Follow up to request for NY Times to reverse endorsement of Exponent science

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This follow up letter was sent to the New York Times correction department September 21, 2015 for these purposes:

  • Defeat the various reasons The Times might possibly use to not seriously consider the need for correction, including that they might argue that their article had not taken any position but merely reported on what others had said.
  • Show a new specific reporting error: The Times report said the Well’s report noted that the Colts and Patriots footballs were handled in a similar way [during halftime], when the alleged warming occurred crucial to The Times story.  Not true, which is a clue as to why The Times’ conclusion was wrong.


Additional, specific error in “Science works against Patriots”, and follow up

Dear corrections department,

Today I have noticed an additional, very-specific error in the article. I also wish to follow up on my previous request, because the op-ed I offered that urged you to correct the article was somewhat charitable to The Times. Outside the context of an op-ed, I want to make it clear to The Times that, understandable as it may be for the time it was written, The Times none-the-less misreported on the single most important question in the entire controversy.

The additional error:

This statement made by The Times reporter is false:

“The Colts’ game balls were handled in a similar way and did not show the same pressure drop that the Patriots’ footballs did, the report notes”.

Source: In the End, Science Works Against the Patriots”

The report did not note that.

Note that The Times’ report was particularly about half-time warming of the footballs. Kudos for realizing that such handling was critical to the science but shame for getting the fact 100% wrong.

You can read the entire report. Nowhere will you find such a statement.

You can consult the NFL-supplied testimony referenced by Exponent regarding half-time conditions. It describes that the Patriots’ balls remained in the bag until measured but makes no such assurance about the Colt’s balls. (See Exponent page 5).

Even if the four Colts’ balls tested had even been sort of “in” a bag (no data is available on that question), they were certainly freely exposed to the air (as proven by my amicus brief using Exponent data to prove it). In contrast, the average Patriot ball had not been freely exposed to air – it had remained under other cold footballs for significant time, in a damp bag that was likely closed for the first two minutes.

You can search for each instance of the whole or partial word “similar” and find no such indication. The same for each instance of the word “handled.” [Reader note part of the letter to Times: the same for each instance of the word or partial word “note”]

You will find this, which the reporter could have misinterpreted as an assertion the balls were handled the same way. Exponent bottom of page 47 leading into top of page 48:

… therefore, the tests outlined below use the Colts balls as a “control” group when evaluating and setting test parameters. In other words, because we could reasonably assume that the Colts measurements collected at halftime on Game Day were the result only of natural causes, each environmental factor was set for the purpose of our experiments at a level (within the realistic ranges provided by Paul, Weiss) that resulted in measurements for the Colts balls that matched the Game Day measurements. Aligning our experiment in such a way confirmed that the test conditions selected were a good approximation of the environmental factors on the day of the AFC Championship Game. In effect, by setting the Colts balls as the control group and selecting a range of environmental factors in which the transient measurements for the Colts balls intersect the Colts halftime measurements, we are able to concurrently assess what the Patriots measurements would be under the same conditions.

Exponent report bottom of Page 47 leading into top of Page 48, emphasis added.

Notice the conditional “would” in bold. The Exponent statement does not say that on game day the handling was similar at half time. It wasn’t – which the reporter could have proved using the Exponent report and Exponent data. Digging deeper would have allowed your reporter to resolve the scandal rather than perpetuate it.

Follow up:

I’d expect the natural human reaction at The Times would be to seek a reason to ignore this issue, so as to avoid needing to make a radical correction. Here is what is wrong with the strategies for doing that:

A) Untenable face-saving strategy: ignore this particular accusation of error because others have already complained about the conclusion in the report

Untenable because: The auto-reply email from The Times states this:

ACCURACY: If you have pointed out an error, a correction will appear on Page A2 as soon as possible. Corrections for articles in weekly sections usually appear in those sections. Because dozens of readers often point out the same error, we cannot notify each person that we are publishing a correction. Please accept our thanks now.

If we decide that a correction is not necessary, an editor will be in touch to explain our reasons.

[Emphasis added]

B) Untenable-face saving strategy: We’ve received complaints about the article before and found none to require a correction, so we lack the time to investigate yet another complaint.

Untenable because:

a) The additional correction I pointed out above to a specific point is simple and black and white and thus clearly something The Times had not looked at before.

b) I have brought a new level of credibility and specificity to the issue that surely The Times has not seen before,

c) The amount of time required to establish probable cause that my complaint is unique and worthy of investigation is small (see next point)

C) Untenable-face saving strategy: ignore this particular accusation or error because the person calling it out lacks sufficient standing to justify The Times making the effort to understand the reasoning behind the accusation.

