Wednesday, February 10, 2016

True Love Leaves No Traces

I'm a bit annoyed right now, but if I were Ethan Siegel I'd be pissed.

Christina Richey and Kathryn Clancy still haven't answered my emails or acknowledged my criticism of their study of sexual harassment in the astronomy community, but they have corrected their slides in light of it. As readers of this blog know, a few weeks ago @ticobas noticed that the claim that 57% of respondents had experienced gender-based verbal harassment didn't appear to be supported by the chart that illustrated it. I brought this to Richey's attention by email, but heard nothing from her until I told Michael Brown about it. He contacted Richey and was told it was an error, though not what the right number was. I wrote a post about this strange lack of openness, and within hours of posting Miriam Kramer reported on Twitter that she had been told by Richey that the right figure is 32%. She was a bit more vague about it in the correction to her article at Mashable, where she just removed the offending slide, which she had originally embedded.

Now, many of us have linked to those slides when referencing the 57% claim. Indeed, when Richey (or Clancy) asked Siegel to change his completely erroneous >75% figure to the 57% figure that the slide actually presented, he took the opportunity also to link to the presentation. As I understand it, he had originally worked only from his notes from the presentation at the AAS conference and didn't know the slides were in the public domain.

As I write this, Siegel's article still quotes the 57% and still links to the slides. But anyone who clicks on that link will find a slide that clearly shows he's got it wrong. The relevant slide (now #5, previously #8) says 32%, i.e., the corrected figure. But nowhere in the PDF file does it say that it's been altered.

This is doubly problematic because the original file contained the slides that were used in Richey's 2015 Harold Marsursky Award presentation, held on November 12 at the AAS Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Washington, DC. I had always wondered about the URL of the slides that both Siegel and Kramer used when talking about her 2016 presentation to the AAS meeting—""—but until now I hadn't bothered to look into it. In any case, anyone who was using the original URL in a reference to slides they saw in November of last year is now being made to look as much like they misquoted slide #5 as Siegel is. And if they've specifically cited slide #8 (as I have), they're being made to look like they got the page number wrong too.

Richey has removed the first three slides, including the title page. (One of them was blank in the original presentation.) The presentation is no longer marked (except in the URL) as the Masursky presentation slides. It would have been a simple matter to strike out the 57% and append a dated note with the correct 32% figure. Instead, Richey has chosen to pretend that her slides have said 32% since they were originally posted.

I've been surprised at the way my criticism has been dealt with since I started looking at it. (Richey and Clancy don't answer my mails and have even blocked me on Twitter.) But this sort of bald-faced dishonesty and attempt to cover their tracks is really quite shocking.

Like I say, since I'm a very marginal figure in this conversation and have everything documented (for obvious reasons), I'm just puzzled and annoyed by this latest twist. If I were Siegel, who already had to update his post once in the face of my criticism to make it "more accurate", and whose link now simply belies his reading of the slides that once supported him, I'd be not a little pissed off.

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