The Adler Report
Aug 03, 2009
Contributing editor Dr. Thomas
Wilson recently drew attention to an
article in the Journal of Physics A
(JPA) that purported to place direct
limits on the mass of earthbound
dark matter and that presented a
misleading interpretation of
confidence intervals.
After
reading
Dr. Wilson's article,
as well as the
original JPA paper,
Dr. Jeremy DunningDavies, Senior
Lecturer in Theoretical Physics in
the Department of Physics at the
University of Hull, England, sent a
protest directly to Professor
Patrick Dorey, the JPA editor,
concerning material of such dubious
quality being accepted for
publication. The reply and
subsequent communications are
related below.
Readers are encouraged to review the
detailed commentary, but the outcome
is easily summarized. Drs.
DunningDavies and Wilson pointed
out basic errors in Adler's article
to the referees. They also objected
to a lack of correct review at the
Journal that resulted in sensational
claims propagating into the popular
media. As expected, the referees
reacted emotionally to the criticism
and rejected the comments for
publication.
In
summary, the entire process can be
described as:
* A
“fasttrack” article was published
with misleading interpretations of
data in a mainstream physics
journal, probably because it
mentioned dark matter in Earth’s
immediate neighbourhood (i.e.
sensational claims).
*
Referees missed these basic errors,
indicating a failure of the review
process.
* No
one besides Drs. DunningDavies and
Wilson responded to the errors,
revealing a general blindness in
scientific critical thinking.
*
Mainstream popular science media
published and expanded on the
“findings,” demonstrating a lack of
critical thinking in the science
media.
*
When a critical review of the
article was submitted, the referees
reacted emotionally and rejected an
alternative view, showing a lack of
professional scientific conduct.
++++
Dear
Jeremy DunningDavies,
Many
thanks for your message concerning
the FTC by Adler. I'm sorry for the
slow reply, but we wanted to dig out
the original referee reports, which
took longer than expected. All I can
say is that the referees were all
respected workers in related fields,
and were happy with publication. So
I think that procedures were
correctly followed. On the other
hand, if you do feel that important
points were missed which deserve to
be brought to wider attention, you
would be very welcome to submit a
"comment" to the journal at
jphysa@iop.org
(which would also be refereed, of
course).
With
best wishes,Patrick Dorey.
++++
Dear
Professor Dorey,
Thank
you so much for taking all the
trouble you obviously have taken
over my letter. I assure you it is
appreciated. I feel I should state,
though, that I never had any real
doubt that correct procedures had
been followed. I'm rather more
concerned that some referees don't
actually do the job they're supposed
to do and, on occasions, if
something appears to conform to
conventional wisdom, they will
accept it on the nod, so to speak. I
will indeed look at the Adler paper
again and may take up your
suggestion to submit an official
comment.
Thank
you once again,
Jeremy DunningDavies.
++++
Editor's note: As a result of the
above email exchange, the following
response article was submitted to
JPA by Drs. Wilson and
DunningDavies:
Some comments on ‘Placing
direct limits on the mass of
earthbound dark matter’
By Stephen L. Adler, J. Phys. A:
Math. Theor. 41 (2008) 412002
Abstract:
Claims made concerning limits
on the mass of possible earthbound
dark matter in a recent paper by
Stephen L. Adler are examined afresh
and doubts are raised.
In this short article by Adler,
it is claimed that a method is
introduced for calculating the
maximum amount of dark matter that
must be present in the space between
the Laser Geodynamics Satellites and
the Moon’s orbit. The method
suggested is deceptively simple. The
author indicates that this quantity
of dark matter is given by
subtracting the values of the
product of the universal constant of
gravitation and the mass for the
earth and the moon from the value of
the same product for the two
combined.
This is summarised in equation
(4):
GM_{dm} =
GM_{combined} – GM_{e}
– GM_{m }._{ }
Published data is
then used to give an estimate of the
expected answer.
The first query
concerns the alternative method for
determining the moon’s mass by
studying the orbit of a close
passing asteroid which is influenced
by both the gravitational field of
the moon and that of the earth. It
is pointed out that, from such an
analysis, one may find an accurate
figure for the ratio,
where ΔMe and ΔMm
denote possible contributions from
earthbound and moonbound dark
matter.
