Professional Disagreement Over Galaxies Escalates Into Bullying And Harassment
“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.