Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A cautionary tale of scientific credentials

Over the weekend, the Arizona Republic ran a story questioning the scientific credentials of Robert "R.B." Trombley, who runs the International Volcano Research Centre from Apache Junction, near Phoenix. Reporter Lindsey Collom notes that Mr. Trombley was quoted as a volcano expert by CNN and the Wall Street Journal regarding the recent ash cloud from Icleand, but then goes on to say,

Pay a visit to Trombley's research center, however, and the story of Arizona's volcano expert turns into a cautionary tale about how the media's push for instant news coverage can sometimes lead to experts with questionable credentials.

The International Volcano Research Centre is located in Trombley's home, a pink trailer in Apache Junction.

Today, the Phoenix New Times took a swipe at the Republic for a laudatory article they ran on February 6, 2006, entitled, "Volcanologist in AJ is an Eruption Pro," questioning whether the Republic themselves did not do the same kind of credential check they criticize CNN and WSJ for not doing.

One item in the Republic's weekend story caught my attention. ASU geology professor Jonathan Fink, who runs the Volcano Listserv, is reported as having told his 2,000 subscribers last year, "To our knowledge, Dr. Trombley does not have training as a volcanologist, and his previous reports have raised concerns among a number of volcano practitioners and organizations . . . about the possibility of misinterpretation."

Dr. Fink was interviewed by the Republic as saying that if Trombley were to publish work in peer-reviewed literature, it would "go a long way to quieting his critics."

The next paragraph states,
Trombley said his work has been peer-reviewed and told The Republic he was published in Eos, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. No work bearing Trombley's name could be found in a search of AGU's archives.

I am a member of the Eos Editorial Advisory Board, so I contacted the Eos editorial staff about this claim. What they found was that Mr. Trombley presented a talk at the 1995 AGU Fall Meeting. The reference Mr. Trombley has on his Web site is to his abstract for the meeting. Eos did not peer review it, but the meeting/session organizers accepted it for presentation at the meeting; therefore, it was published in the abstract collection. Eos is the citation source for abstracts presented at the meeting.

1 comment:

  1. I remember that listserv email - it led to a post I wrote last year, although the Trombley bit got buried at the bottom: