SLAPP Alert: Professor Sues Another For Defamation Over Competing Academic Papers

from the defamation-law-as-a-weapon dept

One of the important elements of the First Amendment, and its protections of opinion, is that it opens up all kinds of debates -- from the political to the scientific. Indeed, the very nature of scientific research in academia is one of constant debate between researchers with different viewpoints. This has gone on for centuries. And, yet, it appears that at least one scientist has apparently decided that the standard nature of scientific debate is now defamatory. He's almost certainly wrong, but the details of this case are disturbing. Stanford professor Mark Jacobson apparently was less than happy to see criticism from another scientist, Christopher Clack. Rather than just respond with another paper, Jacobson has sued Clack and the National Academy of Sciences for defamation in the Superior Court in Washington DC (more on that in a moment).

The complaint is worth reading as it lays out the path to this dispute in a pretty straightforward way. Jacobson and some other authors published an article in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in late 2015. Early in 2016, Clack communicated with Jacobson via phone and email to better understand some of the assumptions in the original paper. Clack (and others) then published a "rebuttal" article (also in PNAS) to Jacobson's original article. Jacobson, from the complaint, appears to be upset that Clack never requested "a time series of model output from the Jacobson Article" or any information other than what was discussed via phone and email in early 2016.

Upon being notified by PNAS of Clack's rebuttal article, and being asked if he'd liked to respond in a letter that PNAS would also publish, Jacobson claimed that Clack's paper had 30 false statements and "five materially misleading statements," and asked PNAS to withdraw the article. PNAS's deputy executive editor responded to ask if he could send Clack and his co-author's Jacobson's concerns, leading Jacobson to write a "slightly updated" list of grievances and specifically asked PNAS to forward them to Clack and the others. For whatever reason PNAS chose not to do so which is its right. There was some more back and forth before Jacobson realized that his list of complaints had not been forwarded, which seems to have greatly upset Jacobson (all the bold is directly from the complaint itself):

On May 5, 2017, in the face of NAS's decision to publish the uncorrected version of the Clack Article in PNAS, Dr. Jacobson against contacted Mr. Salsbury and sent yet another document regarding the requested corrections, this time pointing out the errors line-by-line. Exhibit 9. Mr. Salsbury replied to Dr. Jacobson later that same day, stating, "We discussed your recent emails with the Editor-in-Chief and have sent your critique received today to the authors this morning. We provided your previous response to a Board member who took it into consideration during the two rounds of revisions since you last saw the manuscript. The Board member did not to (sic) send your response directly to the authors at that time." ... Thus, for two months NAS led Dr. Jacobson to believe that NAS had forwarded his list of requested corrections of false and misleading statements to the authors of the Clark Article when in fact it had not.

And, I mean... so what? Just because Jacobson doesn't like Clack's article, or thinks there are errors in it, it doesn't magically give him control over the editorial process of PNAS. That's just not how it works. However, Jacobson appears to be arguing that only his version of things can be true and the disagreement is defamatory. That's also not how it works. Scientific debate often involves different interpretations and different opinions. And sometimes people get things wrong or sometimes they portray things in a misleading way. But none of that is defamation.

Indeed, Jacobson admits that once Clack and the others had seen his 35 complaints, some more changes were then made to the article (though minor ones that only addressed a few small points). However, once again, the First Amendment absolutely allows people to be wrong. Or to disagree over certain items. That's kind of the hallmark of academic debate.

There are a number of other just... weird... arguments in the complaint, which itself reads like an airing of grievances, rather than a typical defamation complaint. As Jonathan Adler notes:

Jacobson claims the NAS violated its conflict-of-interest disclosure policies by failing to note that some of the contributors to the Clack, et al., paper are “advocates” for various policy positions.  Yet Jacobson’s own paper doesn’t list his own policy advocacy as a potential conflict of interest either.

Throughout the filing Jacobson seems to insist that there are certain standards that Clack and PNAS must follow, despite no actual basis for them to have followed those standards. As another example of this, Jacobson's complaint spends a fairly ridiculous amount of space arguing that Clack's article should not have been published as an "Article" but as a "Letter." Here's just one paragraph of a many paragraphs-long complaint about this point:

The Clack Article does not contain "results of original research of exceptional importance," and, therefore, is not a "Research Report." Not only did none of the Clack Authors request output data from the Jacobson Article, the most fundamental first step in performing research on another scientific study, until three weeks after publication of the Clack Article, and not only did the Clack Article contain numerous false facts that the authors and NAS were aware of and never corrected, but the Clack Article is also in the nature of "comments that allow readers... to address a difference of opinion with authors of a recent PNAS article." Exhibit 1 at p. 1 (describing a "Letter").

Again: just because Jacobson wrote an earlier piece, it doesn't magically give him the power to dictate someone else's publication criteria. Jacobson really seems to think he gets to set the terms by which others can respond to him and how the journal he published in handles those responses. That's not how it works. And who knows: I'm willing to grant the premise that perhaps Jacobson is 100% right about Clack's article being terrible. But, that doesn't matter. That doesn't magically give you the power to demand these kinds of things and then sue over it.

