Lack of scientific ethics by editorial board of scientific journal
by James Gourley, 21 October 2008
The Journal of Engineering Mechanics has recently published a paper I authored. It can be found here, beginning on page 915: (PDF 224kb)
Normally, such a publication would be announced here at 911Blogger to let everyone know we are still making progress publishing criticisms of the official fairy tale in mainstream technical journals, in the hopes of reaching more members of the scientific and engineering community.
While I am excited this paper will be reaching new audiences, and I would like to share that fact with you, I am writing today for a different purpose.
Not much is ever written about what we go through to get these papers published. The publication of this paper is a case study in the struggles we face. I’d like to relate to you exactly what I had to go through to get this paper published, and what influences the substance of it have already had. I hesitate to reveal some of the information below, but as will become clear, the Journal of Engineering Mechanics personnel have demonstrated a complete lack of scientific ethics, and I feel like I have no choice but to publish exactly what occurred in the lead up to my paper’s publication.
Before I begin, let me make it perfectly clear that I do not want anyone to call, email or otherwise harass the editors or staff at the Journal of Engineering Mechanics or the authors of the papers I talk about below. Such behavior is extremely counterproductive, and I do not support or endorse such actions.
The Bazant/Greening Paper
In June 2007, I was sent a link to a paper by Dr. Zdenek Bazant, Dr. Frank Greening, and others, that had been submitted to the Journal of Engineering Mechanics (JEM) for peer review and publication. This paper (the Bazant/Greening Paper) can be found here: (PDF 729kb)
After reading through the Bazant/Greening Paper, I came up with essentially the same criticism that I was eventually able to get published this month at JEM. The Bazant/Greening paper repeated and expanded upon Dr. Bazant’s theory of crush down/crush up collapse progression. This crush down/crush up theory was first developed by Bazant in 2001, and expanded on by Bazant & Zhou in 2002, and Bazant & Verdure in 2007. I find the crush down/crush up theory completely unbelievable for the reasons I stated in my paper.
Back in June 2007, I sent an email to the editor of JEM that basically laid out my criticisms of the Bazant/Greening paper. About three weeks later, one of the Associate Editors of JEM sent me an email that read as follows:
Dear Mr. Gourley:
We recently received your critique on the paper entitled “Collapse of World Trade Center Towers: What Did and Did Not Cause It?” I have attached a standard reviewer form that is filled out by each person as they review an article. If you could please complete this form so that we will have a better understanding of where your comments fall on our standard scale, we would appreciate it very much. When completed, you can e-mail the reviewer form to [redacted] or [redacted]. Thank you for the time and effort that you have already put into the review of this paper, and we look forward to receiving your further comments.
I completed the reviewer forms that evening, and sent it back to JEM the following day. The reviewer forms allowed me to recommend for or against publication of the paper. I, of course, recommended against publication until my concerns were addressed.
I never heard anything back from JEM, so, in late December and early January, I exchanged a few emails with the Associate Editor who had sent me the reviewer forms. I was curious about where the Bazant Paper was in the review process, as it still hadn’t been published 6 months after I reviewed it. The Associate Editor responded to my email inquiry as follows:
I am back at my office and I checked on the paper that you reviewed. The paper was declined and returned to the authors.
You can imagine my surprise when, in late April 2008, I learned that the Bazant/Greening Paper had been accepted for publication at JEM. The published version can be found here: (PDF 1mb)
However, if you look at the version of the Bazant/Greening Paper I previously provided, you will see that it was revised on June 22, 2007, December 15, 2007 and March 31, 2008. It was ultimately published in the October 2008 issue of JEM, along with my paper.
As you can see, my letter to the editor (with comments and peer review) delayed publication of the Bazant/Greening paper for more than a year. I don’t know what happened between the time the Associate Editor of JEM told me the paper had been rejected and sent back to the authors, and the time it was ultimately accepted for publication. What I would come to realize later is that Dr. Bazant has published hundreds of papers at JEM, and seems to have the standing of something like a “favored author” over there. As will become apparent below, the rules at JEM that govern other authors do not apply to Dr. Bazant.
The Bazant/Verdure Paper
Back in June 2007, I also learned that Dr. Bazant had recently published a paper in JEM which also relied on the crush down/crush up theory. The Bazant/Verdure Paper can be found here: (PDF 768kb)
I noticed that a window of time was still open where Discussion papers could still be submitted to JEM for the Bazant/Verdure Paper. So, I put the criticisms from my review of the Bazant/Greening Paper into the proper scientific paper form, in accordance with the ASCE Author Guidelines for submission of Discussion Papers. One of those requirements is that Discussion papers contain less than 2000 words. This word limit was extremely limiting for me, as you can probably tell in reading this essay. I’m an attorney, and spend most of my days reading and writing. Most of the documents I draft have either no page limit, or at worst a 15 or 30 page limit. I like to be very thorough when I am writing about a topic, and I don’t like to even mention things that I can’t spend adequate time discussing.
I did not want to exceed the 2000 word limit, because I already knew it would be difficult to get a paper critical of the official story published in a mainstream scientific journal. In other words, I didn’t want to give JEM any reason to reject it. I had a number of other points I could have raised that were critical of the Bazant/Verdure paper, including its assumption that all movements are vertical. However, when I was writing the Discussion paper, I realized very quickly I would not be able to spend adequate time on all of my points, so I focused on the points you see in the published version of my paper.
The paper I submitted was under the 2000 word limit, and was accepted for publication if I would remove language that the editors thought was too argumentative. My legal writing is typically argumentative, so I suspect some of that leaked into my paper. I went back through the paper, humbled my language, and resubmitted it. It was accepted for publication on November 21, 2007.
