Category Archives: Academia

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The new issue of Journal of Science Communication is now published

The new issue of Journal of Science Communication is now online (Open Access, so you can download all PDFs for free). Apart from the article on blogging that we already dissected at length, this issue has a number of interesting articles, reviews, perspectives and papers:
Users and peers. From citizen science to P2P science:

This introduction presents the essays belonging to the JCOM special issue on User-led and peer-to-peer science. It also draws a first map of the main problems we need to investigate when we face this new and emerging phenomenon. Web tools are enacting and facilitating new ways for lay people to interact with scientists or to cooperate with each other, but cultural and political changes are also at play. What happens to expertise, knowledge production and relations between scientific institutions and society when lay people or non-scientists go online and engage in scientific activities? From science blogging and social networks to garage biology and open tools for user-led research, P2P science challenges many assumptions about public participation in scientific knowledge production. And it calls for a radical and perhaps new kind of openness of scientific practices towards society.

Changing the meaning of peer-to-peer? Exploring online comment spaces as sites of negotiated expertise:

This study examines the nature of peer-to-peer interactions in public online comment spaces. From a theoretical perspective of boundary-work and expertise, the comments posted in response to three health sciences news articles from a national newspaper are explored to determine whether both scientific and personal expertise are recognized and taken up in discussion. Posts were analysed for both explicit claims to expertise and implicit claims embedded in discourse. The analysis suggests that while both scientific and personal expertise are proffered by commenters, it is scientific expertise that is privileged. Those expressing scientific expertise receive greater recognition of the value of their posts. Contributors seeking to share personal expertise are found to engage in scientisation to position themselves as worthwhile experts. Findings suggest that despite the possibilities afforded by online comments for a broader vision of what peer-to-peer interaction means, this possibility is not realized.

The public production and sharing of medical information. An Australian perspective:

There is a wealth of medical information now available to the public through various sources that are not necessarily controlled by medical or healthcare professionals. In Australia there has been a strong movement in the health consumer arena of consumer-led sharing and production of medical information and in healthcare decision-making. This has led to empowerment of the public as well as increased knowledge-sharing. There are some successful initiatives and strategies on consumer- and public-led sharing of medical information, including the formation of specialised consumer groups, independent medical information organisations, consumer peer tutoring, and email lists and consumer networking events. With well-organised public initiatives and networks, there tends to be fairly balanced information being shared. However, there needs to be caution about the use of publicly available scientific information to further the agenda of special-interest groups and lobbying groups to advance often biased and unproven opinions or for scaremongering. With the adoption of more accountability of medical research, and the increased public scrutiny of private and public research, the validity and quality of medical information reaching the public is achieving higher standards.

Social network science: pedagogy, dialogue, deliberation:

The online world constitutes an ever-expanding store and incubator for scientific information. It is also a social space where forms of creative interaction engender new ways of approaching science. Critically, the web is not only a repository of knowledge but a means with which to experience, interact and even supplement this bank. Social Network Sites are a key feature of such activity. This paper explores the potential for Social Network Sites (SNS) as an innovative pedagogical tool that precipitate the ‘incidental learner’. I suggest that these online spaces, characterised by informality, open-access, user input and widespread popularity, offer a potentially indispensable means of furthering the public understanding of science; and significantly one that is rooted in dialogue.

Open science: policy implications for the evolving phenomenon of user-led scientific innovation:

From contributions of astronomy data and DNA sequences to disease treatment research, scientific activity by non-scientists is a real and emergent phenomenon, and raising policy questions. This involvement in science can be understood as an issue of access to publications, code, and data that facilitates public engagement in the research process, thus appropriate policy to support the associated welfare enhancing benefits is essential. Current legal barriers to citizen participation can be alleviated by scientists’ use of the “Reproducible Research Standard,” thus making the literature, data, and code associated with scientific results accessible. The enterprise of science is undergoing deep and fundamental changes, particularly in how scientists obtain results and share their work: the promise of open research dissemination held by the Internet is gradually being fulfilled by scientists. Contributions to science from beyond the ivory tower are forcing a rethinking of traditional models of knowledge generation, evaluation, and communication. The notion of a scientific “peer” is blurred with the advent of lay contributions to science raising questions regarding the concepts of peer-review and recognition. New collaborative models are emerging around both open scientific software and the generation of scientific discoveries that bear a similarity to open innovation models in other settings. Public engagement in science can be understood as an issue of access to knowledge for public involvement in the research process, facilitated by appropriate policy to support the welfare enhancing benefits deriving from citizen-science.