Incredibly, a few paragraphs later, Jacobson more or less undermines the entire line of arguments and in the process any hope for the defamation claim:

As noted supra, "Letters" are limited to 500 words and 10 citations, and they must be submitted within six months of publication of the article to which they respond.... The Clack Article failed to meet these criteria. It is significantly more than 500 words in length. The article itself is six pages long, single-spaced and includes a 13-page, single-spaced Supporting Information, which is not allowed with a Letter. With 27 citations in the main text alone, the Clack Article far exceeds the 10-citation limit for a Letter. Finally, the Clack Article was not submitted for review until June 26, 2016, missing the six-month deadline for letter submissions by almost three weeks. Even if NAS had overlooked the lateness of the Clack submission, it should not have ignored the remaining criteria for Letter submissions.

So, uh, that's kind of a weird paragraph to include in the part where you insist Clack's article should have been a letter, since Jacobson just explained why maybe it wasn't a letter at all. And, hey, the 27 citations? That certainly suggests that Clack's article is full of the citations on which he based his conclusions, which would suggest that Clack provided the factual basis for the interpretation presented. Multiple defamation cases have failed when the defendant has shown that they provided the factual basis. Jacobson here seems to be admitting that Clack showed his work, which strongly cuts against defamation.

Another complaint by Jacobson: how dare PNAS allow all 21 authors that Clack listed be included as co-authors:

The fact that NAS permitted the Clack Article to list all twenty-one co-authors, eighteen of whom admit not to having performed research, instead of only the three who "contributed substantially" to the work is another violation by NAS of its own policy for PNAS publications.

Right. So complain to PNAS for not following its policies. Don't sue them.

As for the "materially false statements," at best they look like disagreements, or possibly accidental mistakes in interpreting Jacobson's report. Jacobson makes a lot of fuss over the fact that in the email conversation he and Clack had a year earlier, he had responded to one of Clack's questions and Clack either forgot or ignored this in the article. But, it's hard to see how this reaches even the most fundamental levels of defamation.

Basically, all of this just looks like Jacobson is really mad. And maybe he's right to be mad. But that doesn't give you the right to sue.

This seems like a very clear SLAPP suit, in which the intent is to stifle public discourse and scientific debate. And that takes us to the question of why file this in Washington DC when Jacobson is based in California and Clack is in Colorado. It's true that NAS is in DC, but it also seems likely that this is fallout from another defamation lawsuit involving climate scientists -- the one that climate scientist Michael Mann filed against some publications, reporters and think tankers over their criticism of his research. Late last year (after more than four years in the courts), the District of Columbia Court of Appeals gave a very troubling ruling in that case, going against a ton of precedent concerning the First Amendment, protected opinion and anti-SLAPP rules.

And, thus, DC has apparently become a "good" venue for filing dubious defamation SLAPP suits concerning scientific disputes.

The whole situation is unfortunate and remarkable. It's no secret that academic disputes can get nasty, but filing a defamation lawsuit, demanding $10 million, just because you don't like a response to your own research is, simply, ridiculous. As Michael Shellenberger wrote in discussing this lawsuit, this move is bad for science:

Scientists and energy analysts should not be intimidated. We must stand up to bullies. We urge all lovers of nature and science to join us in denouncing this unprecedented and appalling attack on free inquiry.

I will add, finally, that this lawsuit saddens me personally. I debated Jacobson at UCLA and I believe he is a good person in the grip of a bad idea. I encourage him to drop the lawsuit.

Once again, this kind of thing is yet another reminder of the need for a federal anti-SLAPP law. There was talk of one being introduced in Congress earlier this year, but to date it has not appeared. As more and more of these kinds of cases pile up, the lack of a federal anti-SLAPP law to stop these kinds of silly lawsuits is glaring.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 5:25am

    "What do you mean my submission is refused?"

    As Michael Shellenberger wrote in discussing this lawsuit, this move is bad for science:

    Science, and one petulant researcher I'd say.

    Were I in PNAS' shoes one of the first responses, win or lose in the lawsuit would be to inform Jacobson that while past contributions were appreciated from here on out if he wants to publish he's going to be doing it through another venue, as he's demonstrated that it is simply too risky to have anything to do with him.

    When he owns PNAS and is in a position of editorial control, then he can dictate how they operate. Until then demanding that they must act according to his desires and demands is more than a little childish, and hopefully the court benchslaps him down hard for it.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:25am

    "Scientists and energy analysts should not be intimidated. We must stand up to bullies. We urge all lovers of nature and science to join us in denouncing this unprecedented and appalling attack on free inquiry."

    Agreed. Scientists that disagreed with the current climate change thinking were also intimidated and bullied. No one seems to have a problem with that one though. I guess only if it supports your agenda.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:47am

      Re:

      "Agreed. Scientists that disagreed with the current climate change thinking were also intimidated and bullied"

      Well if i stand up and claim something far from facts and evidence just because i want to earn money, then i deserve the scorn and jokes.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 7:02am

        Re: Re:

        It's not just that, but the desire to find evidence supporting your theories that can also lead to you "not intentially" ignoring oppositional evidence or overplaying the evidence that is in your favor.

        This is why external review is so necessary and why government funding needs to die or be required to match funding for people in opposition. But because climate change is now politicized, I can no longer believe either side of the isle.

