Quote of the Week – rubbishing peer review

Here I am, minding my own business, looking at my local newspaper, and just reading what is happening locally. Then, out pops this profound quote of the week that is just gobsmacking.

The first line of the story starts out like this:

CHICO — A graduate student researching local rattlesnakes has something to prove, but he isn’t yet sure of what.

Sounds like some climate science RFC’s I’ve read. But wait, there’s more. Get a load of the punchline:

Like I said, gobsmacking. I have no desire to quash any study of rattlesnakes, but the sheer arrogance of the statement about publishing a scientific paper “even if it’s garbage” was just mind blowing. I hope Mr. Woodruff uses better judgement in the future. For now, I’ll just assign it to the youthful indiscretion file that I’m sure every one of us has.

Full story here.

I am reminded though, of the Seinfeld episode.

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July 19, 2011 5:36 pm

Yup, shocking attitude.
Oops on the grammar or spelling or both: “For now, I’ll just assign it to the youthful indiscretion file that I’m sure very one of us has.”
[Fixed, thanx. ~dbs]

July 19, 2011 5:38 pm

Is that what one calls a poisoned paper?
That could bite him unexpectedly.

July 19, 2011 5:38 pm

Incredible! Same goes for the video clip, thanks for that 🙂

July 19, 2011 5:40 pm

If he keeps up that attitude he’ll likely encounter more snakes than ladders as he goes through his career setbacks.

July 19, 2011 5:40 pm

Seems he has learned from the best. Sadly.

July 19, 2011 5:43 pm

Typo – change “very” to “every” [Done, thanks. ~dbs]
Love rattlesnakes! Always had to watch out for ’em in eastern Oregon near the Columbia River…

July 19, 2011 5:47 pm

If he’s really smart (or, depending on your point of view, really Machiavellian), he’ll come up with a way to cast his findings to say Government has to Do Something Right Now! Then he’ll get media attention and wind up a rich and successful politician.
Or, he can be honest, and then no one will ever notice him again.

Doug in Seattle
July 19, 2011 5:52 pm

Yup, the guy is now a bum!

July 19, 2011 5:56 pm

This sounds a lot like the elementary school “experiments” that my friends I used to do in our parents’ backyards and sheds (minus the possibility of lethal snakebites). Let’s mix these chemicals together and see if something interesting happens. It was often followed by bad smells, smoke, flames, chlorine gas, explosions or some combination thereof.
“So no matter what we did, even if it’s garbage, it’s educational.”
Seems like Mr. Woodruff needed to get this type of “science” out of his system about 15 years ago.
On a more serious note: if, as Mr. Woodruff conjectures, that the venom of snakes within a single species varied with locality, wouldn’t that render our current snake anti-venom serums ineffective? I’m not an expert on the subject, but I have not heard about any major problems with anti-venoms, except for a lack of available supply and allergic reactions.

July 19, 2011 5:57 pm

Only thing missing now is a parody about the show ‘Seinfeld’, replacing Seinfeld and Alexander with Schmidt and Hansen, having Hansen call Schmidt a bum for using Mann’s data (garbage).
I keep hoping to find a image of the two of them sitting in Tom’s Restaurant, pointing fingers at each other.
That would be choice.

July 19, 2011 6:05 pm

Well, he’s right.
Unfortunately, he has publicly expressed the universal private understanding of the Least Publishable Unit. And in science as in all other areas of modern life, telling the truth in public is the only sin.

July 19, 2011 6:09 pm

Don’t worry. He’ll soon be a hero when he publishes this: “Rattlesnake venom in Northern Pacific more potent due to Man-made Global Warming.” I’m taking bets…Anyone want to bet against this?

July 19, 2011 6:19 pm

He’s a kid. I’m pretty sure that if he thought about it, he didn’t mean exactly what the words said. In excitement I have mis-spoken before. What he may have meant was that this is a unique opportunity to study an isolated population. No matter what turns up, it should be interesting. If the venom is the same as all the other rattlesnakes then that’s interesting. If it’s different, then that’s interesting also.
Scientifically, that’s not the problem. The problem is that it’s not science. Most biology is not science. He’s just collecting and classifying.

July 19, 2011 6:20 pm

I think you’re all being a tad too harsh. His choice of words was poor, but his study is testing an hypothesis. So even if he doesn’t prove his hypothesis true (i.e. “garbage”), it should be published to demonstrate that it’s been tried.
Just because an experiment fails doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be published. Science should be advancing with the help of failures — maybe someone will notice a glitch and improve the process for another go-round.
Just my “non-scientist” two cents.

joshua Corning
July 19, 2011 6:20 pm

He is analyzing the venom of an isolated population of snakes. If there is a difference then it might be interesting…if it is not well then it is garbage…yet should he withhold his results?
I am failing to see how or why this statement is gobsmacking.
Negative or uninteresting results (garbage) is just as important for science as positive or interesting results.
Furthermore he is a graduate student. He needs to study something in order to demonstrate skill so he can graduate and get a job.

