Shoot the messenger?

Pogie, over at Intelligent Discontent, has done some excellent spading on the Montana Meth Project. I won’t steal the thunder of that post (go read it, I’ll wait right here), but I know what comes next. Peg Shea, the ever-so-highly-remunerated Executive Director of the project, will belittle our erstwhile blogger!

That’s right – instead of defending against the charges or providing counter arguments, I can predict Shea will come out swinging: Saturation-level marketing with all the scary reasons why we wouldn’t dare believe a single criticism. Like an attack dog, it’ll be snarling, political posturing. Maybe we’ll even get a veritable posse of upset high-schoolers?

That’s the warm Montana welcome that scientist David Erceg-Hurn, of the University of Western Australia, got when he concluded in a peer-reviewed journal article that “there is no evidence that reductions in methamphetamine use in Montana are caused by the advertising campaign.” (Gregg Smith, at Electric City Weblog, has a link to the journal article here).

Initially, all Peg Shea could say was that Erceg-Hurn’s “limited analysis and statements are greatly outnumbered by the positive changes in attitudes detailed in our surveys and third-party research.” Many of us are waiting to see that third-party research published, fully open to scientific scrutiny. We might be waiting a long while.

Then former Montana Meth Project employee (and UM history major) Tony Brockman came out with the following piercing critique: “The report is from Western Australia … We can walk out on Main Street and see the differences here.

And now in a letter to the Missoulian, Peg Shea hisses ,

He has never been to Montana, and has never bothered to sit down with me or anyone else to discuss his research or to ask questions about our data. He and his organization do not respond to calls or letters from researchers about their methodology. Although he presumes to study our young people and to tell our legislators how to spend our money, Erceg-Hurn has spent no time actually speaking with Montana teens.

I suspect that Erceg-Hurn checks his mailbox every day for the $2,000 plane ticket to come over and meet Ms. Shea. However, as a scientist that’s not his first instinct. Instead, he is probably already designing the next study, reading all the prior research, planning the data collection, cranking the analysis, and writing up the next paper for consideration by his scientific peers. I am sure he is eager to see his first paper debated in scientific circles.

I don’t think Shea would have shared her data with a researcher clearly skeptical of the project. I’m not even convinced she has scientifically reputable data to share. Either way, I think Erceg-Hurn’s methodology is obvious enough in his published journal article. It’s not complicated. Maybe it’s not even very good. But Shea probably doesn’t know that. She’s too busy attacking the messenger.