On science blogs this week: Worlds collide

ClimateGate, a PR disaster for climate scientists. Darwin was a racist? Facilitating bogus communication for the coma guy. And joy, for a change, in particle physics.


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WEATHER OR NOT: They're calling it ClimateGate, which means it is now officially a Major Flap. "It" being, of course, the server hack at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia last week. The result was public release of hundreds of climate scientist emails, some of them seeming to suggest — this is disputed — manipulation of data. Assorted journalists in assorted MSM will tell you all about it, but it was the bloggers who wrote up a storm. A brief sampling:

The Great Beyond summarizes recent news about ClimateGate.

So does Science Insider. RealClimate ("Climate science from climate scientists") undertakes extensive background and what it calls "context." More than a thousand comments. Part 1 here. Part 2 here.

Olive Heffernan of Climate Feedback summarizes responses from the Climate Research Unit folks. Chris Mooney at The Intersection tells us "Why 'ClimateGate' Ain't Nothing." "[A] nasty, ugly sideshow," he says, but not relevant to today's climate issues. Judy Curry, a climate modeler not connected with the fracas, bemoans the damage to public credibility of climate research, and other matters, at length on Climate Audit. Many comments.

Believe it or not, there's even comic relief to be had at The Dailymash: Climate Change Emails Stop Glaciers from Melting.

David Kane at Gene Expression views the mess from quite a different discipline and concludes with astonishing smugness:

In the spirit of (United States) Thanksgiving, I am thankful that the human genetics community seems to have a much broader diversity of opinion and greater committment to transparency and reproducible research than the climate science community.
Is this his idea of a joke? If not, I will wager at least 50 cents that Kane will have to eat his incautious words one of these days.

TOTAL IMMERSION: For deeper background on climate change, David Archer, geophysicist at the University of Chicago, reports on RealClimate that he has just posted videos of his current undergrad class on global warming. It's part of the core curriculum for non-science majors and just one more example of the 'Net's casual free treasures.

DARWINIANA: Surprisingly little celebration over the 150th anniversary of publication of The Origin of Species last Tuesday. Perhaps there's not much left to say after so many months of this Darwinian year? Or, rather, not much cheerful to say. Nice that T. Ryan Gregory at Genomicron published his collection of 19th century Darwin caricatures, although I thought them surprisingly unfunny. Or maybe I'm just depressed about how prevalent those 150 year-old views still are.

And Andrew Moseman at Discoblog calls a Time Q&A about Darwin the worst science article of the week. He trashes the subject, author Rufus Sewell, for claiming that Darwin's ideas serve sinister political ends like the eugenics movement. (I'm pretty sure the fomenters of that destructive notion were Herbert Spencer and Francis Galton, actually.)

THE REST IS SILENCE. To me the best candidate(s) for the worst article(s) of the week were some of those — in Der Spiegel, the AP, on the BBC, and elsewhere — about Rom Houben, a 46 year-old Belgian man who was supposed to be in a persistent vegetative state for 23 years but miraculously turned out to be neurologically intact and screaming silently to communicate with the world.

A number of quite respectable blog sources also accepted this improbable tale uncritically. See, for example, blogging by Celeste Biever, New Scientist biomedical news editor, at Short Sharp Science, and Emily Singer at the Technology Review editors blog.

Steven Novella, a neurologist, examined the case at Science-Based Medicine. He's cautious about pronouncing on the patient's state of consciousness, pointing out that facts are thin. But he's emphatic that videos showing Houben recounting his ordeal via typing are really showing one more example of bogus, discredited "facilitated communication," where it's the facilitator doing the communicating, not the patient. Brandon Keim at Wired Science gives voice to skeptics too, and also background on the sad history of facilitated communication.

Novella also has a word for science writers:

...this case stands as a cautionary tale — mostly about the dangers of the media discussing the implications of a story before the facts have been verified.
To which my first response is "Duh. Science writing 101." OTOH, there seem to be a lot of writers out there who don't get it.

PARTICLES: For a complete change of pace, and some unbridled joy, particle physics was the place to be this week. On Monday morning, grad student Regina Caputo at the US LHC blogged anxiously about the long-awaited startup at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. Reviewing how chastening the LHC disappointments had been, she mused:

After all the roller coaster that was 2008 and most of 2009, I'm back refreshing webpages every 2 seconds, but not as doe-eyed as before. Things never go as well as you hope, especially not cutting-edge machines.
Then, at 3:02pm, words failed her. She simply posted graphics of the first collision.

Excuse me, I mean First Candidate Collision Event. Science writers may do it, but you won't catch physicists discussing the implications of a story before the facts have been verified!

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