July 19, 2011 6:24 pm

He could measure the impact of global warming on the rattlesnake venom and be sure to be publishd. A scary scenario would be finding the local rattlesnakes to be unique and in need of being put on the endangered species list.

joshua Corning
July 19, 2011 6:29 pm

Actually the more i think about this the more i think Anthony at least in this case is not understanding how science works.
Didn’t Mann produce some garbage results with a statistical test which showed that his hockey stick lacked significance and then withheld it from his study and it was only later when Mcintyre found that undocumented and unpublished result on an ftp site?
Wouldn’t we have a better understanding if Mann had simply published that garbage?

July 19, 2011 6:36 pm

Perfect! This guy will go on the have a brilliant career in the Global Warming industry.

Christian Bultmann
July 19, 2011 6:41 pm

I see a bright future in the IPCC for him.

July 19, 2011 6:42 pm

Alan says:
July 19, 2011 at 6:20 pm
joshua Corning says:
July 19, 2011 at 6:20 pm
Glenn, if you don’t advance science, it’s not a waste to publish it. Saves other people wasting their time. Crap results can go in crap journals. I’ve done it.
On the other hand, you might find something really interesting. Think yourself lucky that you’re doing something no one else has done before. You’re in a very small minority. Take the opportunity and build on it.

Doubting Thomas
July 19, 2011 7:01 pm

R&D often depends on what someone once called a “perfect failure.” You absolutely fail to develop what you intended, but you find something better than you’d hoped for.
It might be that what is “wrong” with science-by-peer-reviewed-paper, is that known garbage doesn’t get published. We can’t learn from negative results if we don’t know about them.
Anyway, the days of American “science for the sake of science” seem to be numbered … we’re running up debt at a astonishing rate. We need the next generation nuclear plant, more than we need to know about subtle variations in the protein makeup of snake venom. Maybe more importantly, we need to break up the financial-scientific-medical-industrial super monopolies that suck the life blood out of our economy.

July 19, 2011 7:05 pm

Rather than assuming that the student is arrogant and boastful let us instead be charitable and hope that he is being a good scientist (in expecting to publish any results even if they prove any conjecture wrong) and a good critic (in correctly evaluating that the state of scientific publishing is sadly deficient).

Philip Peake
July 19, 2011 7:06 pm

Long long ago, in a faraway land, I went to University to get my degree. A degree in Computer Science, when that was a new and wonderful thing.
I met a Geology postgrad, doing his PhD thesis.
Over a few beers, he told me what he was doing to earn his PhD. He was writing this HUGE program (in Fortran — fail right there as far as I am concerned), to simulate … a rock.
Yes, a rock.
Basically, he was taking a bunch of fluid mechanics equations and changing the coefficients so that the rock “flowed” over thousands/millions of years.
I could have knocked off that program in probably less than a week …
As far as I know, he got his PhD.

July 19, 2011 7:15 pm

Just shows Anthony has a nose for scientific news even when he’s supposed to be on vacation!

July 19, 2011 7:19 pm

@Anthony. We have several students in the lab right now working on “garbage”. They don’t understand it, don’t know how it relates to other things and aren’t convinced its worth doing. Student research is sometimes a Hobson’s choice. So, give the kid a break.

July 19, 2011 7:19 pm

If he performs accurate original observational work on a distinctly different species population, whether he demonstrates commonality with or divergence from the venom compositions of the populations outside the area of isolation, that’s real science, larrygeiger to the contrary.
We may now reliably infer that however larrygeiger is educated and trained, it is not in either biology, biochemistry, toxicology, pharmacology, immunology, neurology, anesthesiology, or emergency medicine. The work of herpetologists studying venomous critters has led to saving beaucoup human lives.
This particular grad student’s present work may be of low value, but it will serve to incrementally improve the knowledge base about this species’ venom characteristics, and – in the bargain – it is from such biological substances that we have derived (and will continue to derive) diagnostic and therapeutic principals of use in the medical management of both human beings and valuable domesticated animals.

July 19, 2011 7:20 pm

This quote is what I call “the stench of a paper mill.” AND it has infested much of the academic world:

kadaka (KD Knoebel)
July 19, 2011 7:20 pm

Agriculture has isolated the rattlesnakes here from others in the state, meaning it’s possible the snakes have adapted their venom to the area. At least, that might be something he proves with this study, he said.
Wow, (C)AGW is making evolution progress faster! Is there nothing it can’t do?

