Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A modest suggestion

UPDATE: Some confusion about Samanta's sex but somewhat more concerning, although he is the the first author, Samanta is a graduate student in Ranga Myeni's group.

Press releases hyping every half baked paper have become a plague on the land, often having no relation to the paper itself, but achieving a far wider audience as it spreads through the media. One example is being cut to pieces at Real Climate and In It. Eli is not inclined to play nice as some of the folk at Real Climate are, granting the benefit of the doubt to Arindam Samanta the first author.

Give him credit, Simon Lewis, who wrote the post, Up is Down, Brown is Green (with apologies to Orwell, gets it, but still wants to be nice.

As others may have noticed, the climate debate is NOT being played out in the scientific literature and there are a fair number of nasty people out there gunning for climate science. Pretty much anyone can spin a clear statement into a CYA garment. Either Samanta knew what he and his colleagues were doing in that press release, in which case as Dr. Lewis has shown, he was culpably wrong (UPDATE: He knew), or he was unbelievably naive, in which case he still is wrong and needs not to post on Real Climate, but in the places where her paper is being used as a club against the IPCC. Eli makes no assumption about motives, but he understands responsibility and effects.

In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynahan, if you define deviancy down, you get deviants. A large proportion of the mess we find ourselves in is owed to your (climate scientists) willingness to listen to excuses in private from the Lindzens and the Pielkes, while they read you out in public. Samanta has taken the first bite, either the cost is made clear to him, or he will take the second.

Eli has a modest suggestion: Proposed outreach, so called "broader outcomes" have become an important part of grant applications and press releases are certainly an outreach. Require all press releases to be included in any grant renewal request. Let the reviewers at em.


Martin said...

Not a bad idea at all.

Another idea would be to have a notion of 'outreach fraud'. Just like making up data or copying without attribution others' work in the context of research, doing same in, e.g., writing a book while pretending to be a scientist presenting science, but in reality making up things out of whole cloth. Like, eh, Ian P. or Bjørn L.

I mean, the work of a tenured professor legitimately has these three parts: research, teaching and outreach to society at large. All three can be done fraudulently and ought to end the fraudster's career.

Anonymous said...

Eli... is this the start of the Killer Rabbits? Remember PJ & MM, they have already done this kinda stuff---what's up rabbit??? Papers please,... "broader outcomes" have become an important part of grant applications and press releases are certainly an outreach. Require all press releases to be included in any grant renewal request. Let the reviewers at em.

Where is the love, buck? Ms. Curry, should she go under the bus too? Science, the land of the open minds or mines? I am gettin confused.

Hank Roberts said...

Suggested reading for Anonymous:

S Molnar said...

On the other hand, shortly after defending Samanta's virtue at RC, Eric Steig's reply to a commenter making a similar claim about the IPCC statement is "IPCC was arguably less than precise here, but they probably didn't realize anyone would be so foolish as to think they meant weather, rather than climate". This is, in effect, calling Samanta foolish. A bit indirect, but a start.

Hank Roberts said...

Well, that was my question to Samanta as well, in the same thread -- was the IPCC talking about a time period as short as one calendar quarter of one year, or were they talking about climate?

Or to put it another way, what time period does a _tree_ consider a change in climate, versus noise?

No answer yet.

Has anyone heard from the press officer? Has anyone taken credit for the headline on the press release?

I suggested over at RC that it might be appropriate for press office officials to engage in peer review during the blackout period, when work has been sent to the AAAS/EurekAlert but not yet released to the public.

Is there yet some kind of a Hollywood-type annual award for the best science press release each year?

If not, let's create one.

Anna Haynes said...

"...most scientists I know don’t view university administrators and PR officers or journalists as our primary audience. Our primary audience is our scientific peers. As a rule, most of us are happy when we can successfully communicate our findings to a non-scientific audience. But that’s not our goal."

(The fellow who wrote the press release that time was Joe Walker)

Horatio Algeranon said...

Horatio would just note that under Eli's plan, when Lindzen made his standard claim that grants are being denied based on scientists' expressed views on climate change, it would even have some basis in reality.


Anonymous said...

Regarding Samanta's sex: Arindam is of Sanskrit origin and means he who has won all his enemies.

Cymraeg llygoden

Anonymous said...

English usage nitpick: It's "gender", not "sex", when used in the way it's used above.

Martin said...

> he who has won all his enemies.

Victor? Victoria?

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:41 AM said

English usage nitpick: It's "gender", not "sex", when used in the way it's used above.

Er, beg to differ, though either is acceptable to my way of thinking.

The SOED definition of "gender" specifically lists "sex" as a synonym.


3 The state of being male, female, or neuter; sex; the members of one or other sex. Now chiefly colloq. or euphem. LME. b Sex as expressed by social or cultural distinctions. M20.

And the SOED definition of "sex" lists:

1 Either of the two main divisions (male and female) into which many organisms are placed on the basis of their reproductive functions or capacities; collect. (treated as sing. or pl.) the males or females of a particular species, esp. the human race. LME. b the sex, the female sex, women collectively. arch. L16.

2 The quality or fact of belonging to a particular sex; possession or membership of a sex.

4 The difference between male and female, esp. in humans. Now spec. the sum of the physiological and behavioural characteristics distinguishing members of either sex; (manifestations or consequences of) sexual instincts, desires, etc. Cf. GENDER n. 3b. M17.

And Partridge's English Usage and Abusage has this to say:

sex. See GENDER.

gender refers to words; as a synonym for sex it is jocular and archaic.

Horatio Algeranon said...

RE: Samantics

horatio would note that "samanta" is Sanskrit for "being on every side"

Anonymous said...

LOL. Very good Horatio.

BTW, Anon 5:02 AM was me.

Cymraeg llygoden

Hank Roberts said...


Dryland hydrology in a warmer world: Lessons from the Last Glacial period
J. Quade and W.S. Broecker

"... Abstract It has long been recognized that the tropics were drier and mid-latitude deserts wetter during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Until now there has not been a single, unifying explanation for this pattern. Recently, Held and Soden [34] suggested that ongoing global warming will cause the Earth’s drylands to become progressively drier and its tropics to become progressively wetter. Because no suitable “warm world” analogue is available in the paleoclimate record, the best available test of Held and Soden’s proposal is to look at records from the last glacial period in which drylands should have been wetter and the tropics drier...."