Untenable because a) It is not complicated or time-consuming to establish probable cause for deeper analysis:

· Robert Blecker, who was interviewed by 60-Minutes Sports on DeflateGate issues, referenced my work in his op-ed. I provided his email if you need a quick sanity check.

· The concept that keeping items in a bag reduces how fast they warm up is not complicated. It is not complicated to see the evidence that in Exponent’s simulation that effect is missing. Nor is it complicated to google the definition of “namely” to understand that the test description excluded any attempt to replicate the real-day warming conditions.

Also untenable because b) I’m uniquely qualified to have my observations considered:

· I wrote the 59-page amicus brief that Judge Berman placed on the official court Docket.

· The Wall Street Journal commented on the brief.

· Noted DeflateGate speaker professor Blecker’s op-ed links to my website as proof of a vital deception related to the football warming.

· In contrast to the numerous professors who specialize in peer reviewing documents generally prepared in good faith, my line of work calls for expertize in identifying and proving intentional deceptions, usually made without directly lying, in technical work – a vital skill/interest that the professors do not generally practice and evidently lacked.

· Having class rank 2/1005 from a top school as an engineering major is a higher qualification for scrutinizing the Exponent report than merely being a professor of physics. The physics is not complicated – the issue is not physics but rather figuring out the trickery in the report.

· The professors who commented had to do so quickly, and without much peer interaction on the topic. They did not have the luxury of the extra time and perspective that I did. I’ve seen written evidence that one such professor has recanted privately.

· Unlike Professor Marlow, who you observed to be unwilling to discuss his observations, I am willing to do so in whatever detail you require.

D) Untenable face-savings strategy: claim that the story took no position but rather only reported on what others were saying.

Untenable because: If you wanted the story to be a report on what people were saying, without passing judgment on the validity of what was said, you’d have to have made several changes:

1. The title needs to be changed (“In the End, Science Works Against the Patriots”). It needs to indicate 3rd party opinion rather than a Times reporter conclusion. Examples that would have worked:

· “NFL and Experts: Science Works Against Patriots”

· “Pundits: Science Works Against Patriots”

· “NFL report claims Science Works Against Patriots”

2. The opening paragraph needs to be changed so as not to pass positive judgment on what the parties quoted said. The second sentence in the report needs to be re-worded to be clearly presented as what others are saying, rather than something the reporter has passed judgment on: “But those same laws could not save the Patriots from the conclusion that they almost certainly tampered with footballs.”

3. If you believe that the above-referenced sentence had implied context that this was merely a view that others had expressed, not one endorsed by the reporter, then it’s necessary to delete or radically alter the first sentence of the report: “The laws of physics worked in favor of the New England Patriots when a football spiraled into the arms of one of their players at the end of the Super Bowl.”. As it stands now, because that first sentence is clearly an observation and view made by the reporter rather than anyone else, that first sentence establishes a context for the paragraph that indicates that the second sentence is also a view of the reporter.

4. Third paragraph opening needs to be made conditional upon the validity of the report: “The report punctured a key assertion of some physicists around the country”. As it stands now, that sentence passes positive judgment on the idea that the report successfully defeated the assertion of the referenced physicists.

5. The concluding sentence needs to be altered: “The report seems to have confirmed his observation.” It needs instead to say “seems to those we contacted” or “alleges” or to give some other indication that the view is not endorsed by the reporter.

6. In the event you were to theorize that the use of all the other quotes in other parts of the article creates an implied context for the final sentence of the report that the reporter is merely passing along what others have said, without judgment, then the first sentence of the last paragraph needs to be deleted or radically altered. As it stands now, because that first sentence of that paragraph is an observation that the reporter is uniquely bringing into the discussion of his own judgment, the context for the final sentence is set to be a reporting of the reporter’s conclusion.

For the reasons above, I believe I’ve proven to any reasonable person that The Times reporter reported as fact that the Science, particularly regarding the warming, implicates the Patriots.

Therefore, I believe that the when a correction is issued, rather than just to say that some updates were made to the article, The Times must, at the very least, make it clear in the correction that The Times Reporter took a position that the Wells Report established that science worked against the Patriots when The Times did not intend to take a position (or now does not wish to take a position) on the validity of the Wells Report scientific argument.

Given the damage done, the moral obligation is to revisit the issue and take the right position.

E) Untenable face-saving strategy: claim that The Times report was accurate for the information available at the time.

All the information needed to reach exactly the opposite conclusion to what your reporter made was available to the reporter once he accessed the Wells report. The reporter’s mistake in endorsing the analysis was understandable, but it was a mistake.


The report’s mistaken headline and position caused great damage to public perception of the Patriots and Tom Brady, damage that will require much work to correct after the fact. The Times has a moral obligation to be very public in forming a new opinion of the truth and reporting it vigorously.