July 19, 2011 7:21 pm

Heh. Isn’t a project supposed to have its objectives written out first, before data gathering starts? What kind of adviser would green light a project as vague as “studying the venom of Northern Pacific rattlesnakes”? After “21 2 months” into his study, he still can’t rattle off his objective off the top of his head?
What seems obvious is that Woodruff is going for the low-hanging fruit. Since that rattlesnake population has never been studied before, any new information is publishable.

July 19, 2011 7:29 pm

I must agree with the minority of posters here on this one, i.e. that there is absolutely nothing wrong with what this kid is doing (apart from saying “garbage” rather than “uninteresting” or “inconclusive”). As some have pointed out, would it be better if he made a point of burying results which don’t support his hypothesis (for which he clearly has at least one candidate)?
I bit more reflection by some posters before , joining the jeers squad, might be advisable. Otherwise people might get the impression that said posters really have no idea what transparency in science entails.

Chris Smith
July 19, 2011 7:41 pm

It is difficult being a PhD student. He is under a lot of pressure to publish *something*… *anything*. It is a box that more or less must be ticked in order to get the PhD.
It is okay to tell someone, okay, here is some money, go and study those rattlesnakes and see what you can find out. Where it goes wrong is when he feels that he must publish *something*, *anything*, simply because that box must be ticked. It should be okay for him to write his thesis showing how he scientifically examined the snakes and found that there was nothing extraordinary about them. If he conducted the research to a high standard then that should be okay and he should be awarded the PhD.
Of course, if he can mention CO2 in a paper somewhere then no doubt he will get to travel around the world on jumbo jets presenting posters and short talks about it.

July 19, 2011 7:50 pm

Isn’t that how James Hansen got the start to his career?

Gary Hladik
July 19, 2011 8:02 pm

I agree with others on this thread that the student’s choice of words was unfortunate, i.e. by “garbage” he probably meant “negative results”. Nothing wrong with publishing negative results if they were rigorously (robustly?) attained (unless you want continued funding for the project, of course).
On the other hand the quote as published is quite striking and well worth mentioning on this blog as a good example of a bad scientific attitude (though not necessarily on the part of this particular student).
Liked the “Seinfeld” clip, too. 🙂

July 19, 2011 8:04 pm

What he’s doing is the best kind of science, that of pure curiosity and discovery with no preconceptions of what the result should be. He just chose an unfortunate, if completely accurate, description of what the academic endgame requires him to do.

July 19, 2011 8:25 pm

If he finds no detectable difference in venom, he publishes that. If he finds a difference, he says so. Fine, either way. Garbage, like the man says, but it’s good garbage. I just don’t want to see:
(1) “We must hurry and spend millions on further research before the new super-snake spreads to all of the US.”
(2) “We must hurry and declare the super-snakes an endangered species before they are wiped out by motorcyclists.”
And I especially don’t want to see the usual PC shibboleth:
(3) “These results do not mean that AGW is not taking place.”

William Abbott
July 19, 2011 8:27 pm

Alan is right: He probably meant (we hope he meant) the hypothesis maybe garbage but the paper will be published even if the venom proteins are identical. The data needs to have integrity (can’t be garbage). Maybe he chose his words carelessly – or maybe the reporter takes poor notes.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)
July 19, 2011 8:48 pm

From Chris Smith on July 19, 2011 at 7:41 pm:

It is difficult being a PhD student. He is under a lot of pressure to publish *something*… *anything*. It is a box that more or less must be ticked in order to get the PhD.

Ack! Are you trying to scare this guy off from getting his next degree?
(bold added)

Glenn Woodruff, the 25-year-old student collecting data, is currently 21 2 months into his project as part of his master’s education in biology from Chico State University.

Going broke fast, practically zero funding, and nearly two years into a project towards just his Master’s degree. And you want to worry him with how bad it’ll be to go further and get a doctorate as well?

Jordan J. Phillips
July 19, 2011 9:14 pm

I think maybe you are taking his words the wrong way, or at worst there isn’t enough context to judge either way.
He may have been speaking very off the cuff and casually. If it is an unusual and unexplored area, then any honest research that demonstrates something, even if it is disproving a hypothesis, is an honest attempt at establishing knowledge and can be publishable depending on the merit and what’s involved. He probably meant that, but there’s no telling.
A good quote I’ve heard is “if you knew it would work beforehand, then it’s not real research”.

July 19, 2011 9:19 pm

There was a time when this attitude would have been dealt with by peers. Either this guy has no peers in which case he is doomed to to this, his 15 minutes of fame, or his peers are imbeciles as is he and they are all doomed to ignominy. His will not be known as the greatest generation by any subsequent generations, and his efforts land him condemned as a fool by this one.
But what the hell, it’s a start.

