During my final lecture on galaxy evolution (focusing on current problems), I rubbished the idea of planes of satellite galaxies. I wasn't very nice about it either, I was downright sarcastic. Still not sure if this was the right thing to do. I did explicitly warn the students that I was biased and that they should consult the literature for themselves and if at all possible talk to other people. I provided links to the original publications and alternative viewpoints in the PowerPoint file. I gave my honest, sincerely held opinion (I really do think this field is complete nonsense; honesty not always meaning very pleasant), but I still worry I may have gone a bit too far.

I should point out that the researchers in this field are almost all much more senior than me and/or in more distinguished positions (their papers tend to have hundreds of citations; mine have typically < 20). I would not, however, under any circumstances question people's competence in a peer-reviewed journal. I'm honestly not really sure if I ever crossed the line from saying "this research is bunk" to at least implying "these researchers are stupid" (or that they have done a stupid thing).

I had a conscious decision beforehand. I could have tried to present the various viewpoints (I'm not the only one who isn't convinced by this by any means) in a dispassionate way. There were several reasons I didn't do this. The first, main reason was that this would make for a deadly dull lecture, and I didn't want to inflict that on anyone - certainly not in a 90 minute lecture. The other reasons are of about equal importance : I'm rather peeved at the veracity with which the claims about such objects have been expressed and the way certain people have used very weak evidence to claim that cosmology is all wrong, I felt they deserved a bit of a kick in the complacency. The final, clinching argument occurred when I asked myself, "Can I stand in front of an audience, looking at this data set and tell them this claim has any serious merit ?". I finally decided that I couldn't do this - it would have been a lie (more accurately, my opinion is that it has no serious merit). I would have felt like was misleading people into believing there was a serious problem where in fact none exists. There's a line that has to be drawn somewhere : we don't teach students about the electric Universe or the Flat Earth model because they are utter garbage. This issue doesn't fall into that category by any means, but still I just couldn't stand there and say, "this is credible".

Well, anyway, you'll get the transcript in a couple of weeks when I write it up, so you can judge for yourself.
“Unsurprisingly, this result and this technique is controversial, and some of the other researchers dispute Livermore et al.’s findings. This is normal in science; discourse about different techniques, assumptions, and methodologies are key to uncovering systematic errors. When those are, at last, sorted out, we’ll have our best-ever understanding of the faintest, most distant galaxies we’ve ever seen.

But until that day comes, there are going to be arguments and disagreements. There are going to be different models, different results, different conclusions, and disparate ways of modeling the galaxy clusters in question, including models that vary from one cluster to the next. Right now, there are five independent teams working on this exact class of problems, including Hakim Atek’s team, Livermore’s, and Rychard Bouwens’. Bouwens has been professionally critical of Livermore’s work in the past; he thinks her galaxy sizes are too large. Of course, Livermore believes that Bouwens’ has made incorrect assumptions himself: about lensing, her field of expertise. Debates and discourse around these professional disagreements are normal, and usually play out in person, at conferences, and in the professional literature.

But in a new paper out this week, Bouwens demolished the line between professional disagreement and personal bullying, and did so in spectacular fashion.”

Disagreements in scientific fields are nothing new. They not only occur all the time, they need to occur in order to drive the field forward. When you’re at the frontiers of knowledge, there are going to be arguments about how to model certain effects, which calculations are important and when, what properties unknown objects have, etc. And different people have different scientific toolkits, areas of expertise, and opinions as to how best approach the problem. But there’s an unspoken rule that people treat each other with respect, and not to bully, harass, or put them down in the heat of an argument. Over the past two years, with the advent of the Hubble Frontier Fields, the most distant, faint galaxies ever discovered have been revealed through gravitational lensing. But what are the properties and distribution of these galaxies? That’s what a number of researchers are trying to figure out. But one Rychard Bouwens has taken his scientific passion into the realm of the personal, and went so far to personally attack another scientist (a junior, woman scientist) in a harassing and bullying fashion in a paper he submitted to a leading professional journal.

This is behavior we must stop. No one should ever be subject to this kind of treatment. Not in my field. Not on all our watches.
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