An apology

It seems that the tweeting saga at the Royal Society meeting on Arctic sea ice continues. I wasn’t going to write about this, partly because it all seemed so childish that it was best ignored and partly because you could always read views, expressed, by others. However, my noted lack of self-restraint means I can only hold out for so long.

It all started when Prof. Peter Wadhams formally complained about those who tweeted during his talk, saying

I was subjected to unprofessional on-line behaviour of two of the co-organizers: Dr. Mark Brandon (Open University) and Dr.
Sheldon Bacon (National Oceanography Centre) and by one of the participants, Dr Gavin Schmidt, who is Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

thereby starting a process that has mainly served to indicate that Peter Wadhams has little understanding of what defines professional behaviour.

Mark Brandon, Sheldon Bacon and Gavin Schmidt have responded with a lengthy document, that also includes Peter Wadhams’s initial complaint letters (which went to the Royal Society, the Open University, NASA, University College London, and the University of Southampton).

You might imagine that it all might stop there, with everyone thinking it best to simply let the matter drop. Well, you’d be wrong. Peter Wadhams has doubled down with a new (in fact, this may be letter number 3) letter of complaint, now requesting

i) a meeting with the Royal Society and BBS [Brandon, Bacon, Schmidt] to discuss this matter in person, and
ii) a public apology by BBS and a public statement by the Royal Society on this issue.

I don’t know about everyone else, but it’s my view that unless the person requesting an apology is your partner, your parent, or your boss, an appropriate response to such a request would be piss off, you’re not getting one. On a serious note, what does Peter Wadhams plan to do if he doesn’t get his way? Keep going until people simply give in and apologise, just to get him to shut up? Actually try and damage people’s careers over a few tweets that may have been a little sarcastic (you can read them and make up your own mind), but that were mostly really informative and a fair reflection of his talk?

I have read most of the tweets and actually followed the meeting on Twitter. It was extremely useful and interesting and Mark Brandon – in particular – put a great deal of effort into tweeting relevant comments about the various talks. Peter Wadhams will be doing noone any favours if his actions discourage such activities. It’s clearly my view that he deserves no apology and that his behaviour has been unfortunate at best. On the other hand, Mark, Sheldon and Gavin may disagree and – given how difficult it can be to craft a suitable apology – I thought I might provide a template. I should make it clear that I’m not suggesting that anything said in this template is relevant in this particular case; it’s just an example of how someone might construct a suitable apology. (Given that Peter Wadhams appears to have no sense of humour, it might be best if those involved were not to tweet this post – I’d hate to make things worse).


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22 Responses to An apology

  1. verytallguy says:

    What a disgusting way to treat prof wadhams. You need a lesson in apologising from a man of the cloth.

  2. I am a little less enthusiastic about tweeting at scientific conferences as you and Doug McNeall, but demand an apology is not proportional. I guess I keeps one in the press.

  3. Unfortunately, assuming the Royal Society look level-headedly at the events, surely his outburst will backfire on Prof. Wadhams? Although not strictly applicable, the phrase ‘gone emeritus’ springs to mind: though for once in the ‘other’ direction?

  4. > it might be best if those involved were not to tweet this post

    What’s it worth?

  5. VTG,
    For some reason, that one wouldn’t work for me initially.

    I haven’t read Doug’s post, but have read yours. You make some good points. I’m not sure I’m specifically enthusiastic, I just don’t have much of a problem with it. I also don’t see how it can really be avoided.

  6. William,

    What’s it worth?

    Nothing to me 🙂 . I wasn’t meaning for my sake, but for theirs.

  7. Rachel M says:

    I wonder whether he’d be complaining if the tweets had been complimentary?

  8. Rachel,
    He would probably have thought they were being sarcastic 🙂

  9. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Rachel, one hopes that he would. Fiddling about with one’s smartphone when in company is dreadfully ill-mannered no matter what the occasion or the purpose of the fiddling. (I know this because I’ve never owned one.)

  10. anoilman says:

    Vinny Burgoo: Being ill-mannered isn’t anything new. In the days before the smart phone I’m sure people would chit chat, read a book, or sleep.

  11. John Mashey says:

    Cambridge Professor Peter Wadhams on Matters of Life and Death and Higher Consciousness, March 22, 2013: worth reading in detail:

    Q: Peter, have you yourself ever had any personal experience with something that you might classify as paranormal?
    Yes, I have precognitive dreams occasionally, and in one case a very vivid one that preceded an unusual event by 10 days. This was published in “Paranormal Review” (newsletter of the SPR), and it was such a clear case that I feel we have to really rethink our concepts of time and causality, if an event can be foreseen in detail 10 days ahead.”

    Sadly, this imbroglio seems not to have been foretold.

    There is a nonobvious connection between Prof. Wadhams and my favorite dog astrology journal, the Journal of Scientific Exploration. given that it has been quoted as a credible source by:
    Steve McIntyre,,
    Andrew Montford (discussed in Wiki talk page ),
    James Inhofe, in The Greatest Hoax (2012) p.36, and by many others, most recently:
    Rupert Darwall, The Age of Global Warming – A History p.200.

    The connection:
    JSE is published by the Society for Scientific Exploration, first thrust into my consciousness by Eli Rabett.

    Mapping Time, Mind and Space (Oct 2012):
    “SSE: Peter Wadhams (chair) … ”
    Invited Speakers Bob Jahn and Brenda Dunne = PEAR.
    That was foretold, p.230 of JSE, call for papers by Prof. Wadhams, Chair of Program Committee.