Jordan J. Phillips
July 19, 2011 9:20 pm

“It is difficult being a PhD student. He is under a lot of pressure to publish *something*… *anything*. It is a box that more or less must be ticked in order to get the PhD.”
At Chris: Yes, yes. There is a considerable amount of “paper inflation”, because collaborators stick their names on projects even if they had only the loosest of involvement in a paper. The result is this standard that judges quantity over quality in papers that get published, which puts an immense pressure on a young PhD student, often prompting then to forego juicy but more challenging projects for something that can more easily payout in terms of a paper.
An important point to remember is that just because research is done at the university instead of the private sector doesn’t mean the profit motive is no longer involved. It is instead though a different kind of “profit” the university researcher has in mind, as the goal is publication in a journal, not commercially selling something. But similar to the private world, a project is often pursued based on the likelihood that it can payout for the time invested into it.

July 19, 2011 9:43 pm

As a graduate student, I wrote an inconsequential thesis that was probably only read by my thesis adviser, so I wasn’t too critical of Woodruff until I read, “The nature of the small exploratory study means Woodruff doesn’t have much funding, he said.” Funding? What irritates me is that funding has become an expectation for a mere masters thesis.

July 19, 2011 10:12 pm

Philip Peake says:
“Basically, he was taking a bunch of fluid mechanics equations and changing the coefficients so that the rock “flowed” over thousands/millions of years.
I could have knocked off that program in probably less than a week … ”
Big call there. He can also probably knock that program of relatively quickly (although not in a week, and I think anything dashed of by anyone in a week would be basically useless, much like a geomechanics model designed by a computer scientist with zero domain knowledge). I think you’ll find that most of that 3 years goes into researching what those pesky little coefficients are, and how they change over time with progressive deformation, in something modifying them to make them useful for something that flows like, well, a rock.

July 19, 2011 10:21 pm

At least he’s honest, because that’s how things are. He must publish something whatever it is or he failed – and getting his grade is a priority, not scientific quality of the paper.
I’d blame the rules, not him.

Greg Cavanagh
July 19, 2011 10:32 pm

quote: “So no matter what I do, even if it’s (garbage), it’s publishable”.
I see some here believe a non-conclusive result as meaning a “garbage” document.
I think he’s implying that he could “write” a garbage document.

July 19, 2011 10:44 pm

“It is difficult being a PhD student. He is under a lot of pressure to publish *something*… *anything*. It is a box that more or less must be ticked in order to get the PhD.”
yup! – my daughter is doing post grad medicine and she says it doesn’t really matter what she presents so long as she presents something!!

July 19, 2011 10:49 pm

A perfect trio of thesis advisors would be Michael, Gavin, and Ben.
(Ben because he’d beat up anyone in a dark alley who questioned the thesis)
Now, all he needs is an NSF grant. He can then prove that the rattlesnakes are different because of climate change.

David Falkner
July 19, 2011 10:54 pm

Well, it seems like there is no other research in the area, so he could technically publish anything and build on the knowledge base. His wording was terrible and sounded incredibly cocky, which is a problem in the arena of perception. You know, that is somewhat reminiscent of climate science.

John Tofflemire
July 19, 2011 10:57 pm

He’s young, give him a break. I wish I could only have had his level of stupidity when I was 25. In the end, it’s just a masters thesis which, at this level, should only be publishable if it is exceptional.
The fact that this young man is taking two years of (uncompleted) research to earn a masters degree says volumes about his university and about his advisers.

July 19, 2011 11:05 pm

He just wants to play with (poisonous) snakes, second only to things that blow up.

nano pope
July 19, 2011 11:30 pm

That’s the wonderful thing about being on a scientific frontier – even lack of results are meaningful. A poor choice of words, but he has the right spirit.

July 19, 2011 11:42 pm

I’m pretty sure that the “21 2 months” in the original article is a typo, and is meant to be “2 1/2 months”

Baa Humbug
July 20, 2011 12:17 am

Isolated snakes? There is plenty of ’em in reptile parks regularly fed the same old same old diet of white mice.
Check out their venom, much easier task.

Baa Humbug
July 20, 2011 12:18 am

badmonkey2001 says:
I’m pretty sure that the “21 2 months” in the original article is a typo, and is meant to be “2 1/2 months”
I thought the 21 was his age and the 2 months was how long he has been at this research.