        As a "climate denier", I don't have a problem believing that mankind has caused effects on the climate, I am certain that part is likely true. My problem is the claims to the degree that mankind has truly had an effect and which direction they have affected climate the most. That still does not even get to the issue of why in the fuck we are giving politicians an excuse to wrap the problem up into a money & power solution. It's beyond irresponsible and stupid and anti-science in the extreme, turning the entire discipline into a Religion... the "Church of Pseudoscience for the Political Advancement of Idiocy!"

        ~COPFTPAOI

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 7:32am

          Re: Re: Re:

          At this point, being a "climate denier" is roughly equivalent to being a "gravity denier" or an "evolution denier" or a "heliocentric solar system denier".

          Signed, an actual real live scientist with multiple degrees and a copy of the 2017 CSSR report on his desk.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 7:58am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You could have a Doctorate in every applied science in the world and be 100% wrong on everything.

            I work in IT where plenty of well certified and very experienced people still make rookies mistakes, have and spread bad information or ideas and still fail. You are no different. You are just another human with enough hubris to make you blind to your ignorance.

            When you put climate change and evolution as proven as gravity is, then you only make it clear you are more about political religious Pseudo than the pure Science sir!

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 8:21am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              So, it's entirely possible that you're wrong about everything?

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 8:24am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                lol... of course. The difference is that I can accept that I might be wrong on something technical. Most other's cannot, which is what causes that put the people that disagree with me in jail problem.

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 8:34am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  I don't think you'll find many here that think climate deniers should be jailed or punished in any fashion, just ignored when they use faulty methods, debunked studies, or do nothing but nay-say without any counter analysis that doesn't ignore a ton of the evidence.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 10:19am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              When you put climate change and evolution as proven as gravity is

              Actually climate change is better proven than gravity. Physicists are still not sure about the origins of gravity, but Climatologists have pinpointed the origins, causes and effects of climate change with a very high degree of certainty (except to those who choose to ignore evidence they can't understand and conclusions that conflict with their preconceptions).

              Signed, a different scientist.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 10:36am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                The theory of gravity ... is just a theory.

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                • icon
                  Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 10:52am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  We know that gravity exists, the theories are about the how and why of its existence. That we don't know enough, yet, to say conclusively what the answers are is something that really badly pisses off people who think they know something.

                  The problem with this is that it is belief rather than proof.

                  This lends credence to the AC below who states that the argument about the causes of climate change is a smokescreen for the argument about who will pay for whatever solutions are attempted.

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 1:31pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  That statement alone just scientifically proves how stupid you are.

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 1:56pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Gravity has been proven, therefor it is a law NOT a theory.

                  But there are certain area's around gravity that are still theory since gravity is not a fully understood phenomenon despite having been proven.

                  Your ignorance is showing.

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                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 2:32pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    1. "gravity has been proven" is both meaningless and false.

                    2. You clearly do not know the difference between a "law" and a "theory". I suggest remedial reading on the fundamentals of science.

                    3. "there are certain area's [sic] around gravity that are still theory" is wrong. There are certain aspects of gravity that are not even associated with a viable theory, at least not yet. And as I pointed out earlier, serious consideration has been given to the idea that there's no such thing as gravity. Yes, that's a rather bizarre concept, but then again so is quantum entanglement.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 10:47am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Here's an interesting data point for you.

              We (that is: scientists) understand the mechanisms of evolution and AGW far better than we do those of gravity -- even though we've known about gravity for centuries longer.

              Oh, not that we know everything there is to know about the first two: we don't. But they're both settled science at this point and anyone who rejects them is being disingenuous and foolish. Or, as we've often seen, is being well-paid by religious fanatics/fossil fuel companies to lie on their behalf.

              But gravity -- well, gravity has some problems. They show up when we look at the universe at large scale and they are very puzzling indeed. There are various competing theories to explain these anomalies: dark matter, dark energy, dark matter AND dark energy, modified gravitational force at extragalactic scale, or -- and this is the really disturbing one -- maybe gravity doesn't exist. (That last one is an idea advanced by Erik Verlinde, who has some serious credentials.)

              That's why I put "gravity" on the list. Most people who don't understand a lot about science presume that it was all settled with Newton's theory of universal gravitation. Those who know a little more are aware that Einstein's theory of general relativity included a refinement to our understanding. But precious few know that the best expression of our current understanding of gravity might be "WTF?!"

              Meanwhile, we're well past arguing about evolution and AGW, except for the (myriad) details. Nobody's going to take you seriously, and nobody should, unless you can put forth convincing evidence and solid arguments that show why the entire global scientific community is wrong and you're right. So I invite you to publish your research in a peer-reviewed journal. Make your case. If you can really, really show that either of these are wrong, then you will undoubtedly win a Nobel Prize for your work.

              Good luck.

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              • icon
                Richard (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:31am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                We (that is: scientists) understand the mechanisms of evolution and AGW far better than we do those of gravity

                This is flat out incorrect!

                Put simply when you say you "understand" the mechanisms of evolution etc what you mean is that you have (at best) reduced the complexities of a biological system to Physics. Gravity is part of that physics. So if you don't understand gravity then by definition you don't understand evolution etc either!

