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Traffic Signal Synchronization Coverup

by Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

December 2, 1994
Frank A. Haight, Editor-in-Chief
"Transportation Research"
Institute of Transportation Studies
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, California 92717

Re: "Is Traffic Signal Synchronization Justifiable?"

Dear Professor Haight:

When I first talked with you about this subject (on the phone), you said that you didn't know what traffic signal synchronization is. I thought that was odd, for a professor in the transportation field. The next time that I talked with you (at the traffic engineering conference in Berkeley) you suggested that I submit a paper for publication, which I did. The third time I talked with you (again on the phone), having read the paper, you said that you "don't publish editorials". I said that it was not an editorial, but a critique of the research methodology used in previous studies on TSS. Then you finally agreed to send it out for comments from your "referees".

Out of curiosity, I went to the Institute for Transportation Studies Library at U.C. Berkeley to look at your journal again. I found many articles on TSS, making it implausible that you didn't know what it is. And in the very latest issue, I found an editorial! I find it really sad, that a tenured professor finds it necessary to lie, (apparently) to prevent some uncomfortable truths from being made public. (I say "uncomfortable", because hundreds and maybe thousands of traffic engineers have been promoting and implementing TSS, and taking credit for air quality and fuel consumption benefits that my paper calls into question. It would be very embarrassing for them, and for their academic colleagues, if TSS were found to be not beneficial, or even a deliberate fraud!)

Let's examine the reviewers' comments:
"Reviewer's Comments ...": This reviewer totally misses the point of my article. I am not presenting any data or numerical analysis, because I am not interested in doing research in the field, but in making use of existing research. I am leaving that to you transportation research professionals. The paper does not make any claim (e.g. I use words like "Is TSS justifiable?" and "dubious") about whether TSS is beneficial or not, so I don't need any data of the type s/he requests. My paper simply makes the point that previous research completely failed in its mission of proving TSS beneficial. My data are the previous research papers on TSS. If they are considered scientific, then my article criticizing their scientific methodology is also science. If my paper is not science, then articles like Deakin et al aren't either. I encourage you to promote some solid research on TSS, and I think that publishing my article will be controversial enough to bring that about.

"Review of ...": This reviewer also misunderstands the point of my article. Specifically, s/he misunderstands the word "dubious", which simply means "giving rise to doubt": I am not claiming that TSS is not beneficial, only that that conclusion is in doubt, based on existing research. S/he also puts the word "ineffective" in my mouth, a word I purposely didn't use, because it makes such a claim. S/he goes on to berate me for being "one- sided" (so was the previous research; most papers strive to make a single point, and that is the purpose of mine) and not suggesting a way to provide both mobility and quality of life (I did: "controlling signals to benefit the cleaner modes").

"Referee's Report ...": This reviewer (who, you mention, is from Australia), unlike the others, reacted very emotionally from start to finish. S/he says my paper has "no scientific substance". Discussions of scientific method have no scientific substance? Then what about articles containing shoddy "research" that is full of holes? I thought that the crown jewel of science is the peer review process. That is exactly what I am doing. S/he claims that my "opinions" are unsupported by evidence. Actually, the article is about research, and I presented evidence about that research, listing some of the articles. This review was written entirely on the assumption that I was making a claim about the effectiveness of TSS, which I didn't! S/he also makes the same error in reasoning about fuel consumption savings that my article is complaining about (i.e., ignoring growth-inducing effects). S/he asks me for "hard proof" that TSS is harmful, but doesn't hold her/himself and other researchers to the same standard. Which is exactly the point I was trying to make!

It appears to me that both you and the reviewers find my paper very threatening. I knew from the start that you had no intention of actually publishing such a boat-rocking article, but I am still very disappointed. I (naively?) expect more from a country that prides itself on academic freedom and freedom of speech. (Coincidentally, today is the anniversary of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley.) I would still like you to publish it. If you want to call it an "editorial", that would be an acceptable compromise.


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

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