20 December 2010

Rant no. 3 of 3: following up...

A.S. (that's ante script, as opposed to P.S. or post script.  Hey, I'm a writer, I have authorial license!): For those of  you looking for my answer to the challenge posed in rant no. 2 of 3 last week, I have had no responses as yet, so I'm extending the explanation for a day or two in order to give my readers more time to exercise your imaginations, and to give me some time to address other things, such as holiday preparations around home and...

In response to my rant no. 3 of 3 last week, despite a lack of comments submitted here, I have indeed had some feedback.  Specifically, there was some surprise that I elected to review the ASU press release and not the PNAS journal article on which the press release was based.  I mentioned, specifically and repeatedly, that I had not read the paper but that I felt the ASU press release needed some response.  "But if you did not read the paper how can you assess the press release?" was one of the questions I received.  There is an easy answer to that question: the press release should stand on its own as an accurate account of the science to the public; if it does not do that properly, it will cost the scientists far more time and effort to correct public and professional misunderstandings than should have been spent on the press release, getting it right the first time.

But I am not exactly one for a short explanation, so I gave the questioner nine specific reasons:
  1. I assumed that the paper is good: it was in PNAS, had authors that I know to be of high reputation, and PNAS itself seems a professional journal of the most strict repute;
  2. ASU has a vested interest in relating the science properly as a leading educational institution in one of the states both criticized for and affected by western water issues;
  3. The statements I picked out for criticism and response were simply and scientifically incorrect, so these needed straightening out;
  4. If those statements did come directly from the paper, then the paper isn't what I thought, as I made clear in my blog post;
  5. I will indeed be reading the paper itself, now that I have a copy; I did not have it at the time the press release was made available; the paper, and the other articles in a special section of PNAS on water issues in the southwestern U.S., are all available subscription-free to the public;
  6. The ASU press release was a disservice to the intent of the paper and the reputation of authority demonstrated by the authors; that said, if the paper is also bad, I will criticize that too;
  7. Sciences, especially controversial topics in the sciences, deserve better from those who claim to advocate on the behalf of scientists and their work, but this press release amounts to misleading junk for the masses; part of the purpose of my blog is to help improve that communication, with the basic assumption that the masses are not as dumb and gullible as the media thinks they are;
  8. I am attempting to build a reputation here as a critical eye on water science but also as fair, detail-oriented, and not afraid to question the conventional wisdom or set the record straight; in the interests of full disclosure, I am still seeking paying work, and though some may think that the kind of criticism I posted is not the best way to go about that, I wouldn't take a position in which anything less analytical (or more "politically sensitive") was expected of me;
  9. Finally, for such a defining issue in the southwestern U.S., even ASU doesn't seem to get it right, and I am referring here to the relation of science activities and results to the public, not to the activities and efforts of the scientists themselves; the situation of public education must improve, or the situations related to the communication of water issues specifically, and science in general, with the public will only get worse.
So, my comments have appeared elsewhere now, and my criticism has been rerouted to the direct attention Mr. John Sabo, the lead author on the paper and a research scientist at ASU.  I am reading the paper in detail now and will post at least one more update, more fully educated on how it compares with the ASU press release, if it answers some of the questions I posed in my original comments, and additional details as seem needed.

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