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:43am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Thank you, non-scientist, for trying to explain to the scientist how science works.

                  Let me respond to your attempt by quoting Enrico Fermi: "That is not even good enough to be wrong".

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                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 1:13pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    You are no scientist, you are a fraud acting like one.

                    Had you read what I wrote you would have applied your scientist brain and understood what was said.

                    "When you put climate change and evolution as proven as gravity is"

                    Proven and Understood are two different things. Do you expect anyone to take you seriously as a Scientist for making this obtuse mistake? You obviously do not follow the scientific model, you follow the Church of Pseudoscience!

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                  • icon
                    Richard (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 1:36pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    Thank you, non-scientist,

                    I have a PhD in Theoretical Physics and publications in major Physics and Computer Science journals.

                    I am not a "non-scientist"

                    Would you like to explain exactly what you disagree with?

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                  • icon
                    Richard (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 1:47pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    Let me respond to your attempt by quoting Enrico Fermi: "That is not even good enough to be wrong".

                    and your comment is even worse - given that the quote in question is generally attributed to Pauli not Fermi.

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                • icon
                  PaulT (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 12:07pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 12:17pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    Spiritualists would say they have it all over the rest of that group, and are way, way, way to the right (over the horizon, so to speak) on that chart. :-)

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                    • icon
                      Richard (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 1:40pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      Spiritualists would say they have it all over the rest of that group, and are way, way, way to the right (over the horizon, so to speak) on that chart. :-)

                      and they would be wrong....

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                      • icon
                        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 5:53pm

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                        Being a non spiritualist I would agree. Then again anyone, scientist or not, saying that they actually understood everything that exists in this universe would also be wrong.

                        For example, please tell us, definitively, how many universes there are. At the same time, tell us how many dimensions there are. I have heard a number of discussions from learned persons that have significantly diverse answers to these questions.

                        To say that one knows x about what we know today with the caveat that they understand that there are things we do not yet know, gains my respect. To say that one knows everything about some subject, gets my derision.

                        Scientist know what can be proven today, until a different proof is provided. History tells us about many instances of 'known' things that are later disproved. I long for the day that science actually knows, but I do not expect it in what remains of my lifetime, which isn't that long, and wouldn't be even if I was young.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 7:59am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I would like to add... you sound like one of those scientist that would have laughed at Ford, Tesla, or Eli.

            I think you should tap the brakes just a smidgen.

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            • identicon
              David, 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:32am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Sounds like you are confusing science and technology. Science is looking at things, not making things.

              If thousands fail at making something and one succeeds, the one is the winner. If thousands observe a thing and one doesn't, the one is the loser.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:41am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "Science is looking at things, not making things."

                Science is not just looking, it is end to end sir. Science is simply the search for and application of knowledge guided by a set of principles designed to reduce the number of mistakes/errors or false positives/misinformation as possible.

                I think this quote says it best!

                "I Have Gotten a Lot of Results! I Know Several Thousand Things That Won’t Work"

                ~Attributed to many scientists. But Thomas Edison may be the most common.

                But yes, we all too often end to award people based on luck more than the actual work. But there is also a purpose behind that system as well... because there is a hope, probably no a very good scientific one that if they had success here, perhaps their methods are more likely to produce success there so lets bet on them instead of the other guy with more losses.

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    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 7:33am

      Re:

      I think you'll find that the scientists who have been "bullied" in such a manner were either paid off by fossil fuel companies to present false evidence, were woefully lacking in evidence for their own claims or who had extremely poor methodology (possible as a result of the former). Either that, or they're trying to argue long-debunked conspiracy theories well outside their field of expertise.

      You are, of course, welcome to present your evidence to the contrary. But, it's my experience that the people who disbelieve in the reality of climate change are either known liars or have been duped by known liars... and, yes, liars are generally "bullied" out of the scientific community. Sadly, they often find well-paid positions among those whose profits depend on scientific ignorance.

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      • icon
        Richard (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 8:10am

        Re: Re:

        welcome to present your evidence to the contrary. But, it's my experience that the people who disbelieve in the reality of climate change are either known liars or have been duped by known liars..

        Believing in the reality of climate change is not a "single thing".

        Whilst only liars and dupes will deny the whole thing, there is plenty of room for differences of opinion about the detail and the long term prognosis.

        Unfortunately some of the more "virulent" environmentalists take the line that anyone who doesn't agree with any particular point that they make is a flat out "denier".

        One also has to be careful about non-experts who cite "the overwhelming opinions of scientists" because scientists (and those who fund them) are heavily influenced by trends and once climate change became the prevailing orthodoxy there was a tendency not to do research or even to conceal data that might contradict it.

        Ironically in the early days of the issue exactly the same forces worked in the opposite direction.

        I am not an expert on this issue but I am a scientist who has published in major journals in Physics and Computer Science and I have seen enough over the years to know a scientific bandwagon when I see one!

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 8:54am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The problem is if you argue any of the issues, then you are branded a liar or dupe.

          I agree, the scientists are right about what is causing the problem. The problem I have is that scientists are not economists. What should be done is what is up for debate. Who pays is up for debate. Who and when it gets paid for is up for debate.