Hence, to a first approximation
where δ =
Hence,
GMm
Due to this
relationship, one must enquire as to
why the third term on the lefthand
side of equation (5) is as it is.
However, if this equation is
correct, the claim following
equation (7) is certainly of dubious
validity since, to arrive at this
result, so many approximations have
been made. Therefore, the claim of a
‘potential one percent accuracy’
must be open to doubt.
A numerical evaluation then follows
and this raises even more serious
queries. Firstly, each of the
separate values of the product GM is
found by different methods, each
involving different sets of
assumptions. The figures are then
manipulated in different ways, again
with implicit assumptions, before
the final calculation. After all
this, the GM for dark matter is
found to be 0.0001±0.0016 which, on
dividing by the value of GM for the
earth leads to a ratio of
(0.3±4)×10^9. Based on this, it is
asserted that there must be a mass
of dark matter less than 4×10^9
times the mass of the earth in the
volume of space considered –
assuming G constant.
There are two problems we can see
with the conclusion above. The first
problem concerns the statistical
significance of 0.0001±0.0016. The
second problem concerns the
assertion that there must be a mass
of dark matter less than 4×10^9
times the mass of the earth in the
volume of space considered. Let’s
consider each in turn.
Adler’s value for the combined
EarthMoon GM is 403,503.2357 ±
0.0014. If for comparison we add the
separate Earth and Moon values and
use standard interval calculations
to get the new error, we get
403,503.2356 ± 0.0011. If you look
at these two values with error bars
on a chart, the second summed value
fits perfectly within the 95%
confidence error bars of the
original combined value. There’s no
significant difference between the
two values. Yes, you can do some
misguided mathematical calculations
to derive a difference value of
0.0001 (“in the noise” so to speak),
but it’s not meaningful.
Consider now the ratio (0.3±4)×109.
Adler uses this value to assert
there is at most 4×109 times the
mass of the earth in the volume of
space considered. However, it
follows that 3.7 is as
statistically valid as +4.3. The
best that may be deduced is that
there is a 95% likelihood of there
being, or not being, any dark matter
in the stated volume of space. We’re
not sure that is really very
interesting; certainly not a result
justifying a Fast Track Publication.
Whatever one’s belief on the
existence, or not, of dark matter,
probably the most important comment
in the paper occurs in footnote 5,
where the author comments that the
analysis in the paper is based on
purely gravitational considerations.
It must always be remembered that
other forces could be exerting
influences also. Finally, although
this paper seems to have been lauded
in both the Scientific American and
the American Scientist, apparently
because it lends credence to the
notion that dark matter exists, it
has to be acknowledged that other
reasonable explanations exist for
the other observed effects to which
those articles refer in the context
of this one by Adler.
++++
The initial response from the
journal, together with subsequent
correspondence, now follow:
Ref: A/315310/COM/973Dear Dr
DunningDavies.TITLE: Comment on
"Placing direct limits on the mass
of earthbound dark matter"AUTHORS:
Dr Jeremy DunningDavies et alYour
comment submitted to Journal of
Physics A: Mathematical
andTheoretical has now been refereed
and the referee report(s) are
attached.I am sorry to tell you that
the referee(s) have recommended that
yourcomment should not be published
in Journal of Physics A:
Mathematical andTheoretical, for the
reasons given in the reports. Your
comment hastherefore been withdrawn
from consideration.I would like to
thank you for your interest in
Journal of Physics A:Mathematical
and Theoretical.Yours
sincerelyDaniel Heatley and Paul
Fishman  Publishing
AdministratorJournal of Physics A:
Mathematical and TheoreticalArticle
under review for Journal of Physics
A: Mathematical and
TheoreticalComment on "Placing
direct limits on the mass of
earthbound dark matter" Dr Jeremy
DunningDavies et al
ID: A/315310/COMBOARD MEMBER'S
REPORT
============================
I do not view this article as
appropriate for the Journal, and it
should not be sent out for normal
refereeing. The tone of the article
is quite inappropriate, and the
article really seems to be attacking
Dr Adler's article on the grounds
that it received publicity in
Scientific American and the American
Scientist. The technical criticisms
that the current authors bring up
against Dr Adler's article are
wrong. Dr Adler's key conclusion in
his article is the quite proper and
perfectly correct statement that
that "the mass of earth based dark
matter lying between the moon's
orbit ... and the LAGEOS orbit ...
must be less than 4 x 10^{9} of the
earth's mass, AT A 1SIGMA
CONFIDENCE LEVEL''. (my emphasis)
The current authors have set up a
"straw man" by systematically
ignoring all of Dr Adler's
cautionary qualifying statements,
and have effectively attacked
statements he did not make. This
comment is utterly inappropriate for
publication.