Googling your genes: personal genomics and the discourse of citizen bioscience in the network age:

In this essay, I argue that the rise of personal genomics is technologically, economically, and most importantly, discursively tied to the rise of network subjectivity, an imperative of which is an understanding of self as always already a subject in the network. I illustrate how personal genomics takes full advantage of social media technology and network subjectivity to advertise a new way of doing research that emphasizes collaboration between researchers and its members. Sharing one’s genetic information is considered to be an act of citizenship, precisely because it is good for the network. Here members are encouraged to think of themselves as dividuals, or nodes, in the network and their actions acquire value based on that imperative. Therefore, citizen bioscience is intricately tied, both in discourse and practices, to the growth of the network in the age of new media.

Special issue on peer-to-peer and user-led science: invited comments:

In this commentary, we collected three essays from authors coming from different perspectives. They analyse the problem of power, participation and cooperation in projects of production of scientific knowledge held by users or peers: persons who do not belong to the institutionalised scientific community. These contributions are intended to give a more political and critical point of view on the themes developed and analysed in the research articles of this JCOM special issue on Peer-to-peer and user-led science.
Michel Bauwens, Christopher Kelty and Mathieu O’Neil write about different aspects of P2P science. Nevertheless, the three worlds they delve into share the “aggressively active” attitude of the citizens who inhabit them. Those citizens claim to be part of the scientific process, and they use practices as heterogeneous as online peer-production of scientific knowledge, garage biology practiced with a hacker twist, or the crowdsourced creation of an encyclopedia page. All these claims and practices point to a problem in the current distribution of power. The relations between experts and non-experts are challenged by the rise of peer-to-peer science. Furthermore, the horizontal communities which live inside and outside the Net are not frictionless. Within peer-production mechanisms, the balance of power is an important issue which has to be carefully taken into account.

Is there something like a peer to peer science?:

How will peer to peer infrastructures, and the underlying intersubjective and ethical relational model that is implied by it, affect scientific practice? Are peer-to-peer forms of cooperation, based on open and free input of voluntary contributors, participatory processes of governance, and universal availability of the output, more productive than centralized alternatives? In this short introduction, Michel Bauwens reviews a number of open and free, participatory and commons oriented practices that are emerging in scientific research and practice, but which ultimately point to a more profound epistemological revolution linked to increased participatory consciousness between the scientist and his human, organic and inorganic research material.

Outlaw, hackers, victorian amateurs: diagnosing public participation in the life sciences today:

This essay reflects on three figures that can be used to make sense of the changing nature of public participation in the life sciences today: outlaws, hackers and Victorian gentlemen. Occasioned by a symposium held at UCLA (Outlaw Biology: Public Participation in the Age of Big Bio), the essay introduces several different modes of participation (DIY Bio, Bio Art, At home clinical genetics, patient advocacy and others) and makes three points: 1) that public participation is first a problem of legitimacy, not legality or safety; 2) that public participation is itself enabled by and thrives on the infrastructure of mainstream biology; and 3) that we need a new set of concepts (other than inside/outside) for describing the nature of public participation in biological research and innovation today.