          You say we are causing global warming, I agree, now what? Some say get off oil and gas, I say stop building near the ocean.

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          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:24am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "The problem is if you argue any of the issues, then you are branded a liar or dupe."

            No, if you come up with well-reasoned, well-supported arguments that haven't been debunked many, many times then you get listen to I think. The problem is that these are generally in low supply.

            "You say we are causing global warming, I agree, now what? Some say get off oil and gas, I say stop building near the ocean."

            Well, there's your problem. While there is some merit in not depending on the coastal areas of the worlds, there are many reasons why human civilisation has congregated in these areas for millenia. Even if those reasons are not all totally relevant in the modern era, the vast majority of the major economic and financial centres of the world are locted in those areas.

            On the other hand, the have been vast improvements in renewable energy technology over the last few decades, every country in the world (apart from the US) is committing to ongoing investment in these areas and coming up with real solutions to stop dependence on fossil fuels (which has political and economic as well as environmental positives). This is not only going to be easier to achieve in the medium term, but does not depend on displacing populations and.or their economies in the meantime.

            Unless you can come up with a good reason why the former really is better, it does sound like a no-go, even if it would be better if humanity wasn't all on the coast.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:04am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If this -- "don't build near the ocean" -- is truly the extent of your understanding, then not only are you wildly wrong, but you are tremendously uninformed on this topic. Perhaps it's escaped your notice, but global warming is not confined to "near the ocean".

            As background reading -- and both of these are consumable by scientifically/technically literate people -- I recommend:

            1. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, available via https://science2017.globalchange.gov/

            2. The Fifth IPCC Assessment Report, available via https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/

            Note that these together constitute several thousand pages of reading; however, I think this is necessary reading for anyone who wants to seriously discuss this topic. These documents represent the consensus of thousands of the world's climatologists (yes, really "thousands", read the introduction to the IPCC AR).

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            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 12:14pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              That did occur to me after I wrote my comment, but I thought I'd give him chance to respond.

              But, yes, while the majority of displacement and damage will be done to cities on the world's coasts, the effects of climate change will do a huge amount more than simply flood the houses within a mile or 2 of the ocean. The effects will be extremely harmful, even for those currently camped a thousands miles from any coast.

              It's like explaining to the wilfully dense that "global warming" doesn't simply mean everywhere will be a little warmer (hell, most of them don't understand the first word of that term). They seem to lack the ability that we're just explaining the primary effect, not the end of the story.

              It's OK though, we don't need to continue the current trend of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, we just need to move New York, Tokyo and London further inland! That's so much more realistic, he you got those pesky scientists out of discussions about the science!

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 1:06pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Entirely agreed. One of the ways that I've attempted to explain this to non-scientists is to say that while we use the term "global warming" to describe the primary effect at planetary scale -- and it really is an accurate description -- that it can be helpful to think of it as "global climate weirdness".

                To explain: some places will get wetter. Some places will get dryer. Some places will see more intense transient rain events. Some places will get more snow. Some places will see fewer tropical cyclones. Thus when viewed at global scale, what we will see -- and already are seeing -- is that many small variances may become large ones. Relatively infrequent events may not be. And unprecedented events will happen.

                The repercussions of all of this are sweeping and difficult to predict, but "not good" covers most of them. And no matter where you are, they WILL impact you. This is not a circumstance you can relocate away from.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  PaulT (profile), 9 Nov 2017 @ 1:05am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  "One of the ways that I've attempted to explain this to non-scientists is to say that while we use the term "global warming" to describe the primary effect at planetary scale -- and it really is an accurate description -- that it can be helpful to think of it as "global climate weirdness"."

                  One of the issues with certain media outlets is that in trying to push the fossil fuel agenda, they have managed to convince a lot of people that any change in terminology is part of the "conspiracy". So, when people started using "climate change" instead of "global warming" because they got tired of explaining weather vs climate ("it was cold today so global warming isn't real") or the fact that climate isn't the same everywhere on the planet ("it's summer, of course it's warm!", forgetting that another hemisphere exists), the change in terminology was seen as backtracking. I suspect this could apply to your term to, depending on who you're addressing.

                  "This is not a circumstance you can relocate away from."

                  Indeed, yet one of the major effects will be population displacement as those directly affected by sea level rising attempt to do exactly that. It's dumb to suggest that humanity will effectively relocate far from the coast in any reasonable future timescale, it's even dumb to believe that this is the only action that should be taken rather than address fossil fuel usage now.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 9 Nov 2017 @ 4:21am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    I agree with you that changing terminology really doesn't help. It dilutes the message, even though it's a good-faith attempt to communicate it more clearly. We also have the habit of speaking/writing in a very reserved manner so as not to overstate the case, e.g., "building temperature is increasingly rapidly commensurate with a large-scale combustion event" instead of "IT'S ON FIRE RUN!" -- and while this self-restraint is understood within the scientific community, it isn't elsewhere.

