Researchers retract a paper because it turns out not to be about bulls&$#

From Retraction Watch

Sometimes what science really needs is more bulls&$#.

Just ask a group of environmental scientists in China, who lost their 2019 article on soil contamination because what they thought was manure was in fact something else.

The article, titled “Immobilization of heavy metals in e-waste contaminated soils by combined application of biochar and phosphate fertilizer,” appeared in February in Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, and was written a team from the South China Institute of Environmental Science and Sun Yat-sen University, both in Guangzhou.

According to the researchers:

This paper reports the effects of single and combined application of biochar and phosphate fertilizer on immobilization of heavy metals in e-waste-contaminated soils. The results showed that combined amending biochar and phosphate fertilizer improved physical and chemical characteristics of soil but resulted in ammonium nitrogen loss. Biochar combined with phosphate fertilizer increased shoot biomass of lettuce while biochar applied alone could inhibit the growth of lettuce. A distinct decrease of heavy metal concentrations in lettuce was observed in phosphate fertilizer + biochar (3.0%) treatments while highest heavy metal concentrations in shoots and roots were observed in control treatments.

But the retraction notice says all that crap wasn’t crap after all:

Full article here.

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Mark Broderick
June 4, 2019 10:33 pm


“and was written (by) a team from the South China Institute of Environmental Science and Sun Yat-sen University, both in Guangzhou.”

June 4, 2019 10:46 pm

The RICE you say!

Michael Ozanne
June 4, 2019 11:21 pm

were they mentored by Gergis et al??

June 4, 2019 11:31 pm

Commendable scientific honesty. The researchers should be applauded.

June 4, 2019 11:40 pm

The paper is not a total loss, it simply needed revising to correctly indicate the type of biochar used.

I am curious about “biochar applied alone could inhibit the growth of lettuce.”
Why “could” did they measure it? If not why do they think it?

Reply to  BillP
June 5, 2019 1:09 am

There are a few reasons biochar alone might reduce growth. The most likely is that the high pH of the biochar reduced availability of phosphorus which is why P fertilization with biochar overrode that effect.

Lewis P Buckingham
Reply to  BCBill
June 5, 2019 3:48 am

‘the high pH of the biochar reduced availability of phosphorus’
Not sure about this.
All phosphates are soluble so therefore available.
If the soil was more alkaline then that may have damaged the plant in some way, by making other nutrients less available.

John Brisbin
Reply to  Lewis P Buckingham
June 5, 2019 11:06 am

Nutrient availability to plants is far more than solubility. Plant nutrient uptake is highly dependent on pH just as BCBill suggested.

Lewis P Buckingham
Reply to  John Brisbin
June 6, 2019 2:23 am

Thanks for that.
I am not saying that uptake was not affected, I am suggesting that this was despite P being present, soluble and therefore available.
If this is your area would you mind pointing me in the direction of a suitable resource on this, eg text, Regards.LPB

Reply to  Lewis P Buckingham
June 6, 2019 9:17 am

It would take a lot of space to explain this. As H.L. Mencken said, “Everyone is entitled to an informed opinion”. You could start informing yourself here:

But there are many, many sources of info on this. Happy reading.

Reply to  BillP
June 5, 2019 2:27 am

im more curious as why the hell theyd burn good cowpoop for biochar to begin with?
theyd have got way more nutrient leaving it as compost.

and ewaste contaminated soils? wtf? like to read more on that too.
eartheworms were removing 10%of their bodyweight of mercury in Wales old coal mine areas way back in the 80s/90s remove the worms and reclaim the mercury.

Reply to  ozspeaksup
June 6, 2019 2:06 am

Rice biochar….
Not a bad idea
Poop biochar…
Apparently a good idea as well, or even better, plus perhaps lower volume, easier to handle , transport , doesn’t stink?

And it seems that biochar produces fewer carbon dioxides than straight poop…all good.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  BillP
June 5, 2019 7:33 am


I was thinking the same thing. Global search and replace in “Word” (or whatever) and you should be pretty much good to go.

Michael Ozanne
June 4, 2019 11:42 pm

Shinola identification test epic fail….

June 4, 2019 11:46 pm

OT but might be worth of attention
POTUS & the Prince C
Donald Trump appears to have softened his rhetoric on climate change after being “moved” by Prince Charles’ passion for the environment.
The pair had a long conversation on global warming yesterday, and they will meet again today in Portsmouth for a D-Day commemoration.
In an interview with ITV, the president said: “We had a 15 minute chat and it lasted an hour and a half and he did most of the talking.
“What he really wants and what he feels strongly about is the future. He wants the best climate for the future. He wants a good climate and not a disaster.”
Mr Trump went on to say the US had “one of the cleanest climates in the world”, but said the rest of the world was not pulling its weight.
“India, China, Russia – if you go to certain cities you can’t even breathe,” he said. “So in terms of the planet, we’re talking a bout a very small distance between China and the US.”
The US president has always been a sceptic, but when asked whether he now believes in climate change, Mr Trump said: “I believe there is a change in weather. I think it was called global warning, then it was called climate change, now it’s called extreme weather.
“I think we had a great conversation about – as you would call it – climate change.
“I tell you what moved me was his passion for future generations. He wants to have a world for future generations, and I do too.”

Craig from Oz
Reply to  Vuk
June 5, 2019 12:10 am

“…have softened his rhetoric on climate change after being “moved” by Prince Charles’ passion for the environment.”


Passion for the environment =/= believe in Global Warming(tm)

The Telegraph is playing bait and switch with the facts, me thinks.

Reply to  Vuk
June 5, 2019 12:39 am

“We had a 15 minute chat and it lasted an hour and a half and he did most of the talking.”
the president said.
“As Prince Charles ushered President Trump and his wife from the room after, Camilla turned to her protection officer, her face creasing into an enigmatic smile – and she winked. ”
At least the Duchess of C has sense of humour to put whole climate change ‘disaster’ into proportion.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Vuk
June 5, 2019 4:04 am

It would have been impolite to tell Prince Charles to his face that he has been duped into believing in a CAGW Hoax.

Reply to  Vuk
June 6, 2019 12:34 pm

No UK newspaper is worth reading.
“Those who don’t read the papers are uninformed. Those who do are misinformed.” Mark Twain.

June 4, 2019 11:49 pm

Link needs fixed on this post – you mistakenly repeated the Watts site as a prefix.


Reply: Thanks, fixed.

William Baikie
June 4, 2019 11:58 pm

Admirable of them if they originated the retraction. It would be nice to see more of these in the error-laden climatology field.

June 5, 2019 5:10 am

Phosphate causes faster growth, so would dilute the regular percentage of toxicity that occurs in a normal growth pattern due to fixed mobility of toxic material in the soil. Plants don’t eat everything, they eat what they need. You give them lots of phosphate they eat what they need faster with less circulation and they can eat the bits that they wouldn’t normally be able to eat. The roots shove everything else aside.

The *premise* of the paper is wrong immaterial of their retraction over material identification issues.

John F. Hultquist
June 5, 2019 9:31 am

ammonium nitrogen loss

There is the clue. “rice straw ” is not poo — that ought to add nitrogen.

{I garden. Not really a soil chemist. Easily could be wrong on this.}

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