Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Whose Foot in the Door?



[1] Many professional societies in the geosciences, including AGU, have made it their practice to accept for presentation almost every abstract submitted for professional meetings, including meetings of national and international stature. Unfortunately, it is becoming clear that this generous policy can have serious and unintended consequences. As some readers will know, a tiny minority of AGU members are concerned with furthering a religiously motivated creationist agenda and (in all good faith, presumably) completely misrepresent science to that end. For most scientists this is a trivial matter. We know that an AGU abstract, for example, is just an abstract. It does not have the status of a peer-reviewed scientific contribution, although the research reported will often provide the basis for one. We know that radioactive decay rates depend on basic physical constants and the laws of quantum mechanics. We also know, from the fact that we can understand the structure of the oldest rocks or the spectra of the most distant galaxies, that these things have not changed for billions of years. If an abstract makes claims to the contrary, we might attribute this to human error, or to instrumental limitations, or even to some real and interesting confounding phenomenon, such as the presence of bacterial contamination in an unexpected location. In any case, we are unlikely to be misled, and we might even learn something. So, seemingly, no great harm is done.