Richard Briscoe
July 20, 2011 12:40 am

He might choose his words more carefully in future, but his analysis is actually perfectly sound.
Science starts by gathering data. Only when a lot of data has been gathered can theories be built. Some data proves exciting, much is mundane. All scientists want to uncover something exciting, but unfortunately it’s in the nature of true research that you can’t know what the results will be in advance.
Glenn Woodruff is examining the venom of rattlesnakes in the area around Chico, and comparing it to the venom of rattlesnakes elsewhere. No one has done this before. It may be that the venom will prove different in some unexpected way, and that this will lead to interesting discoveries. More likely, it will prove to be no different. This is what he injudiciously refers to as ‘garbage’ -an uninteresting result. But such a result is not garbage. It adds a small piece to the sum of scientific knowledge, and should certainly be published in the scientific literature, if only to stop anyone else pointlessly repeating the experiment. In future, anyone who wants to know how rattlesnake venom varies by region would not need to repeat Mr. Woodruff’s experiment, just refer to his published paper. That’s how science works.

July 20, 2011 1:11 am

My reading is that he will be guided by the data he collects not by a preset idea of whats expected. As long as his final conclusions fit what the data tells him thats fine, and if the data says nothing here he will say that but the report will be ‘garbage’ . Sounds like other than the outburst of Garbage we need more of Scientists like him, unlike the Caplin lot who go to reinforce a preconceived outcome.

Alan the Brit
July 20, 2011 1:18 am

“Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes” huh? I had absolutely no idea that they could swim so far! 🙂
As to the graduate himself, he has about him the shades of the old record producer gag after listening to a demo tape of a newband…………………..”You can’t sing, you can’t play, you look dreadful, you sound terrible…………………………..I think you’ll go far!”

July 20, 2011 1:22 am

Greg Cavanagh says:
July 19, 2011 at 10:32 pm
quote: “So no matter what I do, even if it’s (garbage), it’s publishable”.
I see some here believe a non-conclusive result as meaning a “garbage” document.
I think he’s implying that he could “write” a garbage document.
If he is then hopefully he will be proved wrong. I have reviewed a number of post graduate theses and my lack of detailed expertise in the specific subject did not prevent me assessing the quality of the research. Research is a process. It is normally pretty obvious if the process has been carried out properly.
My own view is that this was a rather poor joke on his part and we should not take it too seriously. I think we need to support students who carry out research in areas where there is little chance of fame. It is still educational. Yes, most will never be seen again but every so often a gem is discovered. I am a physicist not a biologist but I would have thought this could be a rather good research topic.

July 20, 2011 1:24 am

Was the story from The Onion?

July 20, 2011 1:35 am

The quote says “even if it’s (garbage)” so Glenn did not say “garbage” himself; looks like the journalist filled it in for him; maybe what Glenn wanted to say was something like some commenters above expressed – even if he finds no difference between this population and another, it’s publishable. And he would be right with that and his paper would not be garbage at all.
The inexperienced one is the journalist in this case.

John R. Walker
July 20, 2011 1:37 am

At least he hasn’t started out with the intention of producing garbage!

July 20, 2011 1:39 am

A purely qualitative or phenomenological approach to research can be very useful. With no preconceived ideas or hypothesis the researcher just observes the subject, makes extensive notes then draws an hypothesis from the observed data. The curse of climate science is that most approved researchers work the opposite way. They make a hypothesis, then which generates a model into which they try and shoehorn observed data. And we know how useful that is. Personally I take my hat off to the young man, I hope we have such sharp students in Wales.

John Marshall
July 20, 2011 1:52 am

He’s in the wrong branch of science. Climatology calls.

