Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Do unto others

Michael Tobis has discovered a dastardly fraud. Someone sent a forged letter, purporting to be from the NSF, to a student at R A Hall Elementary School in Beeville TX "awarding" her a prize for an essay "disproving gobal climate change". Not only was the school and the local paper sucked in but this went viral engorging Marc Morano and many others.

While this is being hashed out as usual, Eli thought that there must be some way of assuaging the hurt to the student and the community, so he has donated two books to the school

Janice VanCleave's A+ Science Fair Projects - Janice Van Cleave
Mario Molina - Cynthia Guidici

(listed only to avoid duplication) with a short note

Dear Ms. Villareal, students and teachers,

Please accept this small gift as a token of my hopes for your school. This is a small reward for everyone's hard work on your science fair. As a practicing scientist, I hope that you will take part in the splendid adventure that science is and I wish that you will not be discouraged by recent events.
The bunny is sure that if they get too many books they will share them with other local schools. It might be good to stay away from the usual hot buttons.


MikeN said...

But how did they identify her to begin with? Was anyone else awarded 2nd prize? Presumably there was a first letter that invited her to enter the project. What did it say? Did she send money?

Steve Bloom said...

Mike, the whole thing appears to have been faked up by her father.

amoeba said...

I was already suspicious of the family's precise role in this, but it seemed there was little hard fact, other than the NSF were't involved and it was a fake story.

Assuming Steve is correct, what were the father's motives?
Presumably, if the daughter was 'disproving' AGW, this is a strong guide to her father's own views.

So apparently the whole thing was an appalling amateur anti-AGW fake story. Little wonder that Morano apparenly dropped it like a hot potato when the game was up.

What a surprise! If the daughter was genuinely deceived by her father, what a swine!

Tea party anyone?

Neven said...

Steve, what's your source, if I may ask?

Anonymous said...

"If the daughter was genuinely deceived by her father, what a swine!"'s_razor

In my experience, most ppl pick their position in the AGW debate based on what they hear from some bowdlerized news source or other, not based on scientific fact (Or for the anti-AGW'ers, what they presume scientific fact...).

Those that think things through and arrive at their own conclusion (even if it may be scientifically untenable) and NOT hold a professional interest in the field are very, very rare.

Here in Germany, this is THE #1 wedge point for anti-AGW'ers which we will see exploited as the gov't shifts to de-emphasizing AGW (as is presently happening): most of the populace still favor AGW as an explanation, but couldn't tell why if their life depended on it, not having spent as much as a single thought on the matter. Never bothered with greenhouse gas absorption/Earth's emission spectra in view of the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, though it would not take much to understand this ultimate basis for concerns about AGW. This lack makes them ripe pickings for any significant shift in the public debate.

So what we have here may be nothing more serious than a daddy's fraudulent attempt at trying to make his lil girl proud.

Proud for what is, one can only acknowledge, no mean effort for a person this age (if it is true what the anti-AGW'ers claim she did).

And given the demographic elements - Hispanic in Texas -, it smells like the father's just some guy whose climatology knowledge has been unquestioningly adapted from Messrs. Beck and Hannity.

That is at least my null hypothesis at present.

Major fuck-up, certainly. Malice? Need to falsify the null hypothesis first.



EliRabett said...

The way this got out of hand has damaged the girl, the school and the town. IEHO the right thing to do is provide useful support.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Given the Texas dateline on the story, it is important to realize that support for the idea of physical reality is not strong there. It may be that the father actually believed his deluded daughter's little science project and saw this as a way to publicize it. Or it may be that he saw a way to get his 15 minutes.

I feel sorry for the little girl, but no sorrier than I feel for any child that has to attend school in the state of Texas, which keeps promising to secede, but never quite leaves.

Timothy Chase said...


There are a number of things that point towards the father.

First, some people researched his background -- and to the extent that I have followed up on the research it checks out. At his band's website the band quotes the praise of a variety of sources where none of this praise shows up anywhere else on the web. The educational background that he gives in different places is inconsistent -- with him earning a doctorate in chemistry according to one place and getting no where near this in others (majoring in music if I remember correctly). So it is really beginning to look like he has a history of making things up.

And yes, he appears to have some sort of ideology. His favorite book is "The Fountainhead" (which has a strong association with a brand of libertarianism called Objectivism) and while this in itself doesn't prove anything it is rather suggestive when combined with the topic of disproving global warming.

Third, the story he gives is that his daughter saw an ad on the web for the contest and responded to that ad -- and moreover that they didn't pay any entry fee. (An entry fee would have left a paper trail - at least at the bank. And there are other pieces of evidence that according the the hometown newspaper are conveniently missing which would otherwise point to someone else.)

Now if he is telling the truth here, fraud or not, a great many other people would likely have seen the ad and responded to it. But this is the first we have heard of it -- from the family of the winners of the contest.

