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And I thought I had been harsh… April 21, 2008

Posted by dorigo in cosmology, language, news, physics, science.

Due and happy thanks to a friend for pointing me to the following sentence, appeared minutes ago at the Cosmic Variance site in a guest post by Juan Collar:

“Thanks DAMA, for cheapening the level of our discourse to truly imbecilic levels. (Sean, if you edit this I will scratch the paint off your car. I may not write blogs, but I do read them: I know how to hurt you).”

No, I think Sean will not edit it – by now it is on record. In any case, I have two comments. The first is that I am happy that a comment I recently made in this blog about the presentation of the new DAMA result sounds polite and positive if compared with the above. The second is that I think we should all back off and realize that no matter whether an experiment will one day win the Nobel prize or be proven laughably wrong, every scientist who works in our field deserves our respect until proven an imbecile. Doing otherwise harms the whole field, and ourselves.

Oh, and – I still thank Sean for linking to my own commentary of the DAMA-LIBRA signal.


1. Anonymous - April 21, 2008

Well, on the other side of the coin, when taxpayers are having tens of millions of their dollars on equipment and salaries for an experiment that is refusing to release some important checks on its results, sometimes you have to be a bit harsh, Tommaso. Juan is one of the most solid guys I know in the field and spends his life on this stuff. He is fair and a great guy. Politeness is extremely important, but in rare cases it is in conflict with science, and that sometimes trumps it. I agree with Juan. They absolutely need to run checks with low-scintillating materials like fused silica to check PMT noise modulations. Otherwise it could be anything.

2. amanda - April 22, 2008

Well then, since we are all devoted to the Truth, Dr Juan won’t mind if I remind everyone that he *is* after all a competitor of the DAMA people, and that his career would be maimed if they were right. Are we seriously asked to believe that rhetoric like “cheapening the level of our discourse to truly imbecilic levels” is *purely* motivated by dedication to Truth and Justice, and that there are no personal hard feelings involved. Please, give me a break.

In fact, I had no sympathy whatever for the DAMA people until I read his pompous, self-righteous diatribe. But then, as he tells us, he preaches to his students that they should be their own worst enemies; evidently he practises what he preaches.

3. DB - April 22, 2008


Yes, I also felt that Collar was over the top in the way he expressed his opinion, and that should make any observer suspicious. No matter how sceptical we may be of Dama’s claims, there is no excuse for an absence of civility and mutual respect. Scientists can be just as territorial as any other human being – and the more territorial you are, the harder it is to cope with scepticism, which is why it should be expressed as dispassionately as possible, so as to encourage the subjects of such criticism to reconsider their methodology in an atmosphere free of personal recrimination.

However, there are situations – and I don’t think this is one of them yet, where a persistent stubborn refusal to engage with one’s peers in an objective search for the truth inevitably leads to conflict – Cold Fusion comes to mind as an example in experimental physics, and String Theory is the obvious example in theoretical physics. Once such fields become heavily politicised by charge and counter-charge the war continues until one side concedes defeat.

The most unfortunate outcome of such conflicts is that genuinely fine physicists and scientists often get caught in the crossfire – I am particularly thinking of Julian Schwinger, whose reputation suffered greatly when he made an honest attempt at investigating the theoretical basis for cold fusion, or James Watson, whose tendency to tell it like he saw it resulted in the recent complete destruction of his career and public thrashing of his reputation.

The lesson is clear. Steer clear of such disputes unless you are highly skilled in the nefarious skills of political combat.

4. Count Iblis - April 22, 2008

The DAMA team had planned to make their results public at the end of this year. Now, the papers they were writing the last few years already betrayed that the DAMA/Libra results were probably going to confirm the DAMA results. So, I’m thinking that they changed their plans a bit. The real interesting stuff is yet to come. They announced in previous papers that they were going to look for diurnal modulations and other effects….

5. dorigo - April 22, 2008

Amanda, I share your view, as much as DB’s. It is not strange, in fact, that the first commenter chose to not put a face behind his opinion.

Count Iblis, I too am very curious about the daily modulation. now THAT would be something that would make me jump on my chair.

I think reality is going to be more prosaic. But I would be quite happy to find out I am wrong…


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