Shirky and Sanger, or the costs of crowdsourcing:

Online knowledge production sites do not rely on isolated experts but on collaborative processes, on the wisdom of the group or “crowd”. Some authors have argued that it is possible to combine traditional or credentialled expertise with collective production; others believe that traditional expertise’s focus on correctness has been superseded by the affordances of digital networking, such as re-use and verifiability. This paper examines the costs of two kinds of “crowdsourced” encyclopedic projects: Citizendium, based on the work of credentialled and identified experts, faces a recruitment deficit; in contrast Wikipedia has proved wildly popular, but anti-credentialism and anonymity result in uncertainty, irresponsibility, the development of cliques and the growing importance of pseudo-legal competencies for conflict resolution. Finally the paper reflects on the wider social implications of focusing on what experts are rather than on what they are for.

The unsustainable Makers:

The Makers is the latest novel of the American science fiction writer, blogger and Silicon Valley intellectual Cory Doctorow. Set in the 2010s, the novel describes the possible impact of the present trend towards the migration of modes of production and organization that have emerged online into the sphere of material production. Called New Work, this movement is indebted to a new maker culture that attracts people into a kind of neo-artisan, high tech mode of production. The question is: can a corporate-funded New Work movement be sustainable? Doctorow seems to suggest that a capitalist economy of abundance is unsustainable because it tends to restrict the reach of its value flows to a privileged managerial elite.