  12. John Mashey says:

    anoilman: expectations about people’s behavior in meetings vary widely, and at least according to the meeting nature and often the discipline.
    Use of laptops, tablets, smartphones has long been prevalent in meetings around Silicon Valley, both small and large, and SV is hardly unique, if not necessarily representative.
    a) For nearly 2 decades, I’ve been in internal meetings where one or more people had laptops to be able to check things during meetings, (like Google a proposed product name), or send email to someone outside the meeting to get information quickly.
    In the last few years at SV companies, *everybody* in the meeting would have an open laptop, especially in companies that operate at high speed.

    b) Two decades ago, people would attend conferences, write up trip reports and send them around by email or on USENET newsgroups. Useful laptops started to appear, and people started bringing them, but often there was no network usable. I help organize a technical conference (Hot Chips) every year, and for at least a decade we’ve had to plan for extra power strips, WiFi networks, etc to handle the load. I’ve occasionally been to other tech conferences where the biggest complaint was insufficient WiFi.

    c) Twitter simply ups the frequency of interaction, and smartphones are easier to carry around, and may survive without WiFi. This is not to praise Twitter as a great mechanisms, but these days, anyone at an open conference, especially on anything technical, should expect tweets, preferably some well-organized, which can extend the “reach” of the conference greatly. Even if unofficial, there *will* be liveTweets … unless WiFi is avoided and cell-phone signals jammed.

    Bottom line: in some environments, using some device would be quite impolite, in others, it *is expected* and not considered impolite at all.

  13. At this years meeting of the European Meteorological Society (EMS2014) there was no free WiFi in the meeting rooms. (You could buy access or use free WiFi in a separate working room.) I really liked that. People were again paying attention to the speaker, like a decade ago (when most scientists could not afford a laptop yet).

  14. John Mashey says:

    Preferences differ for all sorts of reasons, and it depends on the nature of the talks and the audience. . Some talks can quickly plunge into technical detail, for expert audiences … but many talks necessarily include introductory material that experts may have heard or said themselves many times. Some deep discussions may only work for experts.
    Hence, the appropriate level of attention varies among audience members, and among different parts of a talk. Of course, these days, people may be following via webcast anyway.

    Ideally, the speaker can be so compelling as to create rapt attention for the entire talk from everybody in a variegated audience … but that is really hard. Steve Schneider was awesomely good.

  15. anoilman says:

    John Mashey: Pretty soon people won’t bother to show up at all. 🙂

    But I’m sure a few old fuddy duddies will be most put out by this new development. Of course not showing up in person is a sign of disrespect. 🙂

    (FYI, I’m not keen on facebook/twitter. I’m an introvert.)

    I find it interesting that this fellow expects to A) have an opinion that is counter to what is considered normal, B) expect to be handled like a child.

  16. John Mashey says:

    Oops, there are cultural differences as well.
    I used to give frequent technology briefings in Europe and elsewhere.
    One time I gave a talk in Stockholm, to an audience that seemed unenthusiastic to me.
    Afterwards, I told my host I was sorry that the talk had not seemed to go over so well, maybe I was off that day.
    Host: “What? that was the most excited Swedish audience I’ve seen in a long time!”

    Then there is Japan, where “Hai” may be misinterpreted by outsiders.

    To tie this all back to the original topic, expectations of behavior at meetings varies widely and people need to be on the same page, or there can be upsets.

  17. My bet is that Prof. Wadhams signalled it:

    > By repeating what you already know, I’m giving a signal that it’s time to et your Blackberry out:

  18. anoilman says:

    John Mashey: Off topic… did I mention follow on research to Dunning Kruger has delved into cultural biases. Japanese tend to try over and over to master something, while North American’s tend to say “Good enough, let me keep doing what I know best.”

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  20. climatehawk1 says:

    Funny. I’m (was) in the business game (non-SV), and for perhaps 10 years I was the only person to take a laptop to a meeting, either in my own firm or elsewhere. My thought as I looked around was not, “What’s wrong with me?,” but rather, “What’s wrong with all you people?,” which perhaps means I am an egomaniac. Anyway, the ability to take detailed notes has served me well on many occasions, including several instances in which someone else has asked for a copy after the meeting. (I got into the habit of taking copious notes in law school, because it forced me to pay attention to the speaker instead of woolgathering.)

  21. GregH says:

    Is it impossible to foretell the Streisand Effect, or just very unlikely?

  22. Lotharsson says:

    Interesting, climatehawk1. Everyone consumes lectures/talks differently and has different understanding and retention strategies.

    At university I often reviewed my exceedingly conscientious friend’s copious notes either routinely or just before the exams in case there was anything I missed. It was quid pro quo for helping/informally tutoring various friends when they had trouble so it wasn’t a one way street. I found for many subjects I was far less likely to die of boredom (or want to drop out entirely) if I frequently skipped the lectures to do something less painful and relied on doing my own far more rapid learning from the notes and the textbook. In other subjects my friend’s notes meant I could concentrate on the lecture without the distraction of trying to capture everything just in case I might need it later (or of trying to decide what I would and wouldn’t need later). That tended to mean I understood things immediately which makes them easier to remember anyway, and paradoxically reduced the need to give my friend’s notes the once over at a later date.

    Academically it worked very well for me, but it wouldn’t suit a lot of people. And in some post-university situations I’ve been the one taking copious notes that turn out to be needed by other people later…

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