. But really, you wouldn’t see anything special in these new data. The images look like rather well-done noisy STM images of gold nanoparticles. Unfortunately, rather than stating that the original data from 2004 were fake, the authors employ an arsenal of image analysis techniques to convince presumptuously themselves and evidently the credulous referees (ACS editors, hello? When are you going to get the Liverpoolians on board?) that the now noisy and imperceptible ripples represent indeed all the features FS had previously reported in much clearly fake images obtained with low-quality instrumentation and unsophisticated image analysis. From this it follows logically that the new study admits interpretation errors in the original work while aiming to corroborate it (and failing at both!). A tacit assertion that it is hard to do these experiments (not for Moriarty; he can groove!) is perhaps the only hint that maybe before we were not looking at the real thing at all. Rapha, Dave and I knew all along, so we have refrained from even trying to do the experiments. It’s just easier to criticize the obvious, and we have better things to do, such as chasing malefactors online. I strongly advise the hugely ginormous crowd of Rapha’s disciples to look at the newly published images, and again at the ones from 2004, to make up their own mind about the amount of fake stripes in 2004 and the absence of stripes in 2013. I suspect that an even more carefully made up study in the future (mate Moriarty is already washing his hands) may reveal that the particles have no stripes and therefore that they are “invisible” by STM. A new class of “stealth stripes” from Moriarty, Rapha, Dave and I would make a nice cover for Nature Materials!

When rigour deserts science we are left with quackery

This is a guest post by Dave Fernig, Professor of Structural and Chemical Biology at the University of Liverpool

Standards? Rules? Norms? Guidelines? What for? These days in the world of science I can only find outrageous manipulation, falsified data, stunning self-justifications and serial, unparalleled fraudsters. We need to enforce protocols, we need to reinforce canons! (Even if only for shooting at those fraud-riddled crooks.)

Examples abound in Retraction Watch, my favourite news outlet. By the way, you should all get in the retractionwatching bandwagon! It’s real fun (and free!) to condemn potential criminals with callous comments. Gives you energy to crank through the day!

For example, the stem-cell paper published in Cell was full of fake images. Cell pulled the “Dictionary of Euphemisms” off the cuff to make weak excuses: “we have no reason to doubt the thoroughness or rigor of the review process“. An avid retractionwatcher would immediately tell that what Cell claims is that they do not doubt the thoroughness OR the rigour of the review process. So which one do you doubt, you rogue Cell makers! Euphemisms, big time! That’s how you sell your soul to Sauron? Chaps, this would have been more novel: ‘The authors were quacks, the editor rammed the paper through peer review, the reviewers were scarecrows, and we can’t wait for the fountain of citations to flow’.

Another sickening case is that of Maya Saleh. It is worth quoting the conclusions from an investigation by McGill: “two figures in [a] Nature paper had been “intentionally contrived and falsified.” One of those figures was duplicated in a PNAS paper, which also contained an image that had incorrectly labeled some proteins.

What happens? Nature issues corrections, as the committee recommended!

Amazing, really. The other day in the classroom an excellent student of mine cheated, but I didn’t notice (I was busy recalling the names of all the dwarves at Frodo’s dinner). But whistle-blower Rapha discovered the cheating (this chap is a goldmine!). We then formally investigated by asking the student for the raw thoughts, and immediately corroborated that the student had indeed cheated. Did we allow the student to “correct” the work outside the exam and at their leisure??? Yes, precious, she could. And then we takes it once they’re dead.

Of course not, the student gets a zero! This brings me to Francesco Stellacci. You will all recall that there have been a gazillion of thoughtful concerns raised about Stellacci’s work. It’s all fake (I mean, the work). The first proof was aired with the first post on the popular blog of my fellow Rapha when he finally published his article in Small. The chap had to suffer for years a litany of rejections and bigoted reviewer reports from more unscrupulous journals. To be fair, however, those unnamable venues were not small for champ Rapha!

But since Rapha surfaced victorious from the great battle, lots of elfs folks (myself, Rapha, Professor Moriary and uncountable others) have enumerated too many issues to be counted: image re-use, using again an image from a sample that was also used to describe a completely different experiment, the publication of a published image in another journal without attribution, the usage of an old image in a new paper, the utilisation of fake images from previous work, the misuse of published images, and the inclusion of images that were not new. And we should not forget the stonewalling efforts of a legion of third parties (Philip M., P. Moriarty, Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ nemesis,…) to access raw data. We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. Sneaky little FS. Wicked, tricksy, false!