July 20, 2011 2:11 am

I took a few disgusted-at-skeptics-fueled days break from my recent hyper energized anti-AGW-activism that involved context-laden “tagging” each and every day’s news story that I could find with simple data plots which falsify alarmist claims and to then follow up with serious Bruce Lee efficient fight backs when my message was willfully simplified by cultist spin doctors. It was *so* easy, after my references were organized in my mind and I *knew* that delving into Team references would come up dry, predictably. It took me three years to become actually confident in my skepticism due to the huge smokescreen involved that was pointed in my direction from such a hot hemorrhoids spigot.
I want stories.
Now I’m taking a big break, due to the way South American girls’ pelvises connect via thick and strong electric snake to a shoulder cage in one divinely sublime act of pure prayer.
You don’t remember it?
Oh, dear gentlemen…we won! Clean-up operations are not my forte. I spent ten hours a day doing this, often twenty…using what’s left of the free comment sections of what’s left of branded media organizations.
I want more stories.
But as I listened to Billy Bragg and The Pogues on Event Opal studio monitors and a “tight spec” SVS subwoofer, shaking the whole empty girls’ dorm building, doing “this”…something hit me: I am not one of you. I was not birthed to Earth to chat about, let alone argue about the weather! You two sides of what has become a mere cliched cultural war kill each other and too drag in your brothers as I tickle your wives. Good women see right through steaming piles of cheap “caviar” and this has become that. The real thing of human interaction still exists, despite our living in a very temporary era of ultra-low-bandwidth “online community” interaction.
You demand nothing more?
“Ugly and futile: lean neck and thick hair and a stain of ink, a snail’s bed. Yet someone had loved him, borne him in her arms and in her heart. But for her the race of the world would have trampled him underfoot, a squashed boneless snail. She had loved his weak watery blood drained from her own. Was that then real? The only true thing in life? His mother’s prostrate body the fiery Columbanus in holy zeal bestrode. She was no more: the trembling skeleton of a twig burnt in the fire, an odour of rosewood and wetted ashes. She had saved him from being trampled underfoot and had gone, scarcely having been. A pour soul gone to heaven: and on a heath beneath winking stars a fox, red reek of rapine in his fur, with merciless bright eyes scraped in the earth, listened, scraped up the earth, listened, scraped and scraped.” – James Joyce (Finnegans Wake 1939)
He spent 18 years writing that book about you, before birth opened your eyes.
This year, the suddenly looming light bulb ban hit me like a real declaration of war or a freight train heading for a passenger train in a valley in Peru below me where my cell phone hasn’t got a signal. Then two plus one four nine one six seven things happened.
(1) The right side of politics, in the room, word wide, of this divide, suddenly has allowed brass balls to replace manginas, based on perception of real threat to their minority religion, of their footnote-worthy flights of fancy. Darwin does not smile upon these boy love gorillas, these Greeks.
(2) Whatever.
(3.14…) Steven Goddard is narcissistically toying with variations on a theme, musically, so far successfully, yet not yet of merit. He has no good feedback, so he is flying blind and he knows it. Doltish cheerleading takes no one to town. Popularity, flying high, round and a bout, but nowhere to land, wings singed. Variations on a theme is the stuff of music. He contains something. But I don’t know what it is. He wont let God flow through him.
Skeptics utterly fail to understand their immediately perceived enemy, deep down.
Key phrase: “active depression.”
Translation: zombies.
Job one and two:
(1) Land on your feet.
(2) Inspire.
Unstated business:
(3) Ignore Player Haters.

Chris Woods
July 20, 2011 2:15 am

What refreshing honesty!

Ken Hall
July 20, 2011 2:23 am

Considering the word ‘garbage’ in that paragraph is written inside brackets, it suggests that he did not use that word. Perhaps he used an expletive and they wanted to print a milder word, I do not know, but the point is, we do not know what he actually said, let alone what actual meaning he meant to convey. As others have stated, IF he meant that the results show nothing new, then they confirm what is already known and are still publishable. However if he means that the study actually shows something which is false, (for whatever reason beit a failure in methodology, protocol, data gathering or whatever), and still believes that the results are publishable, then there is real reason to worry.
What is for sure is that he has not communicated his intentions clearly through this article.

July 20, 2011 2:51 am

Seems like the very kind of scientist that governments around the world are so keen to give lots of funding to………………….

Graham Snell
July 20, 2011 3:10 am

I didn’t read it that way at all. I read it as a statement of fact from the lad. He is right isn’t he? If there are no studies in his chosen field of research and, therefore, no experts, he can’t be peer reviewed and thus, if the work is sub standard or his conclusions wrong, who is to know? I think he has been treated a tad harshly by some on this thread.

July 20, 2011 3:11 am

You can’t draw a conclusion one way or the other on a single sentence taken out of context – might have been merely bad grammar. If the ‘it’ was his theory, then he’s correct – it might well be garbage, and good scientific, publishable, work would show it to be so.

July 20, 2011 3:24 am

For anyone to profess to study (or for that matter teach) science in any higher level format, and yet fail to understand how to frame a scientific study so that its data that will lead to better understanding of nature or process (regardless of success or failure) means they aren’t even trying to be truly scientific in their undertaking.
One of the most important aspects of science is “Asking the right question”.
Obviously I cannot call myself a “scientist” because I do not produce “papers” yet I have 4 analytical studies currently in project and all will produce usable data regardless of whether the data strengthens my hypotheses or not. The results of all 4 of these studies will help me toward producing money for myself. That’s how being self employed works. It’s not just basic good science it’s basic good business sense. They will get much more money (inc. funding) if they produce practical + “interesting” data.
Oh to be a funded scientific genius haha!. (shrug) I just hope he misspoke and his attitude isn’t as daft as it appears.

July 20, 2011 3:24 am

Re: journals. If I were god of publishing, I would require every journal to split its articles 50:50 between research which confirmed and rejected a hypothesis, either a new one or a previously reported/asserted one. Since information experts say more is learned from negative results than positive, I predict this would more than double the slope of science’s learning curve. And save a sh**-load of money!

