Aetogate continues…

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My prediction yesterday held true…and sooner than expected. The latest comes from today’s issue of the ABQ journal (sit through the commercial to read the article).

Before I go on, I would like to extend kudos to ABQ journalist John Fleck for keeping this story alive and in the public eye.

Let’s take a closer look at this, shall we?

In response to the backlash the entire state has received for essentially stonewalling the complaints of Jeff Martz and Bill Parker, the Dept. of Cultural Affairs chief, Stuart Ashman, has decided to re-review the matter.

That’s good.

Ashman, nor anyone else on the committee thought it necessary to inform the scientists who made the complaints in the first place, that this review was going on. Yet they did give Dr. Lucas a chance to defend himself.

That’s bad.

In order to be impartial, the Dept has sought the opinions of researchers outside the NMMNHS and even outside of the state itself.

That’s good.

However, these outside researchers are known friends of Spencer Lucas. We’re not just talking about the occasional coauthor here (not that 65 coauthored publications could be considered “occasional”). The folks brought in to provide an impartial view (Norman Silberling, and Orin Anderson) have both had publications dedicated to them. Silberling has even made it clear that he is an admirer of Lucas’s work.

That’s bad.

According to the ABQ journal article, the results of this inquiry will be made publicly available on March 3rd.

That’s good.

March 3rd also happens to be the last day of my 30 days challenge.

Um, that’s also good; but totally irrelevant, so let’s move on.

Norman Silberling wrote a letter to Mr. Ashman, that attempted to exonerate Dr. Lucas three days before the review panel’s meeting.

That’s bad.

Thus ends my little Simpsons parody. Things are pretty much bad, from here on out.

As mentioned above, Silberling wrote a letter to Stuart Ashman, about this whole mess. I recommend that folks interested in the whole Aetogate drama, read what Silberling wrote.

The letter starts off well enough. Silberling provides full disclosure, stating that he has worked in collaboration with Dr. Lucas on many occasions. He also states that he was the subject of a NMMNHS bulletin dedication, and that he is an admirer of Dr. Lucas’s work.

Silberling then goes on to explain why the two cases of plagiarism brought on Lucas (technically there are 3) are not valid, and could be construed as a misunderstanding between all parties. This is just fine. Norman Silberling goes on to cite specific examples and counter examples. This is exactly what we are looking for; an actual meaty review.

Silberling doesn’t cover everything though. He doesn’t explain why Lucas, who had publicly voiced his disagreement over the naming of a new species of aetosaur from particular fossil material, would have a sudden change of heart right around the time that Bill Parker was going to publish his paper on the animal. It’s also interesting to note that Norman Silberling’s defense of Lucas, was that Bill Parker never got express permission from Dr. Lucas, to publish on a specimen that was under his curatorial care. The irony of this comes from the fact that Lucas himself did this.

So if Parker is guilty of publishing on a specimen without permission from the museum, the Lucas is just as guilty for doing the same thing with the Polish specimen.

From here the letter goes downhill. At this point, Silberling seems to have felt that it was important to then attack the folks accusing Lucas of malfeasance in the first place.

And by attack, I mean ad hominem attacks. Martz, Parker and Naish are all referred to as unemployed, or under-employed individuals that are just jealous of Lucas’s accomplishments. Silberling goes so far as to suggest that the reviewers attempt to get Bill Parker reprimanded/fired from his current position at Petrified National Forest.

Silberling also mentions how the in-house review process is just as competent as, say the Bulletin of the AMNH. I can’t really speak for the latter, as I’m not aware of how the review process works there, but I’d find it hard to believe that other institutions would go so far as to stick in ghost reviewers on publications (7th comment down).

Silberling argues that it is okay to have friends of the author review their work, since they would have a vested interest in not seeing the author do “something dumb.” That’s all fine and good if one is trying to reduce typos and methodological errors, but if it’s a scientific paper, then I believe it would be more prudent to make sure that the science itself, is sound. Unless the NMMNHS is employing paleontologists who cover every aspect of Triassic paleontology, then I don’t see how passing a paper around to the local folks to review, could be considered valid.

From the ABQ journal article:

Silberling, in a telephone interview Friday from his Colorado home, dismissed questions about his ability to be impartial.
“This was in no way a jury trial, so there’s no way friends of Spencer and people who have been with him shouldn’t comment,” Silberling said.

It’s all fine and good to comment on what is going on, but it’s completely different to act as a reviewer in a case against a friend. It’s the same reason why lawyers and police officers are refrained from working on cases involving friends and family. When one is too close to the subject, it is harder to maintain objectivity. If Norman Silberling wants to cheer in Lucas’s corner, then he should have the right to do so.

But he shouldn’t be “on the jury,” when it comes to the actual case.

Let me wrap this all up by just saying that this isn’t a witch hunt. To some it might look that way, especially when the NM folks throw everyone a bone, and then get castigated for it. No one is upset that the reviewers haven’t found Lucas and co. guilty. The complaints arise from the fact that no one has actually given this situation a fair trial. The case against Lucas has been dismissed once already, with no reason given. Now with this re-review showing heavy signs of bias already, we’re all just a little worried that history might repeat itself.

Needless to say, we are all looking forward to March 3rd’s report.


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