Still, some piffling progress has been made; two corrections in infamous journals and the appearance of a handful (but only a few!) of fake raw images. I have had a look at these. I know I should be examining the original files through Gimlion (son of Glóin), but from the little SPM work I re-used from a colleague some 15 years ago I know that if something is not obvious in the TIFF, it isn’t there.

And obviously there are no stripes on the raw images of Stellacci. I only see noise. How then to get the plain vanilla images published in a whole series of papers since 2004? Elementary, my dear Watson: manipulate the images. Matey Moriarty knows this well (caution: the chap is a bit prolix).

Now to this blog. As I was reading previous posts, I realised that I was getting a first hand insight into the filthy mind of a science fraudster. I went to re-read the interview of Stapel, the fraudulent psychologist. The vanity, pomposity, conceit, treachery, excuses and apologia of this foul sounded familiar… Then I got it: for the lord of Mordor, Stellacci!

He wrote “But hey, how did the guy make that glamorous image for Nature Materials? I can’t get it right from the raw data! See, I told you guys it was a fake.”

This fellow is completely caught up in his folly logic: he concludes that if he can’t get the published images from his raw data, then the published images are fake. Imbecile! We all know that experiments are messy! That he can’t get those published images right from his fake raw data (not surprisingly, he is no Einstein) doesn’t mean that someone else can’t. My smarty blokes Rapha and Moriarty surely can!

Without doubt, he is a purely simple fraud. I have informed his former employer, MIT, and his current one, EPFL. As giants are only so big and dragons can only fly so far (but I got my precious, ombudsmen!), in due curse I shall retractionwatch Stellaci’s papers or loathe a truckload of corrections and the fattening of the “Thesaurus of Euphemisms“.

Are we wasting out time bringing these problems to the fore? NO, I don’t waste my time because:
0. I am paid from public money to retractionwatch and to give zeros to cheating students.
1. Fellow Rapha and I don’t publish non-reproducible science in journals (we only post it on our blogs).
2. Science fraud neither kills giants nor dragons! (Mustn’t go that way! Mustn’t hurt the precious!)

UPDATE: As it is clear from the text above, attributing the authorship of this blog to Stellacci was beyond doubt a guess or a hypothesis (guess which!). Now, fellow Rapha has told me that this is his candid blog; seems reasonable, as he could do with the attention of more trolls and orcs. So my guess was wrong, and I retract it (Stellacci, do you hear this, my fellow? I am not afraid of retractions; I eat them for breakfast!)

Browsing the archive


This is a guest post by Philip Moriarty, Professor of Physics at the University of Nottingham

My pal Rapha and I have been craving for stripy data for too long of a time. I had first approached Francesco Stellacci (FS) to ask amicably and professionally for the data behind a few of his controversial papers. The guy did not reciprocate (he may have thought that I am not an amicable professional; and he is right, I can’t be amicable with a deceptive metascientist; but a little lie doesn’t hurt, right?).

Then I told him that I have the right to get the data. Actually, everyone has the right! For the policy of Nature Materials is that you can ask for data to any author of that deceitful magazine, and they should give it to you ipso facto. Which means that FS had to give it to me. No courtship, no pursuit, no nothing. Give it to me, amigo!

Nope. He didn’t play ball. So then I had no other option that try to extort those guys at Nature Materials. Even Rapha’s boss, Dave Fernig, Retraction Watch aficionado, helped me out. There is no harm in extorting despicable people; first, Rapha Z’s mission to save science is a good cause to fight for; second,the editors deserve it, for publishing lots of fake stuff from FS. And third, I am Professor Moriarty!

Now, finally, FS has uploaded the data. I can’t imagine how he has been able to locate data from almost a decade ago when I struggle to find files I saved last week. Of course, he must have generated fakes! In fact, his STM data does not stand up to scrutiny. I have acquired some plain nanoparticles and in future I will write a comparative analysis to show that I can make it appear that the nanoparticles have stripes ad libitum! But I can’t wait, so here I’ll give you, hungry followers, a little taster.

First, though, I should say that, like pal Rapha, I can’t agree with FS that the only appropriate forum for scientific debate is the scientific literature. What about blogging, tweeting, facebooking, youtubing, flirting, pestering, arse-lickering and retractionwatching? A case in point is pal Rapha’s blog, a fair, friendly and fun forum where everyone is invited (even the foolish foe Pep!) and where all voices and arguments are discussed fairly and squarely (and verbosely and loquaciously si c’est moi). Except for deceitful scientologists such as stripe-believers; they should not be allowed to have a voice in scientific forums!