July 20, 2011 4:13 am

Well, it’s a Masters, not a PhD, They have quite different standards. I’ve seen studies that were little more than bibliographies pass as a Masters thesis. Valuable, none the less. Anthony’s plan to document all the predictions of global warming catastrophes would make a reasonable Masters thesis – except the faculty would never approve it.

July 20, 2011 4:50 am

When did 25-year-olds become “kids”? Does that mean that just past 60 is now “middle-aged”? Or is it maybe that you’re still a kid until you leave education and do adult work? As in, “Mike and Jimmy are just a coupla kids having fun! Give ’em a break!”

July 20, 2011 5:01 am

Maybe he meant that even if he gets nothing interesting in his study he could still publish?
However if he wants the paper to be famous and broadly published, all he has to do is link the results, no matter what they are, to climate change.

Steve in SC
July 20, 2011 5:30 am

When I see a snake, the first thought that goes through my mind is “SHOTGUN!!!”.

Richard Briscoe
July 20, 2011 6:10 am

I’m still puzzling about the brackets around that key word ‘garbled’. Why are they there ?
An idea occurs to me. The reporter may well not have interviewed Glen Woodruff face to face. There’s nothing in the article to indicate that he did, and Mr. Woodruff clearly does his research out of town.
I suspect that the article was written from a transcript of a phone call, and that ‘(garbage)’ is simply a typo for ‘(garbled)’.
I think Glen Woodruff simply used a word signifying results that reveal nothing new, a word that the reported was unfamiliar with, and hence failed to catch.
Assuming my theory could be true, has anyone any suggestions as to what the missing word could have been ?

July 20, 2011 6:24 am

(SarcOn) Here we are up to our wazoo in political stupidity and incalculable debt; here we are about to go bankrupt and become slaves to the ChiCom Empire, and you laugh at and pick on a poor, defensless, 25 year old grad student? You people are incredible! Just listen to yourselves! Why I’ll bet you’ll all soon be out making speeches in the Park, stuffing mail boxes, phone canvasing the countryside, conducting bake sales, supporting scout troops, camping with your kids, chopping wood, planting veggies, canning jam, and.. gag, gag… praying and going to services. Is there nothing you value? Really? What is the country coming to anyway? Laughing at grad students! Is nothing off limits? Soon, I have no doubt, you will be rioting in the streets and burning courthouses because the USGovt wants to give free universal healthcare to everyone on the planet. You people are really sick.(SarcOff)

July 20, 2011 7:25 am

Other than unfortunate language about garbage this seems a reasonable experiment:
Thesis: That the isolation of the rattlesnake population over the last 50 years has led to a modification of the snake’s venom
Procedure: Collect venom from a representative sample of rattlesnakes and compare serology to known populations.
Discussion: past observation of species differentiation due to population isolation
Data: detailed breakdown of the serology reports
Analysis: show key marker changes or lack of changes.
Conclusion: whatever the data showed confirm, refute or inconclusive to the original thesis statement.
Looks like a good paper to me.

Rod Everson
July 20, 2011 7:54 am

First point: “Garbage” is printed in parentheses, which indicates that the writer of the article modified whatever the researcher actually said, so we’re discussing a word, in depth, that he probably didn’t even say. (My money would be on “sh*t”, by the way.)
Second point: With the internet, there’s no excuse for not publishing negative results, even if they’re not solidly peer-reviewed, and publication of negative results is needed in order to counteract the effect of journals only tending to publish the “outliers.” In a better world, the negative results would have already been published, and the outliers would then be known for what they are, a random result that happened to hit the tail of the distribution of sample outcomes. Instead, such outliers become accepted scientific wisdom for a generation or so before eventually succumbing to reality as future attempts at confirmation result in reversion to the mean.
By the way, I had no clue about any of this until I started reading WUWT, along with the many helpful comments accompanying most of the articles. Thanks.

July 20, 2011 8:01 am

I suspect that the venom will not have changed much and current antivenoms will prove to be sufficient to the task, but we will not know for sure until such a study is completed. So it is good science even if it finds no change. I do wonder if there might be some other behavioral or physical changes to these snakes and if he is doing any other observations besides the venom. How long does a species need to be isolated before we see observable variation? This study could be a minor piece of the answer to that question if done thoroughly.

Pamela Gray
July 20, 2011 8:21 am

We regularly have visiting rattle snakes joining the indigenous population in our county, and few counties are as isolated as ours. How do they get here? They hitch a ride on log trucks. This guy needs to nail down “isolated population” before he assumes it. That involves DNA tests. If he lacks funding (DNA tests are very expensive), his research on venom chemicals will most decidedly be garbage. Sounds like his advisor needs to go back to school.