Why it is important for media articles to link to scientific papers

You may be aware that, as of recently, one of my tasks at work is to monitor media coverage of PLoS ONE articles. This is necessary for our own archives and monthly/annual reports, but also so I could highlight some of the best media coverage on the everyONE blog for everyone to see. As PLoS ONE publishes a large number of articles every week, we presume that many of you would appreciate getting your attention drawn to that subset of articles that the media found most interesting.
So, for example, as I missed last week due to my trip to AAAS, I posted a two-week summary of media coverage this Monday. And that took far more time and effort (and some silent cursing) than one would expect. Why?
I don’t think I am a slouch at googling stuff. Some people joke that the entire Internet passes through my brain before it goes to the final audience. After all, I have been monitoring the Web for mentions of ‘PLoS’ and ‘Public Library of Science’ on blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and elsewhere for a few years now. If I don’t catch a mention within minutes of it being posted, you can bet one of my many online friends/followers/subscribers is bound to quickly let me know by e-mail or Direct Messaging somewhere. If someone says something nice about PLoS, I am quick to post a ThankYou note. If someone asks a question, I try to answer or to connect the person with the appropriate member of the PLoS staff. If someone is publicly musing about submitting a manuscript to one of our journals, I am right there to give encouragement. If someone makes a factual error, I gently correct it. It is very, very rare that I need to raise the Immense Online Armies because someone is wrong on the Internet 😉
So, why is it difficult then to compile a collection of weekly media coverage? Let me walk you through the process….
First, as you probably already know, PLoS makes no distinction between Old and New media. We have bloggers on our press list who apply/sign-up in the same way and abide by the same rules as traditional journalists (and, unlike mainstream media, bloggers NEVER break embargos, not once in the past three years since we started adding bloggers to our press list). For the kind of coverage we prefer to see, we point bloggers to the ResearchBlogging.org criteria. In return, bloggers can send trackbacks to our articles, their work is showcased side-by-side with the traditional outlets in our weekly posts, they can be discovered via Google Blogsearch, Postgenomic and ResearchBlogging.org links directly from each article, and one blogger per month wins a t-shirt and special recognition.
So, I start with blog posts first. The first thing I do is take a look at ResearchBlogging.org. Those are the best of the best posts – not merely mentioning our articles, but adding analysis, commentary, critique, context and additional information. How do I find them? I just search the site for the phrase ‘journal.pone‘. That search brings up every single post that mentions a PLoS ONE article because that phrase is a part of every possible form of the URL of the article (including the shortest one, which includes just the DOI). If a post links to our article (and that is the only way to get aggregated on ResearchBlogging.org) I will find it this way. Needless to say, this process takes just a few minutes per week.
Knowing that there are some good blogs out there that are not registered at ResearchBlogging.org (which is strange and unfathomable why – RB.org is a ‘stamp-of-approval’ place for science blogs recognized by the outside world of journals and media, as well as a nice way to get extra recognition and traffic, and even awards), I then repeat the same search – for ‘journal.pone‘ – on Google Blogsearch. This may bring up a few more posts that I did not catch yet. Occasionally, some of these are good. Another couple of minutes. Blogs are now done. Move on to traditional media….
And this is where the Hell starts. Try searching Google News for ‘journal.pone‘…?! All I get are a couple of prominent blogs that I have already counted, e.g., those blogs that are listed by Google News (scienceblogs.com blogs, Ars Technica, Wired blogs, etc.). Where are the others?
The problem is, nobody in the mainstream media links to papers.
So I have to search for PLoS and for Public Library Of Science and then figure out which ones are covering specifically PLoS ONE articles (sometimes they don’t specify, sometimes they name the wrong journal – last week an article on PLoS Current-Influenza was reported to be in PLoS ONE by a number of outlets copying the error from each other). Then I have to search for keywords for individual articles I suspect may have received some coverage. Last week, for example, I searched for “swallows+antioxidants” and “St. Birgitta”, among many others. This lasts for hours! And at the end I am still not 100% sure I caught everything. How frustrating!
Not just is there a big difference in time and effort spent between finding blog posts and finding media articles, but there is an even bigger disparity when one considers what results come out of these searches. I have been doing this for a month now. I expected that there would be poor blog posts and poor media articles, that there would be good blog posts and good media articles, and that there would occasionally be some excellent blog posts and excellent media articles. So far, that is true…. except I have yet to discover an excellent media article. As a rule, the very best coverage of every paper in the past month was done by a blogger or two or three. Then there are some other, good pieces of coverage in both the New and Old media, and then there are some really bad pieces in both realms as well (not all blog posts I count here are really bad – they may just be too detailed, technical and dry for lay audience because the blogger is intentionally targeting scientific peers as audience, which is fair thing to acknowledge).
So, every week, it takes me a few minutes to find the very best coverage (which is on blogs, usually those aggregated on ResearchBlogging.org). And then I spend hours looking for remnants, in the traditional media, which turn out to be so-so, some OK, some not so good, some horrible. If I wasn’t paid to do this, I would not do it – it cannot be good for my long-term mental health.
The resistance to post links is an atavism, a remnant of an old age before the Web. I know (because I asked many times) many good science journalists keep trying to add links, but the editors say No. The traditional media has still not caught on to the Ethic of the Link, which is an essential aspect of ethics of online communication.
I can think, off the top of my head, of three good reasons why everyone who publishes online should include a link to the scientific paper described in the article (just post the DOI link that comes with the press release if you are on the press list – if it does not resolve immediately, it is not your fault, you can always blame the journals for being slow on it – though this should never happen with PLoS articles):
Reason One: I will not go crazy every week. I am assuming that every scientific publisher has people on the staff whose task is to monitor media coverage and each one of these people is cussing and cursing YOU, the Media, every day. Try to make friends with people who provide you with source material on a regular basis.
Reason Two: Media coverage is one of the many elements of article-level metrics. Furthermore, links from the media affect the number of views and downloads of the article, and those are also elements of article-level metrics. Number of views/downloads then, in the future, affects the number of citations the work gets which is also and element of article-level metrics. Thus omitting the link skewes the ability of readers and observers to evaluate the papers properly.
The current ecosystem of science communication has a scientific paper at its core, additions to the paper (e.g., notes, comments and ratings, as well as Supplemental materials, videos posted on Scivee.tv, etc) as a shell, and incoming and outgoing links – trackbacks, cited papers, citing papers, links to other papers in the same Collection, links to other papers with the same keywords, and yes, incoming links from the media – as connections building a network: the entire inter-connected ecosystem of scientific knowledge.
By not linking to scientific papers, traditional media is keeping itself outside of the entire ecosystem of empirical knowledge. By doing this, the traditional media is fast making itself irrelevant.
Reason Three: if an article in the media discusses a scientific study, that scientific paper is the source material for the article. If the link is missing, this is an automatic red flag for the readers. What is the journalist hiding? Why is the article making it difficult for readers to fact-check the journalist? Something does not smell good if the link is not provided (or worse, it is impossible to figure out even who are the authors and in which journal did they publish – yes, that is more common than you think).
The instant and automatic response of the readers is mistrust. Every time you fail to link to the paper, you further erode whatever trust and reputation you still may have with the audience. You soon cease to be a legitimate source of information. Sure, most readers will not go hunting for the paper to read it in order to fact-check you. But two or three will, and they will let everyone else know if your article is trustworthy or not, either in the comments under the article on your own site, or on their blogs which will be quickly picked up by Google (remember: Google loves blogs).
So please, media types, hurry up and catch up with the world. The 21st century is already a decade in – you really need to do some very fast learning. Right now. Or you’ll go extinct in a nanosecond. And despite my reputation, I never said that I’d consider that result to be a Good Thing. We are in this together, you just need to do your part. To begin with, start linking.

