|Crystal structure of YBCO|
|A blue semiconductor laser.|
Around that time, some chemists in Utah announced a truly amazing discovery: they saw fusion reactions occurring in palladium electrochemical cells. Since they were respected electrochemists, their results were taken seriously, and lots of people tried to reproduce the incredible results. The promise of a seemingly magical, unlimited power source seemed almost too good to be true. This time, however, nobody could reproduce the results. Some scientists saw odd things happen, but they were different in every lab. At Bell Labs, the scientists trying to reproduce so-called "cold fusion" became convinced that the guys in Utah were being led astray by their excitement.
In science, it's usual that a surprising result will only be accepted once it has been reproduced by someone else. My scientific training has sometimes gotten me in trouble in the world of libraries and publishing. When presented with something that seems surprising to me, I ask for the evidence. In cultures that are more comfortable assigning and recognizing authority, my questions have sometimes been seen as irritants.
It's been that way with my questions about the Attributor report. I was surprised at some of the findings, and I tried to reproduce them. My results can't reproduce some of the key findings reported by Attributor. It would be nice to better understand the factor of a hundred difference between my results and those of Attributor; much might be learned from such an analysis. Attributor is a company that sells anti-piracy services; one would hope that the data they report is somehow rooted in fact, even though they benefit from overestimates of privacy.
In Richard Curtis' article, Jim Pitkow, Attributor's CEO, is quoted:
Our study’s rigorous methodology ensured highly accurate results that align with actual consumer behavior. We analyzed 89 titles, using multiple keyword permutations per title, across different days of the week, with very high bids to ensure placement – each of which is fundamental in guaranteeing accuracy and legitimacy. Each of these variables impact the findings, and analyzing all variables together produce highly accurate results. We stand by our research, and we’re confident that the study addresses an accurate portrayal of the consumer demand for pirated e-books.If Attributor really stands by its research, it will make it easier for people like me to reproduce their results. In particular, they should publish the complete list of the "869 effective keyword terms" used as keywords for their Google AdWords experiment. There are mistakes they might have made in permuting and combining search terms; they might also have thought of a class of effective search terms that my study totally overlooked. As it stands, it's impossible to know.
I can understand why Attributor might not want to release their search term list. First of all, they should expect people to try to tear it to shreds. The marketing department isn't going to like that. That's what happened to the superconductor guys, the blue LED guy, and cold fusion guys. They stood behind their work, and let the scientific community look for weaknesses and make their own judgments.
Cold fusion didn't pan out, and Pons and Fleischmann, the Utah guys, tried for years to figure out what it was they measured. Bednorz and Müller, the guys in Zurich, won the Nobel Prize. Shuji Nakamura, the LED guy, won a Millenium Prize and a lawsuit.
It may be easier to do a followup study without the worry of spurious searches for widely known terms. But at this point, Attributor customers and the book industry as a whole stand to learn a lot from understanding where the irreproducibility of Attributor's study is coming from. Publishers need that information to plan out a response to the threat of ebook piracy, and their needs should come first- no matter what the marketing department says.