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« First day in court | Main | Mann livestream »
Wednesday
Nov262014

The pursuit of Ramsey

Readers will no doubt recall a very interesting thread concerning Doug Keenan's pursuit of Christopher Ramsey, an Oxford researcher whose work on radiocarbon dating has led to considerable controversy in the archaeology world, as his methods lead to much ancient history potentially having to be rewritten.

Keenan had accused Ramsey of fraud and had issued a formal complaint to the University of Oxford. However, during the discussions on the BH thread discussing the case, it turned out that at least one of the allegations was wrong.

But this has not been the end of the affair. Doug has rewritten the complaint, bringing in a new allegation that he had held back previously and has put the whole thing to the University. A detailed account of what has happened can be seen at Doug's website, but suffice it to say that a fairly thick coat of whitewash has been applied by the powers that be.

Not that this has discouraged Keenan, who ends his tale with an indication of where he is taking this next.

I asked the police to investigate Ramsey for misconduct in public office. The police declined to investigate. Their reason was that they do not think Ramsey is a public official, and so Ramsey cannot, even in principle, be guilty of misconduct in public office...

The police also informed me that the senior administrators at a university are public officials—and so potentially can be prosecuted for misconduct in public office. At the University of Oxford, the most senior administrator is the registrar, Ewan McKendrick. Given that McKendrick whitewashed the investigation into my allegation about Ramsey, would it be possible to prosecute McKendrick?

I decided to obtain legal advice on that question. Additionally, I decided that if the advice was positive, I would not report the matter to the police; instead, I would undertake a private prosecution. For that reason, I contacted a law firm specializing in private prosecutions, Edmonds Marshall McMahon. I sent the firm the following letter...

There are some very interesting questions here. Should university staff and officials be accountable to the public for their research? As Keenan points out, no less a figure than Richard Smith, the former editor of the BMJ, has posited that they should be.  Does it make any difference if the research is policy relevant? And how can one distinguish research that is dishonest from research that merely incompetent?

Popcorn time.

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Reader Comments (40)

Anybody receiving public funds should be held to account.

In an ideal world academics would be held to account for poor, sloppy, fraudulent work by the research facility that employs them, but this simply isn't happening.

The institutes do not care about the quality of work as long as you can keep the grant money coming in and can keep on getting published.

Nov 26, 2014 at 9:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

I am much glad to see this posted. Concerning the last question—“how can one distinguish research that is dishonest from research that merely incompetent?”—I think that an answer is as follows.

Explain to the researchers what the error is. If they give a nonsensical or manifestly deceptive reply, and refuse to accept the error, then they are almost certainly being dishonest. Even if the error was originally due to an honest mistake, the researchers must accept the error when it is pointed out.

__________________________


The lawyers are currently writing things up. If anyone has recommendations on how to best present the case to the court, this would be welcomed and appreciated.

Nov 26, 2014 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

Whether or not Doug Keenan is right, there is signifficant concern about UK and US universities blocking freedom of information about work that has been done under the universities, banner.

Despite the fact that public money is used to finance these institutions, the public cannot find out:

If these people are involved in activism while working on university time and facilities
How these people have beenfinanced whilst doing work in the IPCC
If these people have carried out their research in a competent manner
How much communiation these people have with their pal reviewers
etc, etc, etc .....

We desparately need real transparency of public spending by universities and government funded institutions. And we do not need to hear about academic freedom as an excuse for bad behaviour.

Nov 26, 2014 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

A quick resume -

Christopher Ramsey is a leading, and well respected, expert on radiocarbon dating at Oxford University.

Mr Keenan is some chap no one has ever heard of, who comments on dodgy websites, and has a history of accusing others of fraud.

Nov 26, 2014 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterQuentin Wallace

@Quentin Wallace

Christopher Ramsey is a leading, and well respected, expert...Mr Keenan is some chap no one has ever heard of...

Even if we grant you these points, I cannot see how that affects the question of whether Mr Keenan is right or not?

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered Commenterdodgy geezer

Just as an aside, I saw a repeated program from the Time Team series. In this episode they were excavating Roman remains around a river somewhere in the North East of England. At one point timbers found in the river were sent for Radiocarbon dating and this was supposed to be the big reveal at the end of the show. However despite repeated requests by presenter Tony Robinson, the archeologist involved would not reveal the date. He mumbled and stumbled saying the results were in question and were not what was expected.

It struck me at the time that this was very strange and the instinct from the archeologist to cover up the result, even though this was central to the episodes climax, made me question the whole Radiocarbon dating science. What was so bad he felt compelled to keep quiet ?

I guess Keenan has latched onto something in Radiocarbon methodology which may open up a new debate.