Not-so-self-correcting science: the hard way, the easy way, and the easiest way

Two recent events put in stark relief the differences between the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things. What am I talking about? The changing world of science publishing, of course.
Let me introduce the two examples first, and make some of my comments at the end.
Example 1. Publishing a Comment about a journal article
My SciBling Steinn brought to our collective attention a horrific case of a scientist who spent a year fighting against the editors of a journal, trying to have a Comment published about a paper that was, in his view, erroneous (for the sake of the argument it does not matter if the author of the original paper or the author of the Comment was right – this is about the way system works, er, does not work). You can read the entire saga as a PDF – it will make you want to laugh and cry and in the end scream with frustration and anger. Do not skip the Addendum at the end.
Thanks to Shirley Wu for putting that very long PDF into a much more manageable and readable form so you can easily read the whole thing right here:
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See? That is the traditional way for science to be ‘self-correcting’….Sure, a particularly egregious example, but it is the system that allows such an example to be a part of that continuum somewhere on its edge – this is not a unique case, just a little bit more extreme than usual.
Janet wrote a brilliant post (hmmm, it’s Janet… was there ever a time I linked to her without noting it was a “brilliant post”? Is it even possible to do?) dissecting the episode and hitting all the right points, including, among others, these two:

Publishing a paper is not supposed to bring that exchange to an end, but rather to bring it to a larger slice of the scientific community with something relevant to add to the exchange. In other words, if you read a published paper in your field and are convinced that there are significant problems with it, you are supposed to communicate those problems to the rest of the scientific community — including the authors of the paper you think has problems. Committed scientists are supposed to want to know if they’ve messed up their calculations or drawn their conclusions on the basis of bad assumptions. This kind of post-publication critique is an important factor in making sure the body of knowledge that a scientific community is working to build is well-tested and reliable — important quality control if the community of science is planning on using that knowledge or building further research upon it.
———-snip———-
The idea that the journal here seems to be missing is that they have a duty to their readers, not just to the authors whose papers they publish. That duty includes transmitting the (peer reviewed) concerns communicated to them about the papers they have published — whether or not the authors of those papers respond to these concerns in a civil manner, or at all. Indeed, if the authors’ response to a Comment on their paper were essentially. “You are a big poopyhead to question our work!” I think there might be a certain value in publishing that Reply. It would, at least, let the scientific community know about the authors’ best responses to the objections other scientists have raised.

Example 2: Instant replication of results
About a month ago, a paper came out in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, which suggested that a reductant acted as an oxidant in a particular chemical reaction.
Paul Docherty, of the Totally Synthetic blog, posted about a different paper from the same issue of the journal the day it came out. The very second comment on that post pointed out that something must be fishy about the reductant-as-oxidant paper. And then all hell broke lose in the comments!
Carmen Drahl, in the August 17 issue of C&EN describes what happened next:

Docherty, a medicinal chemist at Arrow Therapeutics, in London, was sufficiently intrigued to repeat one of the reactions in the paper. He broadcast his observations and posted raw data on his blog for all to read, snapping photos of the reaction with his iPhone as it progressed. Meanwhile, roughly a half-dozen of the blog’s readers did likewise, each with slightly different reaction conditions, each reporting results in the blog’s comment section.

