Scientists make a difference either by the science they create or by the science that they spread. A fraudulent experimenter’s damage can be matched by a misleading reporter at any stage in the communication process. Indeed, even rather creative scientists will often make more of a contribution by what and how they pass on, than by what they make.
Last year I published The Secret Dinobird Story, which put across new science that should have been done years ago, but in a field where the average worker was unable, both through inappropriate training and a toxic sub-culture, to carry out useful science. The scientific, professional, academic and even moral malpractice in the field was so outrageous, so obvious, and so long-lasting, that making scientific corrections wasn’t enough – examples had to be made of those misbehaving, to correct the sub-culture, to give the science a chance to revive.Enter Darryl Holman. This is a type I’d rarely met in my dinobird work. Whereas the majority of dinobird workers are relatively incompetent scientists but highly socially influenced, Darryl Holman, while a productive co-author, doesn’t appear to be involved in any bizarre pseudo-scientific group activity of the kind you find amongst dinobird cladists. He also seems to be doing reasonable science himself. So what could go wrong? Two things. What seems to have happened first is that for some reason or other he appears to be a singularly uninspiring teacher. It must be pretty awful to get the kind of students’ reports, and on the internet, that he’s got, but perhaps it’s not so bad if you don’t care about being a teacher, and presumably he doesn’t. But I imagine it still might leave him itching with resentment.
The next thing that happened was that he read my book. One of the ways I bemused other dinobird workers was with Monte Carlo methods (where you make up for uncertainty by trying lots of things at random). Maybe it’s because Holman is a bit of a whizz at that, that he acquired my book, or maybe it’s a coincidence. But anyway, despite being careful to say that he didn’t fault any of the science, he decided to take exception to my criticisms – even though, if my science is right, the criticisms are not only fully justified but must be made, to rescue the science.
But for him it was worth it to try to trip up a vital correction to science so long as he was getting his own back on the world for his students’ ciriticisms, however random and unjustified his action. It’s hardly worth mentioning that his knee-jerk reaction to any detailed critical argument is the moronic cry of “Rant!” – not only does this encourage any misdemeanor by discouraging criticism, and the worse the behaviour the more it is excused, but he himself spent much of the presidential election ranting on Twitter. It is worth mentioning that he started his 2-star review with a massive lie: “Was hoping for a good deep dive into dinosaur and bird evolution ………..instead, got…” No book ever written went more deeply into dinosaur and bird evolution.
Of course I’d expected vandalistic idiots to comment on my book; after all, I’ve seen comments on football and Youtube web pages. The problem was though, that I’d decided not to prime the Amazon page of the book with friends’ and relative’s comments. That isn’t really my way. I trust people to do the right thing, and then if they don’t, I come after them, rather than cheating from the start. Also, it’s mostly academics who will read it, and most don’t have the stomach for putting miscreants to rights, or aren’t confident in the three or four academic areas involved, or are in the spotlight themselves. Most of all, even scientists are shit-scared of any major developments in science, even, amazingly, when it reflects well on themselves. (Even I don’t understand this last issue, which resulted in all those celebrated in the book keeping silent!)
In this situation we rely on the standards of good universities to sort their employees out.
But despite referring the situation more than once to multiple authorities involved with Holman, his university appears perfectly happy to passively endorse the anti-scientific vandalism of an employee, even one with the mentality of a petulant six-year-old.
If a university can only be trusted to enforce good academic standards at whim, it can’t be trusted at all. Whatever game they’re playing, good academic standards aren’t the main goal, only a pretence, if that.
And if you want to have dodgy science teachers dumped on you, the University of Washington science department is the place to go.