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterMactheknife

dodgy geezer - possibly because Dr Wallace has demonstrated here that he is a leading, and well respected, expert on .... everything.

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:25 AM | Registered CommenterGrantB

Re: Quentin Wallace

I see from your implied logic that your are in favour of a hierarchical society whereby anybody from a lower stratum can not seek to right wrongs (whether true or false) of those from a higher stratum. In this particular case you are implying that because Christopher Ramsey is better known than Doug Keenan then Doug Keenan should not be able to do anything.

Now I have no idea whether or not Doug Keenan is correct but no matter what Mr Ramsey's qualifications Doug has the right to compile and present a case against a public official. It will be for the courts to decide whether or not any case presented has merit and should proceed.

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

@ Quentin Wallace - 10:44 AM

Your point is?

Richard Nixon was president of the United States of America ...... until Watergate.

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Quentin

You are in danger of becoming a troll. If you want to make constructive criticism that's fine.

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

@ Quentin Wallace - 10:44 AM

"Christopher Ramsey is a leading, and well respected, expert on radiocarbon dating at Oxford University."

So his integrity would be on a par with, say, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University?

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Frankly I'm mystified why anyone builds flying machines heavier than air when we know from the renowned Lord Kelvin that it's impossible. In other old news, the atom is like a plum pudding, malaria comes from bad air, the universe is in a steady-state and cauliflower ears are a sign of insanity.

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

@Douglas J. Keenan

...how can one distinguish research that is dishonest from research that merely incompetent?”—I think that an answer is as follows: Explain to the researchers what the error is. If they give a nonsensical or manifestly deceptive reply, and refuse to accept the error, then they are almost certainly being dishonest. Even if the error was originally due to an honest mistake, the researchers must accept the error when it is pointed out...

Hmm. Unfortunately, humans do not work like that.

If I have a theory which I have devoted lots of time and energy to, I will defend it strongly. During that defence, I will probably move from a dispassionate (shall we call it 'Feynman-type, or 'F-type?) approach towards the one more often used by politicians (shall we call this P-type?), where one supportive item of data is stressed, and other counter-instances are conveniently brushed aside. P-type approaches frequently also include ad-homs, data torturing and all the debating paraphernalia we associate with politicians and lawyers - including refusal to even listen to alternative positions and straight lying when they can get away with it.

This is, unfortunately, the way humans work. And scientists are not immune. There have been many famous instances of incorrect science being presented and defended in a P-type manner throughout the history of science from Roger Bacon (who specifically warned about it in the 1260s) onward. Even the courts are not immune - there have been many instances of miscarriages of justice ignored by authority.

As a philosopher, I wish it were not like that. But as a student of humanity, I note the Mencken dictum that you can't get someone to accept a fact when his job depends on not accepting it.

..If anyone has recommendations on how to best present the case to the court...

If I were forced to do the prosecution here I would stress the fact that academics receive public funds, and hence should be accountable in the sense of needing to do a 'proper' job. The law already has a well-established process for holding administrators to account - if you ignore administrative submissions you can be guilty of maladministration. I would say that this applies to 'public science' as well.

I would show a video of Feynman's explanation of 'how to do science' to the court. If the defendant called senior scientific establishment persons as character witnesses (as seems likely) I would put Feynman's points to them and get an agreement that this was the 'proper way' to do science. I would then attempt to show that the defendant breached these principles, and hence was guilty of 'unscientific practices' while being paid to do 'proper science' - effectively maladministration.

I would stay off the 'dishonesty' argument, which requires mens rea. 'Incompetent' science, as with all other forms of 'incompetent' work, can be corrected at law so long as the points of incompetency are clearly demonstrated.

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterdodgy geezer

I am afraid Keenan is right up against the establishment here, one that access to some very good legal people and not a little political influence, the best he can hope for is that the university metaphorically hand Ramsey a gun and tell to do the horrible thing on the QT . There is no chance that he will ever get the university in public , not matter what the facts, to admit they were wrong now.

Nov 26, 2014 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

@ dodgy geezer, 11:52 AM

I understand it is human to want to defend something that you have put so much of yourself into. I do not agree that that justifies dishonesty. And it certainly does not imply that dishonesty should be accepted by others.

Note that I am not accusing Ramsey of committing a crime. I am asking for the Court to determine whether McKendrick committed a crime. Details are in the linked account on my web site.


@ knr, 12:07 PM

You might find it worthwhile to read the linked account....

Nov 26, 2014 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

Douglas, is the problematic computer code/algorithm present in all versions of the program?

Nov 26, 2014 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I call Universities "Lie Factories". How much of which they produce is true? If more than 50% is not, then I am right.

