Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marshall responds and Shrink answers

Prof. Robin Marshall's reply in the comments of the previous post is reproduced below in full, interspersed with comments in red from Shrink, which he emailed to me. I may add some of my own.

Dear Jason, I assume from your name that English might be your first language but you seem to have failed to understand the English I wrote in my assessment. I am surprised to find a confidential document flapped around the internet, but in the end, I suppose that is the way it is these days and even so, I stand by what I wrote. [Marshall is not aware of the fact that Tarek put the stuff on-line. --Shrink] I was asked to assess the scientific case which I did and I supported the award of the degree of D.Sc. (which has a special status in most universities). As an aside, and taking care to emphasise that it was of low importance, I think I was doing Ibrahim a favour by suggesting that he would be well advised to stay out of public spats which end up being read by people who do not know or understand the background. [Gimme a break! He was doing him a favour in a referee report! Incredible! --Shrink] [Yes, Robin's being a little disingenuous here. A negative comment even in an otherwise positive assessment cannot be considered a favor. --Jason] The science is ultimately the most important factor. I do not regard what I said regarding the public squabbles as a criticism, merely as friendly advice. If it took your breath away, after you had read what was essentially praise for this candidate, then maybe the problem is with your lungs. [What took my breath away is final sentence of his report by praising AU as the home of Ptolemy. :D --Shrink] [Personally I think the whimsical acknowledgement of the municipal home of the ancient Library of Alexandria is unobjectionable --Jason] You are correct that the topic which sustains the public argument between these two people is obscure to me and that is exactly the point I was making and which Mark Twain understood fully. If you argue in public about a matter that is obscure to the average reader then the average reader is unlikely to be able to tell the difference and judge who is right. Therefore it is best not to have arguments in public on obscure topics, especially if you seek international acclaim. [A matter so obscure that it found its place in Nature. --Shrink] I fail to see how anyone could disagree with this gentle view which is primarily a view and not a criticism. [Yes, a very gentle view: "...Dr Ibrahim potentially could harm his image or reputation and through his affiliation, his University..." --Shrink] I was not asked to read and assess the El Naschie Watch and I am happy to confirm that I know very little about it and I expect this to remain to be the case. I don't need to know. It came up naturally when I did background research on the D.Sc. candidate and I spent some time enquiring other sources to add to the El Naschie stuff. I did not like some of the things that I read [so he's saying he read some stuff on El Naschie Watch and didn't like it --Jason] and I am disappointed that the central core of my whole career - "the purity of science always supercedes human weakness" is lacking in some of the exchanges. I do not care which side is right or wrong in such a forum. To me it looks undignified for scientists to talk thus. Let the science speak. If you disagree with someone's scientific statements, write a paper showing they are wrong. [OMG. To write a paper to prove non peer-reviewed baloney is wrong? --Shrink] If you disagree with me Jason, go ahead; it is your prerogative to be able to disagree with me. In your comments above, you come across as rather unscientific, making assumptions and then drawing conclusions from your assumptions. I suggest you try making a raft of assumptions and seeing if the conclusions are the same in all cases. How do you know if or not I am well briefed about what is in Arabic newspapers? Assumption or proven? [Yes, he reads Arabic newspapers at breakfast; maybe in the house in Surrey. :D --Shrink] Ah well. Back to work.


Robin M

Thanks to Robin for his thoughtful reply.

It is useful, I think, to distinguish between levels of obscurity in application of Mark Twain's advice not to discuss obscure matters in a public forum. A case can be made for that advice on technical scientific matters. Even there I don't think I agree with it. Still, a case can be made. But the obscurity in the case in point is different. The question whether El Naschie is a charlatan and a crackpot is obscure only in the lesser sense that the general public may not have heard of El Naschie. Fortunately El Naschie Watch provides a wealth of information to allow physics professors and haberdashers alike to draw well-informed conclusions about him.

I haven't read Mark Twain's original writings on his dictum, but Robin's presentation of it strikes me as self-serving and elitist. There is a natural but undemocratic tendency by scientists to exclude non-scientists from discussions on matters that affect everyone, and it should be resisted.

Translate English to Arabic
محمد النشائى El Naschie Watch محمد النشائي El Naschie News محمد النشائى محمد النشائي All El Naschie All The Time محمد النشائى


  1. The final sentence in his report is not relevant for Tarek's assessment. I think it's inappropriate for a referee to include such things - regardless of their factual accuracy.

  2. "He is worthy of a D.Sc. degree at the home of Ptolemy, whose Universe lasted almost 2,000 years, unlike Einstein’s which lasted only a few decades." It's false respect, masking cultural condescension. But I don't think it's that big a deal. Nobody's perfect. He tried his best to wrap it up with a flourish and the result is awkward.