Dr. Bazant was then given an opportunity to prepare a response to my Discussion paper, called a Closure paper. Under ASCE guidelines, the Discussion and Closure are published together. This is in fact what you see at the first link I provided above. ASCE Guidelines also limit Closure papers to 2000 words. Seems only fair, right?
In May 2008, I learned that Dr. Bazant had finished his Closure paper and had published it at his NWU faculty website. So, I downloaded it and read it. I was startled by what I saw.
Dr. Bazant was allowed to go on and on for at least 4 to 5 thousand words in response to my Discussion paper. The original version of his Closure repeatedly derided me as a “lay person” and criticized my response as “wordy.” (If I’m a lay person, then a lay person was allowed by JEM to peer review his paper with Dr. Greening, which ultimately held up its publication for more than a year. Not bad for a lay person.) His Closure was also full of misrepresentations about my Discussion paper.
So, I sent a rather heated email to the JEM staff, asking them why Dr. Bazant was allowed to completely ignore the 2000 word limit in criticizing me and my Discussion paper, when I complied with it in good faith. I told them there were three ways to fairly resolve the situation.
First, JEM could pull my Discussion paper and his Closure paper from publication. JEM refused to do this. In hindsight, I’m actually glad they didn’t choose this option. The results of Dr. Bazant’s Closure paper are ludicrous, and demonstrate the utter bankruptcy of his theory. Even though I was treated unfairly, on balance I’m glad both papers were ultimately published.
Second, JEM could allow me to revise my paper free from the 2000 word limit I had originally complied with in good faith. If I was allowed to revise my paper without worrying about the word limit, I could have included all of my criticisms of his paper, and included mathematical equations to support my arguments. JEM refused to do this. This would have been the preferred option, but for some reason, I was not allowed to resubmit a revised paper exceeding the 2000 word limit.
Third, JEM could force Dr. Bazant to revise his paper to comply with the 2000 word limit. This was not preferable, but at least would have leveled the playing field. I would rather everyone have the same opportunity to fully develop their arguments and let the public decide who to believe. Unfortunately, this is not what ended up happening. After several rounds of email correspondence, JEM decided that they would ask Dr. Bazant to revise his paper to comply with the 2000 word limit, and remove the offensive language I had identified.
You can imagine my surprise again when I learned last week that both of our papers had been published in the October issue of JEM. I was never given another opportunity to review Dr. Bazant’s Closure paper before it was published. If you read through it, you can see why. Dr. Bazant was not required to comply with the 2000 word limit, as the JEM staff promised me he would. My rough estimate is that in his Closure’s response to my Discussion is between 4000 and 6000 words in length.
His Closure paper still derides me for not including equations in support of my position, without mentioning that there is no way I could have done that and still complied with the 2000 word limit, and that I was not allowed to revise my paper by JEM staff. Any fair peer review would not have allowed him to say this. JEM knew full well I was required to comply with the 2000 word limit, while Dr. Bazant was not.
In fact, he spends 2000 words responding to the steel temperature portion of my Discussion paper alone. JEM allowed him to use that much text to respond to my one paragraph on his misrepresentations of the steel temperatures reported by NIST. Dr. Bazant is clearly held to a different standard at JEM. How can JEM possibly be seen as a fair and balanced in this situation?
Dr. Bazant’s steel temperature response also raises a serious issue which should have been caught in a fair peer review process. He basically argues that even if he did misrepresent the steel temperatures NIST reported, that doesn’t matter because much lower steel temperatures would still have caused the collapse. However, that is a red herring. Even assuming Dr. Bazant is correct that lower steel temperatures could have caused the collapse, did that give him the right to misrepresent it in the first place? This was apparently never asked, and Dr. Bazant was allowed to mislead JEM readers with voluminous, irrelevant argument.
There are many other problems with Dr. Bazant’s Closure paper that should have been caught during peer review. I plan to write separately on all of them, but do need to mention one more. If you look at the first full sentence on page 919 at the first link above, you see the results of Dr. Bazant’s mathematical equations. He basically claims that when the upper block of floors impacts the lower, intact steel structure, that the upper block suffers a dent of between about 1 inch and 1.5 inches, before completely destroying the lower section of floors. Does that make any sense at all? An inch and a half dent? When the upper section of floors slams into the stationary steel structure below? The absolute absurdity of Dr. Bazant’s results is the main reason I’m happy his Closure was allowed to be published. Dr. Bazant appears to be going to extreme lengths to prop up the gravity-only driven collapse scenario. For clues as to why, I recommend page 4 of Kevin Ryan’s paper on the connections between NIST and nanothermite here: (PDF 82kb)
I hope this story gets across the struggles we face in publishing articles in mainstream technical journals. It is one of many I could have told. I have been a co-author on other published papers with Dr. Steven Jones and Kevin Ryan. After every single one of those is published, someone like Ryan Mackey writes to the editor of the journal criticizing their publication standards. He never addresses the substance of our papers, but instead tries to make the editors regret publishing our papers, basically because he says their journal will be seen as not credible in the scientific community. We are then forced to correspond further with the journal editors, with sometimes humorous exchanges that I won’t share without my co-authors’ consent. It usually ends with the editors recommending that Mackey submit his own response paper for publication (as I did for the Bazant/Verdure Paper) but he never does. It’s a constant battle we face.
I also hope other scientists and engineers out there join the fight, follow our lead, and try to publish papers in mainstream technical journals on this subject. Take my story to heart and don’t let it happen to you. Insist that you be treated fairly from the outset.