Nov 26, 2014 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

@Douglas J. Keenan

Note that I am not accusing Ramsey of committing a crime. I am asking for the Court to determine whether McKendrick committed a crime. Details are in the linked account on my web site.

Your account is indeed useful.

Based on that account, I suspect that you do not have much of a case against McKendrick. You state that you complained to him, he appointed an expert to look into the case, who came up with a recommendation, which he then implemented. That is how it will be presented in court, and it will sound reasonable there.

To go for fraud, you have to show, not only dishonesty, but dishonesty for gain. It is hard to see and direct gain here.

Nov 26, 2014 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterdodgy geezer

For Quentin - plenty of people are "tops" until proven otherwise:

http://retractionwatch.com/2014/11/26/super-surgeon-who-created-artificial-tracheas-facing-new-misconduct-allegations/

Browse the RW site for other examples if needed.

Nov 26, 2014 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

@John Silver

I call Universities "Lie Factories". How much of which they produce is true? If more than 50% is not, then I am right.

Alas, someone has got there before you. John Ioannidis, to be precise...

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn7915-most-scientific-papers-are-probably-wrong.html#.VHXlOdKsVZg

Nov 26, 2014 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterdodgy geezer

Dodgy geezer, isn't the direct gain to NOT have tell everybody who used your program over the years that unfortunately they have to do all their carbond dating over (hundreds of thousands instances total perhaps)?

It would certainly be worthwhile NOT to have to do that.

Nov 26, 2014 at 2:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterWijnand

@Wijnand

...Dodgy geezer, isn't the direct gain to NOT have tell everybody who used your program over the years that unfortunately they have to do all their carbond dating over..

Hmm. Tricky. Courts use precedent a lot, and the concept of gain from fraud is typically a financial benefit. Other benefits in kind have been accepted - fraud to obtain a driving license, for example, but I really can't see a judge counting the avoidance of embarrassment as an 'unfair or unlawful gain', which is the wording of the act.

It seems obvious to me that the appropriate action here is to get a paper published pointing out the deficiencies in the current system. This, for instance, is what Steve McIntyre did for the Mann Hockey-stick in the Climate Change scam. It takes a long time, it's a fight against impossible odds, but it's how science is meant to proceed...

Nov 26, 2014 at 3:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterdodgy geezer

After reading this article this morning, I've been trying to get to the bottom of this "dispute" and why it should have become so acrimonious. Eventually having read as much as I am able and finding that Ramsay appears to have acted quite reasonably as far as I can see, and knowing of no reason for him to want to distort the Carbon 14 dates, I've taken the highly unusual step of writing a piece in defence of Ramsay.

In defense of Ramsay

Nov 26, 2014 at 4:16 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

@ michael hart, 12:30 PM

Yes.


@ dodgy geezer

You say that you have read my linked account. You then you talk about “fraud”; yet my account states that I do not believe there was fraud. The potential crime is stated to be misconduct in public office.

Nov 26, 2014 at 4:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

@Douglas J. Keenan, the basic question here is whether Ramsay has behaved appropriately in his office.

As an amateur archaeologist I would be just as angry if C14 dates were being fudged as I am about the upjusting over global temperatures. But you haven't convinced me that there would be a significant improvement in C14 dating using your preferred methodology.

In climate, there is a clear motive why people have biased the data, there is evidence it has occurred, there are massive financial rewards for those doing so, and people like Prof Salby have suffered when they have been honest. Climate is a clear case of misconduct in public office. I cannot see anything similar in this situation.

This appears to me to be not much more than a debate over which way is better.

Nov 26, 2014 at 4:33 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

@ Douglas J Keenan;

I have read and re-read this thread and the comments from you and others, and the account that you posted a link to.

Your account starts by accusing Ramsey of 'repeated fraud', and includes the following:-
" Specifically, I want to set a precedent by having a scientist be found guilty of research fraud. The purpose of the precedent is to bring about systemic accountability—similar to what I did with transparency.

The test case that I have chosen concerns a professor at the University of Oxford, who is doing research in archaeology of the Bronze Age. The case has some aspects that make it especially appealing to pursue."

Yet you state in your post of 4:17 that "yet my account states that I do not believe there was fraud."

So was there fraud in Ramsey's work or not? It appears to me (and forgive me if I have misinterpreted your actions), that you are unable to pursue your case against Ramsey and instead, are trying to take action against McKendrick for misconduct in public office - In which case I do not see how you can hope that this will lead to your goal of using it as a test case to set a precedent for 'systemic accountability' in research fraud?

