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This reminds me of Wm. Proxmire's Golden Fleece Awards.
What I find troubling is the deception and wasting of Prof. Watts' time.

On Fri, 13 Jan 2006, Richard Rothenberg wrote:

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> Something omitted from this discussion is what Sybil was actually
> ridiculing.  Here's her main slash:
> "They spent three years or so building and running fiendish computer
> algorithms that could analyse who had e-mailed whom and how often.  The
> stunning conclusion? Two people are more likely to strike up a
> relationship if they go to the same college class or have a friend in
> common.  Brilliant, I think. Genius. It took years sorting though
> countless messages to work that out?"
> Long ago and far away, when in college, I found that I was more likely
> to strike up a relationship with someone I was in class with, or with
> whom we had a friend in common.  Now, after the WWW, email, bluetooth,
> wifi, and all the other technologic advances, I think it's kind of
> interesting that this may still be true.  I'm certainly out of my depth
> here, but I would venture to say that whether these modern methods of
> communication and interaction have made a fundamental difference in the
> way human being relate to each other is an interesting sociological
> question.  (There's certainly been writing on both sides; some say Linux
> couldn't have happened without the new technology.)  But whatever the
> answer, Sybil missed the question.  I'm not sure the authors were
> focused on this question in particular, but they were certainly delving
> into the story.
> In any event, the analogy with The Daily Show may be misplaced, because
> those folks have an unerring ear for inanity.  As Prof Watts reports,
> Sybil has ear wax.
> Rich Rothenberg
> David Gibson wrote:
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> >
> > Socnetters -- this is a truly outrageous situation. In the very least
> > beware of Helen Pearson.
> >
> > -------- Original Message --------
> > Subject:     Nature's fake news
> > Date:     Thu, 12 Jan 2006 11:02:25 -0500
> > From:     Duncan Watts <[log in to unmask]>
> > To:     Duncan Watts <[log in to unmask]>
> >
> >
> >
> > Dear colleagues -- you might be surprised to learn that /Nature News/,
> > that bastion of reliable and informed science reporting, is now in
> > competition with the Daily Show.
> > But apparently it is.  Starting this week, /Nature News /has begun
> > publishing an online column: "To be blunt: Looking for the point of
> > seemingly pointless research," authored by "Sybil", an apparent
> > reference to the namesake of multiple-personalty disorders. Like the
> > original Sybil story, however, the news, and the reporter who writes
> > it, is fake.
> > The reporter is, in fact, Helen Pearson, a writer for /Nature/ who has
> > apparently won awards for science journalism in the past.  Her intent,
> > however, is not to understand or explain the research she discusses,
> > but to ridicule and belittle it.
> > I'm embarrassed to say I was Ms. Pearson's first unsuspecting victim.
> > Last week my graduate student, Gueorgi Kossinets, and I published a
> > paper in /Science/, entitled "Empirical analysis of an evolving social
> > network".  I won't burden you with the details here (you can find them
> > at if you're
> > interested), but I'm very proud of the paper, as well as Kossinets'
> > herculean efforts in performing the required analysis.
> > So I was particularly pleased when Ms. Pearson called me last week,
> > expressing her interest in writing a story for /Nature's/ online news
> > site.  Having read Philip Ball's careful and insightful reports for
> > years, I imagined that /Nature News/ would be a great opportunity for
> > us to have a substantive but accessible news story written about our
> > work.  And after speaking with Ms. Pearson for about two hours on the
> > phone, over two consecutive days, sending her some additional reading
> > material, and recommending (at her request) a number of other social
> > network researchers she could talk to, I felt pretty confident that we
> > would have exactly that.  She asked lots of questions, seemed intent
> > on understanding my responses, and generally acted like a real science
> > journalist.
> > So imagine my surprise when monday morning I saw that our work had
> > been characterized as "bizarre" and "pointless" in a derisive fluff
> > piece by a fictional columnist.  You can read it, which I recommend
> > you do, at
> > (don't worry, it won't take long).
> >
> > I'm not sure what offends me more: the snide, silly, and ignorant
> > nature of the column itself; or the weirdly unprofessional manner in
> > which Ms. Pearson conducted herself.  If you actually read our paper,
> > it should be obvious that Sybil hasn't, nor has she paid attention to
> > anything I said or wrote (remember, we spoke for two /hours/, not two
> > minutes). She also somehow never got around to soliciting comments
> > from anyone else, or perhaps she just ignored them as well; either
> > way, her opinions remain uncontaminated by any actual expertise.  That
> > the NSF and the McDonnell Foundation funded our work, and that
> > /Science/ saw fit to publish it were also both obviously beside the
> > point.
> >
> > So what was the point?
> >
> > According to the news editor, Nicola Jones, Sybil's goal is "to peer
> > into science that, from its summary, press release or title, appears
> > to have arrived at a somewhat obvious conclusion. But, by interviewing
> > the authors of these works and delving more deeply into the science,
> > we hope to reveal the reasons why such questions are indeed worth
> > investigating."
> > I don't know what /Science/ said in its press release, because I had
> > nothing to do with it.  But if you can find the part where our
> > questions are revealed to be worthy, please let me know, because I
> > seem to have missed it.  And even overlooking the disingenuous nature
> > of Ms. Pearson's enquiries, since when does not reading anything, or
> > soliciting third party opinions, qualify as "delving more deeply into
> > the science".  Or even satisfy the basic standards of science
> > journalism.  In any case, understanding the point of our work was
> > clearly never Sybil's intent, seeing as she overlooked or disparaged
> > most of what I told her anyway.
> > So maybe it wasn't meant to be serious, in which case presumably it
> > doesn't matter that it's sloppy, slanted, and sarcastic.  Ms. Jones,
> > at least, seems to think I'm the one being unreasonable: the real
> > intention, she claims, is to "enlighten and amuse" (so much for
> > "delving deeply").  Why can't I just be a better sport about it?
> > Well, if you think that publicly belittling someone's work that you
> > haven't even bothered to read, while remaining anonymous yourself, is
> > somehow clever, then feel free to have a laugh at my expense.  But
> > please spare a thought for my graduate student, whose first big paper
> > has now been tarnished by Ms. Pearson's cheap shot.
> > And if you don't think it's funny, please share your opinion with the
> > Editor-in-Chief of Nature, Dr. Philip Campbell <[log in to unmask]
> > <mailto:[log in to unmask]>>, who ought to know that while this kind of
> > silly nonsense might be OK on the Comedy Channel, it has no place in a
> > distinguished journal like /Nature/.
> > Sincerely,
> >
> > Duncan Watts
> > Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
> > 815 IAB
> > Columbia University
> > New York, NY 10027
> >
> > (212)854-4343 (phone)
> > (212)854-8925 (fax)
> > <>
> >
> >
> >
> --
> Richard Rothenberg, MD
> Professor, Department of Medicine
> Division of Infectious Disease
> Emory University School of Medicine
> Editor, Annals of Epidemiology
> 69 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive
> Atlanta. GA 30303
> P: 404-616-5606
> F: 404-616-6947
> E: [log in to unmask]
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Lawrence E. Raffalovich
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