New paper published today: a major turn in the stripy controversy… or a non-event?

The article by Stirling et al is published today in PloS One [I have the privilege of being a co-author]. The publication occurs after several months of delay due to copyright issues (see here, here, here and here); the negotiations between publishers have been hard and the resolution is hailed as a victory for open access.

The paper is undoubtedly an important piece of work. It analyses in exquisite detail the stripy nanoparticle evidence (from the abstract):

Through a combination of an exhaustive re-analysis of the original data with new experimental measurements of a simple control sample comprising entirely unfunctionalised particles, we conclusively show that all of the STM evidence for striped nanoparticles published to date can instead be explained by a combination of well-known instrumental artefacts, strong observer bias, and/or improper data acquisition/analysis protocols.

Why do I ask whether its publication might be a “non-event”?

A preprint version of this article was uploaded to the arXiv nearly a year ago. This arXiv version was the subject of post-publication peer review. This arXiv article remains the article with the highest number of comments on the post-publication peer review website PubPeer (276 comments at the time of writing). The PubPeer thread has over 20 000 individual IP views. Two comprehensive and very supportive reports from PloS One referees reports were shared two months ago.

Given that the article has been in the public domain for nearly a year, validated through super-extensive-peer-review-beyond-anything-that-will-ever-happen-in-a-journal, what difference does it make that it is now officially published in a scientific journal?

First, the final version is not identical to the arXiv version. The most important difference is in the small angle neutron scattering section. This has been improved thanks to the inclusion of a new author, Brian R Pauw… [see how he became involved in this in his latest blog post].

Second, papers remain a career currency as discussed in a previous post (Scientific journals no longer necessary?). I am extremely pleased that Julian’s enormous work is recognized through the publication of this article. I am also very pleased that Predrag Djuranovic is a co-author. He was the first to question the existence of the stripes when he was a student in Stellacci’s group at MIT, and his criticisms, from almost a decade ago, are finally vindicated ‘in print'”.

Third, although it’s been two years since Stripy Nanoparticles Revisited (Cesbron et al) and one year since the release of Stirling et al on the arXiv — and that therefore everyone who needs to know should know that there is no solid evidence for the existence of stripes — articles based on the stripy concept continue to be accepted and published as if none of this had ever happened.  For example, Francesco Stellacci’s group published in ChemComm this year an article where the first sentence of the abstract reads “Scanning tunnelling microscopy studies have found stripe-like domains on gold nanoparticles coated with certain binary mixtures of ligand molecules.” The article was submitted in May 2014 and published in July (PubPeer); it does not cite Cesbron et al nor Stirling et al. This is not an isolated slip of the peer review system: there is also this one in ACS Nano with a nice stripes cartoon in the TOC graphic, accepted in May 2014… and this one in Nanoscale, accepted in April 2014 (PubPeer). Maybe the PloS One publication will carry more weight than the arXiv preprint?

I do hope that this will be not a major turn, but the beginning of the closing of the stripy controversy, 10 years, 35+ papers, and significant public funding, after the publication of Spontaneous assembly of subnanometre-ordered domains in the ligand shell of monolayer-protected nanoparticles. Francesco Stellacci has been given the opportunity to provide a referee’s report on Stirling et al and while he has not allowed us to reproduce his report, we understand that he has submitted a ms to PloS One too. I am today uploading comments and links onto PubMed Commons so that scientists interested by these 35+ articles can easily find relevant post-publication peer review information.



  1. (very sad to hear about the events in Paris)

    I checked the comments section on PLOS One and saw the recent exchange with “Gustav Dhror”. A long thread that reminiscent of certain commeents on this blog and on the main pubpeer thread associated the the critical stripy paper:

    The thread begins with a criticism of Fig 4 in the paper and suggests that that localized background on nanoparticles should be measured to assess the signal in the nanoparticle “stripes”. Several authors respond demonstrating that the measuring the local background would be onerous and and relatively uninformative. The key point that they make is that, while the stripes may be real, they are more easily explained by the variance in the the background.

    Gustav doesn’t seem to address this point, nor does he address the problem the difference between the remarkably clear stripes in 2004 which are never reproduced (he does claim, like Samorì, that others have claimed to reproduce them…but provides to links to images).

    Gustav claims expertise in relevant scientific fields, he is presumably capable of doing the very analysis he suggests. He seems to disappear once Raphael suggests that Gustav has not identified himself clearly, not in line with PLOS commenting policies. PLOS has presumably terminated the account.


    1. Thanks Nanonymous. I think PloS is trying to contact Gustav and might add a note if they conclude that he has been in breach of the guidelines.

      BTW, I have now removed the request to fill in an email address in the comments field 😉


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