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Data fabrication claim holds 'Chibanian' geological age from international approval

Visitors from Chiba Prefecture and other areas are seen at the "Chiba section," which records the shift in Earth's magnetic poles, in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, on Dec. 17, 2017, after the working group of the International Union of Geological Sciences handed down its initial decision to recognize the stratum as representative of a new "Chibanian" geological age. (Mainichi)

ICHIHARA, Chiba -- A final review of a geological stratum here called the "Chiba section," which had been recognized internationally as representing a new geologic age, the "Chibaian," has been bogged down since April over claims of data fabrication.

A team comprising researchers from Ibaraki University, the National Institute of Polar Research and other institutions filed a request to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) in June 2017 that the Chiba section, which provides evidence of the last-known reversal of the Earth's magnetic poles, be recognized as part of a new division of the Middle Pleistocene period (781,000 to 126,000 years ago) out of 115 geological ages spanning 4.6 billion years.

Two Italian locations also vied for the name of the age, but the IUGS working group in November 2017 declared the formation in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, the winner. If the IUGS had moved forward, the age would have been named the "Chibanian," but problems arose.

According to sources close to the matter, a different research team forming the Council for Certification of Paleo-Kanto Great Depth Submarine Basin Geopark, based in Katori in the same prefecture, sent an email to the IUGS and the Italian researchers stating that the evidence of the last pole shift was actually data taken from a different stratum roughly 2 kilometers away and that the Chibanian data was fabricated.

The Italian team then charged that if opinions on the Chibanian age were still debated among domestic researchers in Japan, then the IUGS review should return to a blank slate. In response, the IUGS halted deliberations, and requested that the original researchers submit an explanatory document. If the team's counterarguments are not recognized, there is a possibility that the IUGS may nullify the decision of its working group on the Chibanian age.

The Chibanian team members assert that in 2015, before they applied for the age name, they had not been able to gather enough data from the Chiba section alone, so they had also used data from a stratum 2 kilometers away, but at the time of application, they had gathered enough data and used only data from the Chiba section when making their case to the IUGS.

"There is absolutely no issue with the data, and the claim that it was fabricated is completely baseless," said National Institute of Polar Research associate professor Yusuke Suganuma, a member of the research team. "They are just interfering with the review."

Meanwhile, Paleo-Kanto council head Hisashi Nirei, an emeritus professor at Ibaraki University, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I will not answer any questions, including whether or not we sent the emails." When asked what he thought of the research group using the Chiba section data to apply to the IUGS, Nirei said, "It's the same as disqualifying athletes who have doped in the past. They should give up on 'Chibanian.'"

(Original by Yui Shuzo, Science & Environment News Department)

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