                    Another problem is that human beings -- for the most part -- have a very poor understanding of probability and risk. Thus a statement like "global warming includes seasonal/regionalized increases in surface ocean temperature which in turn increases the probability of rapid intensification of tropical cyclones" -- which is correct -- gets misinterpreted as "all hurricanes will be worse". Which isn't true, and isn't what the statement says. But it fits into a sound bite, and unfortunately that is the extent of many attention spans.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:06am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Whilst only liars and dupes will deny the whole thing, there is plenty of room for differences of opinion about the detail and the long term prognosis."

          Of course there is. It's a complete scientific discipline with a huge range of factors and implications involved. There will probably never be complete agreement on every aspect, only a general consensus on the general trend. That's fine - Newtonian physics always had holes in it that caused lots of arguments and the occasional imperfect
          model, but we managed to get over that to create a couple of centuries' worth of innovation before Einstein came along to clean things up a bit. We didn't allow people to argue that because it didn't work perfectly then it should be ignored, as we do in the current political climate.

          But, I don't think that was what the AC was referring to. He was probably referring to some quack whose paper "proved" that man-made climate change wasn't real despite it not being his field of expertise, and the mockery he received as a result being held up as "proof" that it's all a conspiracy (see also: anti-vaxxers, etc.).

          I recently read a discussion where some people were holding up the fact that the ozone layer was healing more quickly than normal as some kind of proof that it was all a sham and we never needed to ban CFCs. Seriously, that's the level that we're dealing with a lot of the time.

          "Unfortunately some of the more "virulent" environmentalists take the line that anyone who doesn't agree with any particular point that they make is a flat out "denier"."

          Maybe, but those people deserve to be mocked and shunned as much as anyone who claims that the whole thing is a conspiracy to destroy US corporation profits. Most people, fortunately, are more reasonable.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Richard (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 1:59pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Actually my main complaint with the environmental lobby is that they spiked nuclear power in the 70's in most western countries. Only France continued with their programme and they got to 75% nuclear electricity generation.

            If the remainder of the western world had done the same then there would currently be a lot less CO2 in the atmosphere.

            The other point I would make is that we have no way of knowing how the earth's ecosystem will actually respond to the CO2.

            The range of scenarios goes from "we are already on an unstoppable course for a catastrophic runaway" to " feedback mechanisms will stabilise the climate at a point not much worse than where we are now".

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:08pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              What is your solution to dealing with spent nuclear fuel? I don't have an answer and it seems that no one else has an answer that works for everyone.

              Solar and wind seem to work (as do some other technologies), but those technologies are actually young and we don't know, as yet what the potential problems are. In the meantime I support those concepts. What do we do with dead batteries in a way that does not cause other types of pollution, or dead solar cells for that matter? How about wind turbines changing the climate in their area, is this bad, or not so bad? Etc..

              Eventually we will figure these things out, but continuing to contribute to the cycles of global climate change (which are natural to some degree) seems a poor solution. Creating potentially greater problems to solve another problem does not seem to be a positive change either.

              The question comes down to what do we know about what we 'know' and how dangerous is what we know, and in the light of not knowing everything, how dangerous is what we don't know yet? The answers do not exist today, nor will they tomorrow. In time, answers will come.

              Will those answers be too late? Will there be sufficient political capital to recognize those answers and act on them? Will the political capital be aligned with the actual answers or the answers some industry desires? How do we go about differentiating that difference?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 9 Nov 2017 @ 1:24am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "Actually my main complaint with the environmental lobby is that they spiked nuclear power in the 70's in most western countries. Only France continued with their programme and they got to 75% nuclear electricity generation."

              Many of the concerns raised were valid. There is an issue with waste disposal, there are safety and other concerns and there are dangers that do not apply to solar, wind, thermal and wave generated power.

              Plus, if you look at the data, it seems that the major downturn correlates with Chernobyl, not a specific action by lobbying groups.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_by_country#/media/File:Nuclear_Energy_by_Year.svg

              "If the remainder of the western world had done the same then there would currently be a lot less CO2 in the atmosphere."

              Perhaps, but you'd better believe that the fossil fuel lobbies would have been fighting them tooth and nail (if they weren't already behind the opposition you blame environmentalists for already).

              But, they weren't completely wrong. Nuclear power has a number of significant disadvantages both for the environment and safety. Designs have improved massively, but as politics and business were the primary drivers behind the problems at Fukushima and Chernobyl, who's to say those incidents would not be more frequent?

              I generally support nuclear power of fossils where appropriate, but you have to admit that compared to renewable energy it's clear where we should be focussing our efforts.

              "The other point I would make is that we have no way of knowing how the earth's ecosystem will actually respond to the CO2."

              Which is not an excuse to stand idle. We know the chemical properties of CO2, we know it's a major problem, we know that human industry is responsible for most of the excess currently in the atmosphere. If the worst that can happen is that we reduce CO2 back to pre-industrial levels but the planet would have dealt with the excess anyway, so be it. There's plenty of benefits for a cleaner environment that don't require doomsday scenarios.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Richard (profile), 20 Nov 2017 @ 6:52am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Plus, if you look at the data, it seems that the major downturn correlates with Chernobyl, not a specific action by lobbying groups.

                I looked at the data. What you are forgetting is that nuclear projects take many years to come to fruition.