Ed Scott
July 20, 2011 8:30 am

Let us not be too harsh with Mr.Woodruff. The genesis and success of What’s Up With That owes much to the publishing of garbage in the field of Climate Science.

July 20, 2011 8:53 am

Looks like all of the low level fruit has already been picked.
The science of herpetology was one of the first “hard” sciences to succumb to lefty nonsense, but those who are interested in rattlesnakes seem to be a bit more committed to science. Just the fact that this young man not only recognizes, but is intrigued enough to comment on, the nature of the modern trends in publishability, speaks volumes.I don’t think most leftie pseudoscientist recognize that their garbage is garbage, but consider it a worthy and noble effort in framing the narrative.

Jeff Carlson
July 20, 2011 9:06 am

well collected data is never garbage … if he shows the venom to be no different then he has contributed something to science just as he will if he shows a difference … either wau the only way his work would be garbage is if he is not doing good sample gathering …
I assume he means garbage is a disproved theory … which of course it is not … it is science but may not make you rich/famous …

July 20, 2011 9:16 am

Oh, BTW, the possibility of habitat fragmentation encouraging specification in rattlesnakes has been a subject of research for awhile. A good example being some of the large desert parks in the Phoenix metro area. I am pretty sure that agriculture would not provide a significant population barrier.

July 20, 2011 10:05 am

The arguments about assuring that the snakes actually are isolated are exactly right. One must first isolate that variable before the rest of the experiment is worth doing. One can’t test for variability caused by isolation if the subjects aren’t really isolated!
Thinking about it, I don’t see that there would be much variability in this instance: the prey is still small birds and rodents, the territory is still open land (albeit with neat rows of monolithic species of plants), and the successful hunting techniques would likely be the same. There could possibly be some variation in coloration as a different camouflage scheme would probably be more successful. Prey species should actually be more plentiful as rodents love fields of grains.
I wonder if anyone has radio tagged a rattlesnake to see how far it travels in its life. It would be funny if one were to find that the snakes travel from the coastal range to the Sierras over the course of a couple of years. Likewise it would be strange to find that all rattlesnakes are isolated populations traveling no more than a few miles from their birthplace.

Jordan J. Phillips
July 20, 2011 10:48 am

@Philip Peake
Fortran is actually very good for computational science. For example, GAUSSIAN, a very good quantum chemistry package that sells for like +20k dollars, is written in Fortran.

July 20, 2011 10:51 am

July 20, 2011 at 10:05 am
Its been a few years, and I am at work so can’t really verify, but I am pretty sure that most Crotalus sps. tend to stick around the area that they were born, traveling less the 10KM. I also seem to remember that only about %1 live to breeding age.

CRS, Dr.P.H.
July 20, 2011 11:46 am

Welcome to academia. Notice that this was a STUDENT who said this….an associate professor seeking tenure would never be so bold.
Keep turning the rocks over, Anthony, you’ll keep finding snakes, I promise.

July 20, 2011 11:57 am

Thanks, that is what I suspected, which really does put a bit of a damper on this whole experiment. If in general these snakes are within a fairly limited gene pool, one wouldn’t expect a short isolation to significantly impact something as complex as synthesizing neurotoxins, though they must travel somewhat for mating, because one wouldn’t expect a stable genetic environment if all the potential mates were too closely related. Oh well, I’ll just have to add it to the list of things I know that I don’t know and will find out when I stumble upon a good article.

July 20, 2011 2:19 pm

“Our Sun varies over many time scales: There are Maunder minimums, which do not occur for many centuries or longer and have caused “mini ice ages” even as recently as during the 17th century.” – NASA
answer to faq A6.
Might be wrong, but i think nasa ‘popular media writings’ stating solar activity causes mini ice ages, e.g the previous LIA, are rare and collectable?

Wondering Aloud
July 20, 2011 5:07 pm

Well I agree his attitude and statement are disturbing. But, the first thing that occurs to me on reading this is shouldn’t something being publishable be independent of the results? In other words shouldn’t a paper saying basically “I conducted an experiment to determine if x was true and the result is my experiment failed to tell me.” Be a publishable result. The pressure to only report success somewhat distorts the process.

July 20, 2011 10:46 pm

DesertYote says: “The science of herpetology was one of the first “hard” sciences to succumb to lefty nonsense, but those who are interested in rattlesnakes seem to be a bit more committed to science….”
A very serious young lady at a party assured me with a straight face that rattlesnakes don’t bite humans. I did the best I could to disabuse her of this ludicrous and dangerous notion. Undoubtedly some professor of Herpetology with a sadistic bent or a liberal outlook had told her this. Ah, the joys of Academe!

July 21, 2011 3:04 am

his arrogance is astounding

July 21, 2011 12:53 pm

He has a great career ahead of him as a climate scientist.

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