27 October 2009 [Publications]
A small-scale fight for truth mirrored in a Science Comment

Makarieva A.M., Gorshkov V.G., Li B.-L. (2009) Comment on "Energy uptake and allocation during ontogeny". Science, 325, 1206-a. Abstract. PDF (0.2 Mb).


A brief history of this publication is as follows. As early as in 2002 we noted that the ontogenetic growth model of Geoffrey West and Jim Brown's group (Gillooly et al. 2001, Nature) violates the energy conservation law. A relevant comment of ours was submitted to and rejected by Nature, then to and by Ecology Letters, due to the obvious reason that the topic of energy (non)-conservation cannot compete for space and the readers' attention with the other more important issues normally covered by the two journals. Two years later the critique was ultimately published in Ecological Modelling. In the same 2004 we also published a short comment in Ecology on Brown et al.'s MacArthur Award paper. There we cited the critique as "in press" and were explicit about our concerns that energy should be conserved at all times. Still that did not evoke any reaction from the criticized group. In 2006 the group published a paper in Functional Ecology (West et al. 2006) where, without citing our work, they explicitly refuted our concern about their incorrect interpretation of Em (energy to build 1 g biomatter) insisting that it is equal to the energy content of biomatter and can be easily measured.

It took another four years of persistent pressure from our side that in 2008 in American Naturalist this group explicitly admitted the error (Moses et al. 2008) and cited our critique. At the same time in their latest modelís version published in Science (Hou et al. 2008) the group admitted that the original model was incorrect almost literally in our own words, but did not cite our critique as the source where the error was pointed out. Instead, they cited their own incorrect model (ref. 7 in Hou et al.). Since we found the renewed model incorrect as well, we submitted our Comment to Science. Using this opportunity, in the cover letter we also asked the Editors for a corrigendum, implying that here we might be dealing with a misprint rather than an intellectual expropriation, however, to no effect. Nevertheless, adhering to the spirit of open scientific discussion, Science published our above Comment.

What is it all about? Think that in modern scientific society it took six years for an error in a biological model to be admitted. It was an error though that related to the authorities and reputations of a visible and influential group of scientists. Now then, how long will the advancement of the biotic pump theory take, given that this theory does as little as re-analyzes and challenges several long established dogmas of modern meteorology, if you do not take an active part in it, in one way or another? It appears to be your business as well, our dear Reader, as forest moisture pump personally concerns every human being who drinks water, tea, coffee, beer or even exclusively Russian vodka, on a daily basis.