Crank Letters

Imagine that you toil and make a scientific paper that gets published.  You lean back and breathe a sigh of relief; all that toil and effort is now part of the scientific literature.

Then you go to your mailbox and find a letter. “What baloney! How could you say that! Show me the data that you claim supports your ideas!” Right there most of us have dropped the letter in the trash can, but maybe you are kind hearted and send a reply pointing out the online repository where all the data resides.

You get another letter. “I’m pretty sure you’ve committed some kind of fraud because there is no way the data should look like that.  Send me all the correspondence you’ve written about this and I will prove that you are an idiot!”

Certainly by now the letter is in the trash, right? Or maybe you write back, “hey if you’re so smart, you redo the study and show where I messed up.” You are ready to get back to work on something new.

How about if the letter is from the Chair of the Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology?

Yes, folks, that is what passes for Congressional oversight these days.  Publish something that threatens the world view of a powerful politician with no background in science and he can bully you pretty nearly endlessly. Or you can find companies doing the same thing. Instead of challenging scientific work as scientists have done for a few centuries now, we’ve entered a phase where discrediting science is done routinely by using guilt by association and taking statements out of context.

None of this–NONE OF THIS–reflects on the science itself.

Not if the author was paid money by an evil corporation.

Not if the author made liberal comments on a blog or has a “Trump 2016” sticker on their computer.

Not if there is a quote that looks juicy.

What matters is the data and analysis that was done. It is fair to ask where stuff came from.  It matters not a whit what the worldview of the scientist is. Partial results, changes in opinions, all that is noise.

Want to dispute a scientific result?  Hey, join the crowd, that is what most scientists are doing a lot of the time. It takes time and hard work. Even fraud is better demonstrated from the published work than all the correspondence (now guilt in the fraud would benefit from the correspondence, but that is not the point here).

In the instance spurring this comment here, a high profile group doing work in parallel with several other independent groups made relatively minor changes to the estimate of mean global surface temperature record.  Fraud would be nearly impossible and any legitimate error would quickly be exposed because, well, everybody is watching.

Basically the actions of the Committee are little more than crank calling somebody over and over to keep them from doing anything useful.  Or, to put it in a WWW-way, it is essentially a denial-of-service attack.

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