++++
Dear Miss Gillan,
Thank you for
your communication. However, I feel
I must raise some queries over the
decision not to accept the comments
by Dr Wilson and myself. I
originally wrote to Professor Dorey
about the original article by Adler,
pointing out that, in that article,
nothing concrete had been proved and
it did not reflect well on the
journal that it had been accepted
for publication with such seeming
undue haste. His reply is reproduced
below and, as you can see, he states
that I'm welcome to submit a comment
which would be refereed! Hence, the
submitted comment should have been
refereed.
Also, it's
unclear from the Board member's
comments why our criticisms are
considered "wrong". He doesn't
explicitly indicate where we are in
error when we state that Adler's
mathematical conclusion equally
implies both the positive presence
of dark matter as well as the
nonsensical notion of the negative
presence of dark matter (a negative
value for the dark matter mass). The
response seems to be rather
emotional and, quite frankly, gives
the distinct impression that he
knows they've been caught out.
Further, if criticism such as ours
is to be stifled, how can true
science be expected to progress? In
the comment we submitted, there is
very obviously no setting up of a
'straw man'; we have commented only
on statements contained in the
original article. I really think the
Board member concerned should read
what was actually written and not
what he imagines was contained in
the comment. Emotional reactions to
submissions  because that is what
has occurred here  have no place in
science and only serve to bring the
journal concerned into disrepute.
Hence, I am asking that this
submission be reconsidered, possibly
by Professor Dorey personally.
Yours sincerely,
Jeremy DunningDavies.
++++
Subject: Re: Fw:
Final decision on your article from
J. Phys. A: Math. Theor. 
A/315310/COM/973
Dear Dr DunningDavies,
Thank you for your email.Our
procedure with all Comments is for
them to be initially refereed by a
Board Member. If the Board Member
recommends that the Comment be
considered further, then a Reply is
invited from the original author.
In this instance the Board Member
did not recommend further
consideration, however I wish to
assure you that this is all in line
with our procedure and indeed with
the information provided by Patrick
Dorey. We consider Comments to be
an important forum in the journal
and as such, we entrust the
refereeing of them to Board Members.
I am sorry that you felt the report
to be inaccurate, however after
further consultation, I must inform
you that this decision is final. I
wish you success with publishing
your findings in a more specialised
journal.
Yours sincerely,
Rebecca Gillan
++++
Dear Miss Gillan,
Thank you for your reply. However, I
must confess it only serves to bring
J. Phys. A into further disrepute,
particularly since the apparent
correct procedure does not conform
to what Professor Drury originally
stated. Also, the Board member's
comments simply don't stand up, in
the same way that Adler's original
article doesn't stand up.
I realise none of this is your fault
but this attitude by scientific
morons makes you wonder why anyone
pursues openminded scientific
investigations.
Yours sincerely,
Jeremy
DunningDavies.
++++
Final comments by Wilson and
DunningDavies:
The correspondence Jeremy
DunningDavies subsequently had with
Journal of Physics A is included in
full and graphically illustrates, we
feel, the attitude being displayed
towards independent thought in
science today – particularly if that
independent thought disagrees, or
even appears to disagree, with
accepted conventional wisdom. We
would, however, point out that the
disagreement expressed by us was
with some sloppy statistical
analysis; the fact that dark matter
was involved was really irrelevant
to the criticism and possibly shows
how vulnerable these people really
feel their position to be. This must
surely be regarded as a very
worrying attitude to find existing
at such a level in what is supposed
to be scientific publishing.
In all, this has been a
disappointing if not predictable
exercise. However, it is important
that the educated public and
professional scientific community
continue to raise these criticisms.
In the absence of a functional
review process, it is even more
important for all of us to cast a
critical eye on everything we read
in journals and the media in
general.
Contributed by:
Dr. Jeremy DunningDavies and Dr.
Thomas Wilson
