A few months ago we reported evidence of data tampering in four papers that have since been retracted (or re-retracted) (Colada .htm). A few weeks ago we were sued for doing so (Vox .htm). Lawsuits can be very expensive, and a thoughtful and generous group of colleagues and supporters started a fundraising campaign to help finance our legal defense (GoFundMe: .htm). We are immensely grateful.
That campaign, and the outpouring of support it precipitated, represents the most affirming (and surprising) moment of our careers. It arrived at one of our most disheartening and unfamiliar moments. We are not an institution, we have no special resources, and we are not legal experts. We are, as one commentator described us, just “three relatively unknown guys” (YouTube .htm). But we are now three guys being backed by thousands of others. It’s a big difference.
As of this writing, the list consists of more than 2,600 donors, including social scientists, life scientists, health scientists, computer scientists, statisticians, engineers, and those who chose to remain anonymous. It includes Nobel laureates, senior faculty, junior faculty, lecturers, postdocs, PhD students, and non-academics. It includes extremely wealthy people, and, most touchingly, students making just enough to get by. It includes many people who have supported our past efforts or initiatives. And, perhaps most tellingly, it also includes many people who professionally disagree with us. Those people might not always support Data Colada, but they are even less supportive of using lawsuits as a cudgel to stamp out good-faith scientific criticism.
Indeed, the popularity of the fundraising effort is not about our popularity. This is not about supporting us, this is about supporting a core scientific principle: our ability to seek the truth using facts and analyses.
Regardless of how much of the money we will need – if things end early we will need little, if things drag on we may need a lot – the GoFundMe response has, right now, given us the freedom to make decisions about how to proceed in this case without worrying about how much our legal fees will accrue. We can pursue what's right instead of what’s most affordable. We cannot stress enough how important that is.
Beyond that, your response has sent a message, to us, to our universities, to each other, and to the world: It is not OK to use the legal system to punish scientists for drawing reasonable conclusions from stated facts. We don’t know what is going to happen next, but we are confident that ultimately we will win this case, and that we will do so without having to pay much, if any, of our own money for our legal defense.
So thank you. Every single one of you. Your generosity and commitment inspire us; we hope that you are inspiring each other as well.
We have hired an excellent legal team and are learning some of the stuff that legal TV shows skip over because it is boring. Our three employers (Penn, Berkeley, and ESADE) have at this point indicated that they will support us for at least the initial stage of the process, and we are grateful for that. We understand that the process is likely to be long, measured in months or even years. Nevertheless, responding to the accusations in the lawsuit is not an entirely new experience for us, or you. It's not unlike when a reviewer who does not bother to understand your analysis recommends rejection, and you have to explain to the editor the shortcomings of that review, except in this case the editor is a court, and it costs a lot of money just to submit the cover letter.
When it comes to the Data Colada blog, we don't plan to change very much. We have some posts in the works, some of which are relevant to this ongoing crisis, and some of which are not. As in the past 10 years, we will try our best to make our posts informative, accurate, readable, and interesting, and we will post them as soon as we think they are ready, which has always been, and will continue to be, much later than we would like.