Nov 26, 2014 at 5:01 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

@ Salopian, 5:01 PM

dodgy geezer was referring to the crime of fraud. In particular, he said, “To go for fraud, you have to show, not only dishonesty, but dishonesty for gain”. The relevant paragraph from my web site is the following.

The police suggested that I file an allegation of an offense under the Fraud Act. The Fraud Act, however, requires deception for monetary gain. I have no evidence that Ramsey committed research misconduct for monetary gain. Moreover, I strongly believe that monetary gain was not the motivation for Ramsey's misconduct. Rather, I suspect that the motivation was to maintain and enhance his prestige—in a word, ego.

Regarding your last question, I am hoping that if the registrar gets convicted of misconduct in public office, that will lead to a changed system—one where investigations into research misconduct/fraud are not whitewashed.

Nov 26, 2014 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

@Douglas J. Keenan, I have been looking at this most of the day and to be frank I am very disappointed in you as I thought you had found something important but on reflection you don't have a clue about real archaeology and appear as far as I can see to have hurled groundless accusations against an academic who does not warrant them.

The root problem I believe, is that you seem to imagine that archaeology dates can be worked out with any kind of precision. The truth is that archaeologists know almost all dates are suspect and the kind of precision you seem to imagine is almost never possible. And I feel that in light of the huge problems of dating all archaeology, your issue is at best a minor technical issue which at best would only improve our knowledge in a very very few instances.

If not ... please show the evidence!

If you want to find real issues why pick on this "splinter" when there so many huge forests of disinformation:

- there is no evidence at all the Welsh, Irish or Scots were celts
- there is no evidence at all that the Romano Britons of the modern region of England were genetically different or spoke any language other than a Germanic precursor to Old English
- the evidence on the location of Mons Graupius has been ignored.

Indeed, it's almost a standing joke in archaeology that if you want to know when an archaeologist is trying to cover up something you just look for them using the word "ritual" as this almost invariably translates as: "we haven't a clue".

Nov 26, 2014 at 5:54 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

@Douglas J Keenan: Sorry but the words 'tilting at windmills' come to mind. It appears that you have been told by the police/CPS that there is no possibility of pursuing a criminal case against Ramsey, and as result you are now intending to pursue a separate case against the College Registrar, albeit with the same intent - a test case to set a precedent - don't you think a Court of Law might seriously doubt that your intended result, rather than the supposed 'crime' is what is driving your complaint?

Nov 26, 2014 at 6:37 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

I'm afraid that it looks like vindictiveness rather than the pursuit of science to this outsider.

Certainly, academics and scientists become welded to their theories. As Dodgy Geezer reminded us, that's human nature, and it applies to Keenan as well.

Attacking a bureaucrat because you have no legal grounds to attack the scientist is not going to improve science.

Nov 26, 2014 at 8:33 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

@Douglas J. Keenan

...You say that you have read my linked account. You then you talk about “fraud”; yet my account states that I do not believe there was fraud. The potential crime is stated to be misconduct in public office...

I note that the police talked about fraud as well. The word was used because you yourself talked about 'research fraud'. You say:

".at present, scientists can commit fraud with impunity....I want to set a precedent by having a scientist be found guilty of research fraud....I submitted an allegation, to the University, of research fraud by the professor...

I suggest that, if you don't want to use the Fraud Act, you stay well clear of using the word. However, my advice on McKendrick still stands - I cannot see that commissioning a report by an expert and following its findings will be easy to present as misconduct. There undoubtedly is an issue here about the proper procedures to be used in radio-dating (as there is, for instance, about the fundamentals of climate change), and the proper way to sort these out is via the scientific method.

In both your case and for Climate Change, the administration of the scientific method seems to be broken, and it is failing to be self-correcting. For Climate Change, I believe that in some cases (the US EPA, for example) there is outright fraud being committed. But in this case I think you will struggle with misconduct...

Nov 26, 2014 at 8:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterdodgy geezer

@Mactheknife 26 Nov

"I guess Keenan has latched onto something in Radiocarbon methodology which may open up a new debate."

Please check your facts.

The program was Time team S17-EO3 Piercebridge. at 30.44 and 39.40
The analysis was Dendrochronology, NOT radoiocarbon dating. Presumably you know the difference? The result was inconclusive and well explained. The two pieces of wood were not from the same period and did not match known Dendro sequencies.

Archaeologus

Nov 26, 2014 at 9:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterArchaeologus

my remembrance of the earlier thread was that DJK retreated with his tail between his legs after many contributions from Radford Neal amd Nullius in Verbius.... Just wondering what DJK has to gain by all this, other than trying to get himself into a Z-List TV show.

