IN HER last dark days, Alene Composta found succour in the kind words of Skeptical Science’s John Cook, who together with close friend Stephan Loondowsky believed in her to the bitter end. Faith like that can be karmic, so it was nothing less than cosmic justice when the physicist won the Australia Museum’s Eureka Prize for advancing the cause of scientific understanding, an award that bestows the additional joy of a $10,000 purse provided by the NSW government. Alene would have loved to share the moment with Cook, of that we can be sure, just as it is certain she would have stood behind him now, when ugly things are being said about standards and integrity.
The accuser is blogger Shub Niggurath, who lays out a persuasive case that Cook’s site turned a sceptic’s words on their head by not merely doctoring a quote but performing major surgery upon it. He even provides a graphic to show how, with the sort of science honoured by Eureka Prizes, it is the done thing to take a fragment from the head of the page, a bit from the middle and an unrelated sentence from the foot in order to make a whole “quote” which can be demolished at a stroke. This is particularly the easy when the panel-beaten passage is twisted to state the polar opposite of its writer’s intention.
Shub is obviously unaware that Cook represents the essence of contemporary Australian science and has a $10,000 cheque to prove it. As the Eureka commendation states, climate deniers have “nowhere to hide” when he and his believe-a-matic iPhone app are on the case. They don’t hand out $10,000 sums lightly, you know, even if it is only someone else’s money -- not like prophecies of endless drought or warnings that climate-deafened clown fish are soon to be smeared by speeding southbound sharks. Those Eureka Awards have standards, lots of entry conditions and all of them are laid out here!
But then again, it might be better not to mention them. While Cook’s award recognised his success in ringing the climate-change alarm, a close reading of the conditions of entry reveals no premium on accuracy or truth. Indeed, neither is mentioned at all.
Perhaps the prize committee found those bits to be daunting or inconvenient and simply erased them. As Skeptical Science’s own-quote bending demonstrates, that’s the settled science for you.