                The decisions not to proceed with the projects that would have been built in the late 80's / early 90's would have been taken many years earlier.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  PaulT (profile), 20 Nov 2017 @ 7:39am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  "What you are forgetting is that nuclear projects take many years to come to fruition."

                  No, I'm not forgetting that. I just know some facts, which would include that massive public and political pressure following a major disaster have a way of making people take steps that would normally be considered unusual. For example, check these 2 articles:

                  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/30/has-chernobyl-disaster-affected-number- of-nuclear-plants-built

                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_Italy#1987_Referendum

                  Now, while other factors are mentioned as perhaps more significant (specifically increased regulation following Three Mile Island), you will have to go a long way to try and pretend that the closure of Italian power plants including the near-complete Montalto di Castro being closed due to a referendum called directly after Chernobyl was not due to that disaster.

                  It certainly seems far more logical that it was an immediate public and political response to a major international incident than to some wooly, unidentified sets of environmentalists in the 70s.

                  Feel free to provide your own citations, but lacking further evidence it seems very clear that the correlation between Chernobyl and decommissioning/cancelling new builds was not a coincidence in many cases.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:20am

      Re:

      Agreed. Scientists that disagreed with the current climate change thinking were also intimidated and bullied. No one seems to have a problem with that one though. I guess only if it supports your agenda.

      Um. You do realize that the "very troubling ruling" I talk about above is EXACTLY the scenario you're talking about: scientists trying to silence climate skeptics. So, yes, we do care about that too.

      While I think climate change deniers are completely wrong and deliberately clueless, I absolutely defend their right to make their ignorance known, and will speak out against any actual lawsuits against them. But, do note, that criticizing them for their ignorance is not the same as using the court system to silence them. My concern is with the abuse of the legal system, not people hurting your feelings by telling you you're wrong.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 12:04pm

      Re:

      The above exchange is strange - given that both protagonists here are firmly in the current conventional camp on this issue.

      It does also seem weird that it is Jacobson sueing Clack/NAS.

      Given their cv's I would have expected the reverse!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 8:03pm

      Re:

      With interest, I have gone through the various to and fro responses above.

      It should be noted that consensus is only a general agreement about some topic. Each of those affording to the consensus will still have differing views on the details. No problem here. There will also be those who strongly (or otherwise) disagree with the consensus view. Again no problem here.

      What tends to happen though is that many of the individuals involved will get up on their high-horse about their specific view in relation to the consensus (for or against). This high-horseness will then trend towards dogma.

      This happens across a lot of different fields in science, politics, sports, law, government, social, medicine, technology, etc., etc., etc.

      At this point in time, I have a big problem with both ends of the climate change debate. Both ends are being dogmatic or at least give the appearance of being dogmatic about their stance and are treating all others who disagree in part or hold different views as being intolerable.

      The basic thing to understand is that we know much less than we could about the entire subject. The politics and the dogma is getting in the road of careful study and experimentation in relation to the entire subject. Valid questions are being raised by many different people holding quite diverse views about the matter.

      Simple things like energy flows and processes are not being investigated - I know of only one study that has been documented that covers this area. We need to know much more. Until we do, we will have no means of knowing what (if any) mitigation efforts will actually be effective and what mitigation efforts will make the entire situation worse.

      To simply blame mankind as the sole or majority cause of climate change is as irresponsible as to deny that climate change occurs.

      I don't care how many climate scientists agree with the consensus, if they cannot answer questions put forward by other scientists or non-scientists then they are failing to be scientists. They care for the politics and not for the investigation.

      Part of a discussion with a variety of people in other fora has been the validity of the following statement:

      "All models are wrong, some of them are useful."

      As a part of that discussion, I was personally challenge to investigate specific matters that were under discussion. I have done so and I am continuing to do so. What is becoming very obvious is that, in every field, the above statement is a good starting point for continued investigations. The other obvious thing is that many who claim to be scientists are so set in their opinions of the specific views they hold that they are unable to stand back and take another look at the theories they hold to be "true".

      We are small-minded, short-lived, frail and ignorant. We also have a major tendency to hero worship some other small-minded, short-lived, frail and ignorant person or persons.

      We all need to stand back and realise that any of the ideas we come up with will fall short of ever fully understanding any aspect of the universe around us. The thing that is fun though, is that we can try.

      We are all different and insights and understanding can come from the least expert as well as the most expert within a field of study. There are no stupid questions, ever. If you can't answer a question, that is okay. Yet there are many "experts" in many fields that treat questions that challenge their models as being ignorant and not worth any effort to answer. They treat the questioner as a fool.

      Within both sides of the climate change debate, this is a pretty standard response. Just look at what has been said in the comments above.

      We have much to learn and we are limiting that learning by the lack of willingness to listen to one another, even if we don't agree. We don't want to be challenged in what we consider to be our "truths".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    The Wanderer (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:42am

    Letter vs. research report

    I think saying that Jacobson's comments about the article not meeting the standards for a Letter may be based on a misreading of his intent. I think it's possible to read those two parts of his argument as internally consistent, and indeed, related.

    The logic would roughly be:

    • The difference between a Research Report and a Letter is defined by its subject matter. (Assumption on my part, inferred from an assertion by Jacobson; I have not attempted to find a relevant source to look up any actual definitions.)

