Rising to the bait?

No – not another fisheries blog. This time, I’m in a qandry, unsure whether (once again) to engage, through the scientific literature, in another public squabble. More specifically, I’m pondering the following vexed question: exactly how bad does a paper have to be in order for me to drop what I’m supposed to be doing, fire up the old critical faculties, and spit out a vituperative rebuttal? At what stage does ‘petty complaint’ upgrade to ‘vital corrective response’? Here’s the background. A paper has recently appeared, on a subject about which I know more than I do about probably any other academic topic. And it is bad. Truly, terribly awful. It is directly critical of some of my previous work, misguided in almost every way, and sheds no light whatsoever on the subject. And did I mention how bad it is?

On the other hand, it’s on a rather esoteric topic, published by an unknown author, in a decent but middling journal, and is very likely to sink without trace in the citation universe.

So, should I rise to the bait, and patiently destroy each of the the spurious arguments, dodgy simulations, and na├»ve statistics? And can’t I in any case put a positive spin on all this bile, i.e., that part of my public duty as a practising scientist is to correct errors in the hallowed scientific record, act as a sentinel for truth and reason, and so on and so forth. (Notwithstanding the thrill of the chase inherent in the assassination of shoddy science…)

Hmmm. Well. I really should just let it lie. But over coffee this morning I’ve already discussed this with a couple of senior colleagues, who have similar views to myself. I’ve re-run some of the simulations and plotted a few of them up, and they are as dodgy as I suspected. So, I’m afraid it’s not looking good for all the stuff I’m meant to have done by the end of this week.