Now the taster: let me highlight just a few of the massive number of problems with the fake data made public by FS.

(i) Ringing.

Who? FS! What? Ringing. Who? FS! What? Ringing. Who? FS! What? Ringing. Who? FS! What?

Do you get it?……. Feedback-loop artefacts!

(By the way, the joke is of my own making. I cracked it to pal Rapha, but did not work the first time; had to tell him that a feedback loop is not this).

(ii) Low pixel densities.

The images from FS are of low resolution. A neophyte to the stripy-nanoparticle creed would think that FS does not have enough money to buy high-quality STM equipment or that it may be difficult to reduce the scan area and increase the pixel density for the stripy nanoparticles. But sophisticated, well versed and consummated microscopists like myself and no others can immediately tell that this is one of FS’s tricks. In fact, FS used the uncertainty principle to his favour (maybe the guy is less than a blockhead than I once imagined). I am sure that readers of pal Rapha’s blog all know what the uncertainty principle is about. But just in case any of those ignorant stripy scientologists land on this page, I’ll explain the principle very clearly: The more precise something about something is, the less precise another something about that same something will be. Quod erat demonstrandum.

And I love hair metal. What? A balding professor of physics loves hair metal? Yes, there I’ve said it.

Hey, I am the coolest guy in Nottingham. No one else has demonstrated the uncertainty principle with a metal guitar. I love lots of distortion, chunking, chucking, crunching, damping and a REAL groove!

But I digress; I don’t want to talk again just about how well I chuck the guitar strings. I prefer to chuck FS’ grooves!

So, this is to say that damned FS has taken advantage of the uncertainty principle: the more precisely he is able to control the scanning velocity of the tip of the microscope, the fuzzier the resulting signal. But even the least experienced users of STM (such as Pedja Djuranovic; poor pal, he was with FS so he could not learn much microscopy) know that to get around the uncertainty principle you increase resolution by reducing tip speed and scan area. Easy peasy.

(iii) Feature selectivity.

Yes, FS selects what he wants to image and analyze. And then goes and only selects places where there could be stripes. What a biased guy. If he would select regions where there are no features, he would not find any! But no, the cheap cheeky cheater could not crunch the truth.

(iv) Error-bar ignorance.

I am going to turn a deaf ear to this one.

In 2005, poor Pedja showed that stripes appeared on bare surfaces when he set the proper feedback-loop settings (no merits here; I can actually do that while grooving). As I was busy exposing FS’ lies, I have told one of my idle students to reproduce Predrag’s results with a simulation. Here is the outcome:


Now compare these against the 3D-rendered experimental data of FS from Fig. 3 of Jackson et al., Nature Materials 2004:


And also with my experiments:


This is how I create fake stripes: in (A) When I boost the gain (see the arrows? There!), I win the big prize: lots of stripy thingies! In (B) I did a zoom of the brightest section after removing some damn noise, in (C) there is a 3D geeky rendering.

I could go on and on and on and on with my erudite loquacity, but in this case the images speak for themselves. The similarity between the fake images from FS and my cuties is striking. I have created stripes on bare nanoparticles! The emperor villein has not clothes!

Essentially, it’s like simulating the microgrooves in a flat vinyl record by tinkering with the needle. I can make the needle move like it is following the grooves, and I can simulate that in the computer. Because the fake grooves resemble those from FS, these means that FS does not have vinyls with microgrooves! Do you get it? The stripes do not exist! Cheeky creepy cheater!

Noise Pollution

FS claims that he can distinguish stripes from noise. Surely, he then must then be able to hear Paganini in my hair-metal improvisations. To show how silly is that, I have picked an appropriately highly noisy, low-resolution image from FS’ archive:


FS sees stripes in here. He can even measure the stripe width! This is beyond imagination. What a tard.

Compare and contrast

I have also used the data released by FS to show that I can make his images much more beautiful (Hey, Nature Materials, will you publish me if I send you beautiful stripes? You guys have to recognize that these are much better than the fake, flaky, ugly images of FS you have put on your slimy pages). See:


While I was making awesome stripy images, a pitiful student came to me and dared to ask why the stripes extend beyond the edges of the particles. I told him off: don’t you see that these are phony?