    • The subject matter of the Clack article was such that it would have to be treated as a Letter, rather than as a Research Report. (Assertion by Jacobson, quoted in this article.)

    • PNAS imposes certain constraints on Letters which it does not impose on Research Reports. (Implied assertion by Jacobson.)

    • PNAS failed to apply or enforce those constraints on the Clack article. (Assertion by Jacobson.)

    • Therefore PNAS failed to consistently apply its own policies in regard to this matter. (Conclusion, implied by the above.)

    That doesn't really seem to support, or indeed do much of anything for, a claim of defamation. Any wrongdoing it addresses seems to be entirely on the part of PNAS, and to have nothing to do with Clack; also, the failure to apply one's own policies itself does not seem to even occupy the same territory as anything which could be considered defamation.

    But it does seem internally consistent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:52am

      Re: Letter vs. research report

      He is using the courts... the absolute worst place to resolve scientific inquiry... he deserves no attention based on those merits.

      This is the other problem with humans, the desire to prove someone wrong so much that they cause more damage than any good they could possible do by "being correct".

      The proper course of action is to build upon his research with more and/or better evidence. Scientists often forget that it is not they that prove themselves right... but the rest of the community that duplicates the research and testing with the same or similar findings.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 6:45am

    Oh look! A democrat!

    "However, Jacobson appears to be arguing that only his version of things can be true and the disagreement is defamatory."

    Reminds me of the "put climate deniers in jail" bullshit! Waiting for the racist homophobic xenophobe cards to hit the table.

    "Scientists and energy analysts should not be intimidated. We must stand up to bullies. We urge all lovers of nature and science to join us in denouncing this unprecedented and appalling attack on free inquiry."

    This is the real meat of science... having an open and encouraging atmosphere of questions constantly challenging every idea that hits the table or vibrates through the air.

    Which is a real challenge for the "don't question me" folks that comprise just about every political group ever. But it is a bad thing that this is has been and still remains to be a problem in the scientific community.

    "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

    ~Max Planck

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 8:17am

      Re: Oh look! A democrat!

      Usually this kind of thing doesn't happen because the person being criticised is one of the reviewers for the later article.

      In that case the whole argument takes place behind closed doors and a much better paper results.

      If this didn't happen here then the NAS have made a mistake.

      Maybe, however, it did - in which case Jacoboson has already lost the argument with 2,3 or even 4 other reviewers and two or three journal editors or subeditors.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:32am

        Re: Re: Oh look! A democrat!

        "If this didn't happen here then the NAS have made a mistake."

        Agree, and now that the situation is surrounded by a bunch of lawyers we may never get the actual truth of what really happened.

        But I think part of the problem is also with the idea that NAS is being asked to also be a gate keeper to the knowledge or dissenting knowledge by taking them to court for a take-down.

        I would rather sift through loads of bullshit than have a pristine environment where only "approved" people get to have a say. I have see dumbasses and idiots propose good ideas and also ask very interesting questions that lead to a breakthrough.

        The only difference between me and a dumbass is that so far my track record shows that what I say will happen, does happen. I am no more immune OR prone to stupidity than a Doctorate regardless of field of study or application.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 7:54am

    Name that disease

    Is butt hurt actually defined in the DSM-5, and what do they call it? One or more of the characters in this story is in severe need of treatment for that name not known to me affliction. I also wonder what that treatment would be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:03am

      Re: Name that disease

      I would suggest a treatment involving a cattle prod and KY jelly

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:35am

        Re: Re: Name that disease

        naw... better to use electrolytic jelly designed for conductivity! KY is just a lube... unless you are talking about putting the prod in a shaded place... in which case... maybe we should just apply some sand and gravel for added effect?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:23am

    Liebnitz v Newton

    Liebnitz should have taken Newton to court over Principia. Given that they used different notations it would not have been for copyright violation, but this defamation thing is a possibility.

    One thing to note, though. The way people get added to papers now days has reached peak silliness. This is something that the scientific community should be trying to address, and it is a matter of discussion that continues to grow in volume. The idea of bringing this to court in a defamation suit is definitely taking things in a new direction.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:18am

      Re: Liebnitz v Newton

      Liebnitz should take nobody to court until he learns how to spell his own name.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 11:47am

      Re: Liebnitz v Newton

      Yes, the parade of authors approach is getting tiresome. (And I say that as an occasional participant in the parade.) But that's in part because the incentives are all wrong and in part because graduate students often do the heavy lifting while faculty take the bulk of the credit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2017 @ 9:33am

    Professor Mark Jacobson is a fucking idiot and a moron to boot. He's trying to dictate to PNAS what standards to follow?

    LOLS

    Just what kind of asshole is Jacobson? I run my own website and community and while I have rules for my community, I'm able to violate my own police because I OWN THE FUCKING WEBSITE. For someone to dictate my own policy to me is an offense.

    PNAS should just ban that idiot professor from their website.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 8 Nov 2017 @ 12:11pm

      Re:

      Mark Jacobson has a full tenured Professorship at Stanford.

      Generally speaking the processes that get people into that position screen out idiots and morons at an early stage.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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