Nov 26, 2014 at 10:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

@ Salopian, 6:37 PM

For the Court, all that really matters is whether the evidence is sufficient for a conviction.

Nov 26, 2014 at 11:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

@Douglas J Keenan: I think that you will find that, particularly if you go down the private prosecution route, the Court will take your motivation and intent in account.

Nov 27, 2014 at 12:05 AM | Registered CommenterSalopian

@John Silver

I call Universities "Lie Factories". How much of which they produce is true? If more than 50% is not, then I am right.

Alas, someone has got there before you. John Ioannidis, to be precise...

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn7915-most-scientific-papers-are-probably-wrong.html#.VHXlOdKsVZg


Dammit Dr Geezer, never an original idea, and I didn't even mention piss poor pal review:

http://joannenova.com.au/2014/11/the-peer-review-scam-why-not-review-your-own-paper/

Nov 27, 2014 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

For anyone with a grain of insight in stats: the professors method is FALSE. false as false can be.
He probably knows it (or at least his phd students around him) and could have cleared the matter in days with the help of say oxfords stats institute, but is not allowed to do this as it would "frighten the horses" = the leftwing scum that pretends to be the fine establishment.

This isn't much different from Galileo's and Copernus's fate and bewilderment.

This isn't too different from "attacking a bishop" in mideaval France. Of course Keenan is "wrong", lol.


the way this turns is when a duped millionaire/billionaire finds out his ming table or Van Gogh is FAKE.
"but but but , the billionaire will say, it wos dated by professor wossisname in oxford???!!"

So you cannot fight this with mansion judges or other cardboard. What I would advise Keenan is to set up a consultancy providing a "second opinion" on historic art dating.

Cheap webpage, and, you know, there are "subsidized, public" institutes that will do the carbon dating.Even Oxford.
You can ask for the raw data besides the Ramsey juggling..

Remember this re the criminal "justice system": Why do mansion judges throw men in jail who had a kerfuffle in a relationship and were accused of so called "rape"?? Is because they are more focused on the lamborghini, the cricket tomorrow, not on kerfuffels 9to5.. So they swim along with the rest of the scum around them.

What I would do i

Nov 27, 2014 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

With due respect to the rantings of ptw, I cannot understand why BH wants to be involved in this ego case. Keenan was demolished by NiV and Radford Neal, here. Nic Lewis was demolished at Climate Audit by Radford Neal and others. James Annan demolished Nic Lewis as well. Why support what seems to be a vendetta against good practice promoted by someone lacking in skills and knowledge?

Nov 27, 2014 at 10:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

radford neal was the canadian nutter that dragged in fancy and entirely miconceived priors for a measurement method
that can not HAVE a prior beyond uniform??

man we read some BS there about how MEASUREMENTS of the UNKNOWN can be preconceived..

priors can be imagined about patients sicknesses etc after 100y experiences with sick patiets have been logged.

a piece of dead artefact does not drag in that info with it.

Nov 28, 2014 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

The debate on the most appropriate algorithms for radiocarbon analysis when estabilishing real calendar ages (not just interpretative/explorative models) has become one of the most hard polemics (at least) all of "scientific" archaeology. It seems that the majority of archaeologists who have had to deal with radiocarbon analysis without having an high education/professional background in stats (that's the case for almost all archaeologists, including myself) do really hard time when it comes to understanding what the real assumptions of specific algorithms are. Prof. Ramsey's faults are:
1) He has co-signed high-impact scientific papers that claimed (not only implicitly) that the results obtained by use of Bayesian Algorithms in OxCal were conclusive to the debate on the chronology of the Minoan Eruption - even if uncal measurements showed central values spreading up to 300 14C years apart, and fairly evenly distribute along a relatively long and wiggled-plateaud portion of the Calibration curve.
2) He has never published a "caveat" to archaeologists about BA algorithms in OxCal being mainly an experimental technique to formulate possible chronological reconstruction, which in turn implies increasing dating precision while reducing accuracy. It was not aknowledged that the method is not a "passepartout" to by-pass the always too frequent problems connected with radiocarbon dating (and particularly high-resolution dating - remember we are talking about a case-study where only 20 14C yrs can make a total difference in the final calibration).
I don't know if Prof. Ramsey was really aware of the scarcely appropriate use that archaeologists would make of his algorithms, and i don't know if it is correct to speak of "fraud", as long has he could just close the question by just publishing a "corrigenda-caveat for archaeologists dealing with radiocarbon analysis". That would be very welcome by all of those who wish to put an end to polemics and go further researching for the most appropriate scientific approaches to radiocarbon dating.

Dec 12, 2014 at 5:41 PM | Unregistered Commentertizianofantuzzi

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