Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Depends what your definition of "is" is.

Earlier today, somebody called Anonymous responded to the post I made yesterday with a link to this article about how the ACLU thinks fraud is free speech. 
I'd like you to swing on over there for a second and then swing on back here because this article's a great example to use when explaining how to spot a bucket of bull when you see one. I'm going to take a page from James Randi's book and beat the crap out of a dead horse just to prove my point, so feel free to skip to the end of this post for the real story once you're bored. 

All right, here's the play-by-play:

  • There's no author. Lots of bloggers like to stay anonymous, of course, but this Web site is not a blog. It purports itself to be the Web site of a non-profit organization "dedicated to protecting the civil rights of all Americans by publicly advancing a Constitutional understanding of our essential rights and freedoms." A proper non-profit, not a conglomeration of bloggers.
  • The author sites only one source, and it's a blog. Huge red flag. Never site other bloggers when making a case. Don't site me when making a case. I know that I research everything I say here, but you don't. Well, most of you don't. Someone who really cared about reporting properly would go to the sources or Google search to verify what the other blogger says before passing it along. Bloggers can say whatever we want, especially since many if not most of us do it anonymously. 
  • The author doesn't link to the blog post he or she refers to - doesn't even provide the title of the post. For that matter, they don't even provide the year in which this blog was supposedly written. Now the copyright at the bottom of the page is 2010, so we can probably conclude that the blog post appeared in 2010. It took me quite a few minutes of dedicated digging to find this post, which I think is the correct one... there were multiple Virginia politics blogs discussing this issue on May 6th.
  • Note that the author of the ACRU article doesn't site any of the sources that the Virginia blog sites, which is probably a decent indication that the ACRU author didn't read them.
  • Now let's look at the "ACRU" site itself. I find it a little suspicious that the site's url is so similar to the ACLU's, that the setup and color scheme of the site are so similar to the setup and color scheme of the ACLU's site (even more similar when you hop in the Wayback machine and check out an article that would have appeared around the same time the article in question did), and that the ACRU site doesn't go out of its way to clear up any conclusions on its main page. This makes me suspect that the site might be hoping for people to happen upon this site while looking for the ACLU site and maybe trick them a little into clicking on the "ACLU Outrages" link to find articles about how bad the ACLU is.  
  • The flip-flopping of fonts is often a sign that the author's doing some heavy cutting and pasting. College professors look for mismatched fonts as a red flag that the student might not be doing all of their own work. Might not be the case here, but it's worth pointing out.
  • There's no specific information about Michael Mann's research or what kind of fraud he's accused of. It uses weasel words to avoid actually claiming that Michael Mann presented "fake research," but that's most certainly what the author is implying. At no time was there any substantiated evidence that Michael Mann faked his research, but the author has given him or herself a back door to claim that he or she never actually accused Mann of fake research either.
  • There are no facts presented indicating what might have been fraudulent about Mann's work, no details at all. 
  • The article doesn't specify what documentation the university was being sued for. If you know anything about the way scientific research is presented, you'll know that any study that the author conducted would have been thoroughly documented and peer reviewed, his data painstakingly poured over by many, many people. So you have to wonder what, exactly, the university could have been hiding.
  • There's a really tiny snippet of the ACLU letter, again not directly sited, making me have to search around to find the letter to even verify that it existed. The tiny snippet implies that the ACLU is using "novel methodological approaches" as a euphemism for making up data, which, if you read just a tiny bit more of the paragraph in which the sentence resides, it is clearly not.
  • What's the paragraph about the history paper at Vanderbilt got to do with the price of fish? What's it doing in the article? Why isn't specific information sited there either? How is an allegation of fraud at another university in an entirely different academic discipline evidence that Michael Mann committed fraud?
  • Holy crap, the nature of scientific inquiry has changed a lot since the ancient Egyptians. I don't... I don't even know where to begin on this one. And is he claiming Galileo invented the telescope? Because he didn't. Does he even know what Galileo did do? Also, most people who know a lot about history and science know that there's a chance the Ben Franklin kite flying story is apocryphal, and that it's a fact he wasn't the first to do it (was the first to suggest it, however). So the blatant untruth about scientific inquiry not changing and the squishiness of the other examples might indicate the author doesn't know a whole lot about science or history. 
So the fact is that allegations of fraud by Michael Mann were never really substantiated. He was cleared of all wrongdoing. The university was being sued for documentation related to some government grants. The ACLU's stance was that the demand for the documentation was a baseless fishing expedition, and that there was no credible evidence of fraud. The judge who blocked the subpoena thought so too. Plus there was other stuff, but from here, you're on your own. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you do a good job taking the article apart. However, I'd like to add one observation.

"The nature of scientific inquiry has always been the same."

Nothing ever stays the same, and any attempt to argue such a thing is fundamentally ahistorical. History is the examination of change over time. If something has never changed; never developed its not a part of history. That said all human experience has undergone change over time, including the nature of scientific inquiry.

(Not to mention, who begins a sentence with a conjunction and expects to come up with a compelling argument.)