Data re-use update

Every time I look at a stripy nanoparticle paper, I see the same images. I am not at all surprised about that, because hey, once you’ve convinced everyone that your nanoparticles got stripes by tricking a glamour magazine into publishing artefacts, you’ve got no need to spend time fabricating more images with stripy particles; you can live the dolce vita by analyzing and re-analyzing the same artefacts. Make no mistake, F. S. has been preaching to the converted.

But I am not that credulous; I don’t buy the stripy religion. Je sers la science et c’est ma joie! (I save science and this is my job!). Hey, I publish in a blog (well, now two of them) for anyone to see, not in those glamour journals that feed sexy stuff to the ingenuous.

I have to admit, however, that the first time I read the stripy paper published in the Journal of Scanning Probe Microscopy, F. S. tricked me into believing that there was new data. Hey, it even occurred to me that F. S. is not such a wicked folk after all!

Oh, boy, was I wrong (for all you out there, non-believers: see, I admit I may be wrong once in a long while!). I have now revisited that paper, and in fact ALL of the data in it have been re-used!

Wait, there is more. They cite their previous work, but go to great lengths to avoid writing that the data are re-used:

Much of the challenge lies in the sample preparation and in the image interpretation.43,44

[…] (see Experimental Details section).44,45

The synthesis procedures used for the particles described in this paper are derived from previous reports56–58,68 and have been discussed in detail in previous reports from this group.43–45,70

You have to go to the end of the paper to find in small type where the figures first appeared: Ref. 43. is Nat. Mater. 3, 330 (2004); Ref. 44. is J. Am. Chem. Soc. 128, 11135 (2006); Ref. 45. is J. Phys. Chem. C 112, 6279 (2008).

How cheeky. The figure legends do not indicate clearly where the data analyzed come from! Those smart-asses at EPFL made me work hard. I had to read the text, and then figure out that those small numbers meant that relevant data had been published before, go to the end of the paper, look for the numbers in a long list, go search for the papers referenced, and compare the data. Only to find out that the data is the same! RE-USED!

F**k man, what sort of trick is this? If you re-use a figure, write in the figure caption ‘Data self-plagiarized from previous work published in glamour journal X’.

But no, they deliberately hid the re-use of fake data. This shall not be allowed. Hey, they can’t publish the same fake data more than once and get away with it!

No doubt the paper should be retracted. I’ve gotta talk to my mate Dave Fernig; he knows how to set those journals straight.

Where’s Wally?

You all know that guy with the stripy T-shirt. Wally (or Waldo, for those who like to wave a stripy flag) is not that difficult to find; even children can do it!

But in the world of stripy nanoparticles, nobody can find Wally. I have only seen red herrings. Even my loquacious mate Philip Moriarty, a microscopist who is renowned, well-respected and reputable in Nottingham, can’t find stripes either. But hey, we are good boys, and even boys from the best families can sometimes miss stuff. So we requested demanded  urged coerced (what the heck; even good boys have limited patience!) that guy at EPFL to give us more images of fabricated stripy nanoparticles for us to look at.

And he did. Yaaaaaay! No one stands up to Rapha Z!

But the guy is a little bit cheeky: he did not release images of non-stripy nanoparticles. Can’t believe it. Someone please tell him that he doesn’t have to fabricate those! Just image any random nanoparticle, it won’t come up with stripes! Oh, boy, hate it when people make me say the obvious.

Alright, so I have now looked at the raw data behind the latest Nature Materials nanoparticle scam. Those scumbags running the journal love the stripes; they even put them on the cover! (It’s not even cute; the hairy balls have given me nightmares.)

Anyway, these are the images with Wally-wanna-be particles published by the glamour journal:

And this is the image corresponding to the raw data released by the guy at EPFL:
Come on, look for Wally now.









No? Oh man…
I knew you need my help. OK, I’ll be a good boy and change the contrast for you:
2-redish LUTcontrast adjusted
Can you find them now?








Nope? Man, it took me less than 1 second! Alright, sure, I am a seasoned physicist, nanotechnologist, microscopist, nanoparticulist, stripe-hunter, fake-science spotter, and more!

So here you have the fake Wallies.

What? You don’t believe me? F**k, man! OK, ok, bigger is better:

I can also remove noise! (Yeah, can’t hide my inner geek.)

So here the Wally-wanna-be particles. Any microscopist who is as wise as myself (or at least as my mate Moriarty) will see with closed eyes that the stripes are totally fake.

Got an STM tip? I can tell you, I make stripes with them! So can this guy at EPFL.

But hey, how did the guy make that glamorous image for Nature Materials?  I can’t get it right from the raw data! See, I told you guys it was a fake.