Archive for the ‘Science ethics’ Category

Scientists are these mythical creatures that live somewhere between the clouds and the stratosphere. Their working habits include using lab  gowns, pocket protectors and calculators. Many of them (some would say most) are unkempt and dress poorly, except the ones that don’t. The scientists speak their own language, which is filled with long words and an adherence to strict meanings for words. When trying to communicate to the rest of the people, they describe their work in overly complicated technical terms. This inspires fear, which is exacerbated by the natural fear of the unknown. The typical stereotype of scientists is that of a mad scientist. This is apparent in movies and television dramas. Mostly, it shows scientists as being unconcerned with the day to day stuff that makes most of humanity tick. Most importantly, the attitude that is portrayed is one of arrogance. Scientists are described as condescending  `know it all’   SOB’s who can’t bother to explain their work to people that don’t understand it.

At least in recent years it seems that some kinds of science are getting more respect (forensic science for example), and one can find random clippings on the web on how that has affected the real life work of the individuals who practice it. The reality is closer to an non-scientific community.

So now we enter the theme of the day. How can we overcome the above hurdle for communicating science to the public?


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Today I received a purported message from the American Physical Society. It was an html page with claims like these:

Not necessaries more experiments, theories and models about the particle and atomic world, because now exists the very simple and real physics of these!

As Moshe would say, this is a typical crackpot comment. However, it goes much further than usual:

We state positively that her paper is the giant revolution of the physics science. We wish with this mail to suggest Prof. Gabor Fekete for Nobel Prize.

Afterward it suggests that I exert pressure on the Royal Sweedish Academy of Sciences to that effect.

Looking at the headers, the e-mail was sent from Hungary. It also has quite a few names of physicists in the top of the advert. It even insinuates that the Nobel prize winners in Physics of last year are endorsing this. The APS would never send a message like this, especially not with such a ridiculously bad English grammar.

I definitely think this breaks the mold and should not be tolerated. Hence, a post with full name and an explicit claim that this is spam and crackpot physics.

PS. If your name is on the header of this advert and you are not a party to endorsing this sending, I suggest that you protest heavily the use of your name in association with this mail.

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Moral Dilemma

There are occasional Science Ethics questions that must be confronted. Sometimes they are big: someone falsifies their data in which case a big storm ensues after it is reported. Sometimes they are small: someone misspells your name in a presentation and you want it fixed.

And then sometimes they are interesting from the point of view of `what is right’. So here is one of those.

  1. A publishes a paper with a partial analysis on day 1.
  2. B, C, D, E publish much more complete analysis between day 10 and day 60.
  3. A revises their paper with a complete analysis on day 61 (essentially writing a new paper, but not quite) and does not cite B,C,D,E nor any subsequent paper to day 1. The rationale being that the papers came after the posting date of the original paper and the work was mostly done anyhow.
  4. E notices the replacement and believes that A should have cited B,C,D,E.

Because A just filed a replacement, this will probably go under the radar unless E speaks up. Unless the referee of the journal is very aware of all the details of the history submission of various versions of the paper etc, he will probably not notice either and then B,C,D,E will look like partial analysis after the big analysis, etc etc.

The moral issue is twofold:

What should E do? Assume that E contacted A and A sticks by their rationale.

Is A right? (is their rationale a `good’ rationale or is it flawed?)

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