Yesterday, in a passing comment, I mentioned an article by Osborn et al, Annually resolved patterns of summer temperature over the Northern Hemisphere since AD 1400 from a tree-ring-density network, as an example of abuse of terms like “rigorous” or “conservative” to arm-wave through proper methodological description. Here’s an example of their use of “rigorous”:
Such infilling is only accepted if it passes a rigorous verification procedure.
But what is the “rigorous verification procedure”? People in the field – be they editors or reviewers – don’t even notice such sentences. That’s the point of the Riemann Hypothesis article. Imagine the consternation if Li had merely said on page 29 that he used a “rigorous” infilling procedure to go from ideles to adels. He would have been laughed in scorn out of the mathematical community. In the Osborn, Briffa et al case, the exact form of the infilling procedure probably doesn’t even “matter”, but the sloppiness of thought and expression grates on me.
It even happens in Nature. MBH98 itself says, without any editor, reviewer or reader apparently objecting:
[RE} is a quite rigorous measure of the similarity between two variables,
This adjective is applied over and over to the RE statistic [in this case, “over and over” is not merely “countable” but “finite”], but what exactly is a “rigorous” statistic and how do we know this about the RE statistic. If one follows the lengthy discussion of the RE statistic where we’ve been active participants, it’s hard to emerge with a good impression of defenders of the position that an RE statistic above 0.0 demonstrates model validity or of the editorial process acquiescing in things like Wahl and Ammann 2007.
I’m not sure why I picked Osborn et al 2008 as an example for inclusion in my rigorous-robust list. I think that I just remembered that it was a particularly boring article and thus a pretty good candidate for use of robust, conservative, rigorous. (And no, I’m not advocating a general hypothesis of a genetic association between the use of these terms and articles being boring.)
However, after I mentioned it in a comment, I had some second thoughts because I only had a preprint and, thinking about it, I couldn’t remember when it had actually appeared. So I searched for the publication particulars and, at Tim Osborn’s list of publications, located the following under the Submitted category:
Osborn TJ, Briffa KR, Schweingruber FH and Jones PD (2008) Annually resolved patterns of summer temperature over the Northern Hemisphere since AD 1400 from a tree-ring-density network. Submitted to Global and Planetary Change.
For your edification, here is a copy of the title page of the version of this article that I have, dated June 2004. Not that I’m a particular support of Osborn, Briffa et al, but, in fairness, I think that after over 4 years, they are entitled to a reject-or-accept decision from Global and Planetary Change.