If he is telling the truth then the people who held the contest had no more reason to expect a project disproving global warming than investigating why mice sometimes sing. So even if it was some denialist organization they would likely have been inundated with other projects entirely unrelated to global warming -- without much of reason to expect any of those projects to be an attempt to disprove global warming.

So his story doesn't make sense, and given both the incoherence of his story and his history of making things up there is good reason to conclude that he is responsible for the fraud.

Timothy Chase said...

Regarding Castillo's history...

"Edit: Some Googling found a claim that a J.R. Castillo of Beeville with a B.S in 1995 and a M.S. in 1998 from the University of Texas at Austin was recognized as one of the "Top 100 Young Hispanic Businessmen" by Forbes Magazine (the claim was made in September 2003 in "The Alcade" - an alumni magazine). A Google for the phrase "Top 100 Young Hispanic Businessmen" returns no hits except for this. Did Forbes ever make such a list? A search on the website for "Castillo" shows no sign of him, or for a "Top 100 Young..."

If that turns out to be false we may have a case of serial "awards fraud"."

They are right about Forbes --

JR Castillo and the band Unwound that has had so many great things said about it -- that show up only on its own website.

Jaime Rolando Castillo and JR Castillo of the band Unwound is the same guy. Compare the photo here:

... to the video here:

Jaime Castillo makes up his own awards. He has claimed degrees that he has never earned. And now it looks like he may be working the same magic for his daughter. But he never expected the story to take off like it did and make exposure a virtual certainty.
Here is the story from the hometown newspaper:

dhogaza said...

Apparently it was the school who called the newspaper, not the family.

My guess is that daddy, having a history of faking things, thought he'd help his daughter at school by making up an award for her science project.

Not thinking that the school might be so proud of it that they'd call the local newspaper, thus leading to it achieving national prominence and a very quick debunking.

I'd hope, at least, that he didn't intentionally involve his daughter in a nationally-publicized fraud.

I feel sorry for the daughter. If people are right, and the father did do it, how despicable.

His story's too weird - read about a non-existent contest on a web page? Applied to non-existent contest? Non-existent content mailed a packet of stuff to him?

I don't think so ...

Steve Bloom said...

Thanks for the thorough response, Tim. Sufficient, Neven?

Eli, allow me suggest the discovery of a new psychological syndrome: "Monckton by proxy"

Steve Easterbrook said...

Let me suggest some books to send:

Gareth said...

"Monckton by proxy"

Morning tea/screen interface. Damn you, Bloom.

Anna Haynes said...

This is a wonderful idea.

I'll send Easterbrook's #1, Weird Weather by Kate Evans.


Attn: Martina Villarreal
R.A. Hall Elementary School
1100 West Huntington Street
Beeville, TX 78102-2599

Anna Haynes said...

What's the difference between "school and library binding" and normal?
(besides $15)

(If I buy the normal one, how much less likely is it to be put into circulation?)

Anna Haynes said...

...and where's a list of good kids' science books on non-usual-hot-button topics?

CapitalClimate said...

National Science Teachers Association has a list of recommended books by grade level.

dhogaza said...

"What's the difference between "school and library binding" and normal?"

They're a lot more robust, to stand up to the heavy usage they get.

Marion Delgado said...

We have different standards for kids, actually. The work in question is reasonable for a 4th grader - she didn't go beyond math she understands, and she understands graphs and naked-eye trends.

She doesn't understand moving averages or error bars. Neither did most of us in the 4th grade.

Most of us took the same stance with Kristen Byrnes.

That said, the people going the other way are pretty messed up, really. This couldn't possibly make the child feel better in the long run. It's a fairly sick game.

WV: I got InExes - and you didn't.

seamus said...

Read to your Bunny

amoeba: Tea parties are for little girls with imaginary friends.

amoeba said...

Monckhausen Syndrome?

Martin Vermeer said...

Steve Bloom,

Great minds think alike.

Brian Schmidt said...

"Monckton by Proxy" nails it.

I think the little girl's name should be left off of the discussions, as Eli has left it out. No point in having it all rubbed in some years from now when she googles her own name.

Anna Haynes said...

One thing I hadn't considered, that complicates a book-donating project, is that this is the start of summer vacation, during which time the school is likely closed.

Come Monday, I will check.

dhogaza said...

The father has confessed to falsifying the award ...

FancyRat said...

Newspaper article confirming the father's hoax:

Anonymous said...

Steve Bloom, Tim Chase, thanks for explaining. I'm glad my dad isn't a libertarian engineer.

Anna Haynes said...

OK, I just called the school (re timing of library donations, this being summer vacation) - and was told that someone's there (summer school) until the 30th (June, presumably) and then they return in 2nd week of August.

EliRabett said...

Thank you Anna=:) (Happy Bunny emoticon)