The liveblogging of the experiment by Paul and commenters is here. Every single one of them failed to replicate the findings and they came up with possible reasons why the authors of the paper got an erroneous result. The paper, while remaining on the Web, was not published in the hard-copy version of the journal and the initial authors, the journal and the readers are working on figuring out exactly what happened in the lab – which may actually be quite informative and novel in itself.
Compare and contrast
So, what happened in these two examples?
In both, a paper with presumably erroneous data or conclusions passed peer-review and got published.
In both, someone else in the field noticed it and failed to replicate the experiments.
In both, that someone tried to alert the community that is potentially interested in the result, including the original authors and the journal editors, in order to make sure that people are aware of the possibility that something in that paper is wrong.
In the first example, the authors and editors obstructed the process of feedback. In the second, the authors and editors were not in a position to obstruct the process of feedback.
In the first example, the corrector/replicator tried to go the traditional route and got blocked by gatekeepers. In the second example, the corrector/replicator went the modern route – bypassing the gatekeepers.
If you had no idea about any of this, and you are a researcher in a semi-related field moving in, and you find the original paper via search, what are the chances you will know that the paper is being disputed?
In the first example – zero (until last night). In the second example – large. But in both cases, in order to realize that the paper is contested, one has to use Google! Not just read the paper itself and hope it’s fine. You gotta google it to find out. Most working scientists do not do that yet! Not part of the research culture at this time, unfortunately.
If the Comment was published in the first example, chances that a reader of the paper will then search the later issues of the journal seeking comments and corrections are very small. Thus even if the Comment (and Reply by authors) was published, nobody but a very small inner circle of people currently working on that very problem will ever know.
Back in grad school I was a voracious reader of the literature in my field, including some very old papers. Every now and then I would bump into a paper that seemed really cool. Then I would wonder why nobody ever followed up or even cited it! I’d ask my advisor who would explain to me that people tried to replicate but were not successful, or that this particular author is known to fudge data, etc. That is tacit knowledge – something that is known only by a very small number of people in an Inner Circle. It is a kind of knowledge that is transmitted orally, from advisor to student, or in the hallways at meetings. People who come into the field from outside do not have access to that information. People in the field who live in far-away places and cannot afford to come to conferences do not have access to that information.
Areas of research also go in and out of fashion. A line of research may bump into walls and the community abandons it only to get picked up decades later once the technological advances allow for further studies of the phenomenon. In the meantime, the Inner Circle dispersed, and the tacit knowledge got lost. Yet the papers remain. And nobody knows any more which paper to trust and which one not to. Thus one cannot rely on published literature at all! It all needs to be re-tested all over again! Yikes! How much money, time and effort would have to be put into that!?
Now let’s imagine that lines of research in our two Examples go that way: get abandoned for a while. Let’s assume now that 50 years from now a completely new generation of scientists rediscovers the problem and re-starts studying it. All they have to go with are some ancient papers. No Comment was ever published about the paper in the first Example. Lots of blogging about both afterwards. But in 50 years, will those blogs still exist, or will all the links found on Google (or whatever is used to search stuff online in 50 years) be rotten? What are the chances that the researchers of the future will be able to find all the relevant discussions and refutation of these two papers? Pretty small, methinks.
But what if all the discussions and refutations and author replies are on the paper itself? No problem then – it is all public and all preserved forever. The tacit knowledge of the Inner Circle becomes public knowledge of the entire scientific community. A permanent record available to everyone. That is how science should be, don’t you think?
You probably know that, right now, only BMC, BMJ and PLoS journals have this functionality. You can rate articles, post notes and comments and link/trackback to discussions happening elsewhere online. Even entire Journal Clubs can happen in the comments section of a paper.
Soon, all scientific journals will be online (and probably only online). Next, all the papers – past, present and future – will become freely available online. The limitations of paper will be gone and nothing will prevent publishers from implementing more dynamic approaches to scientific publishing – including on-paper commentary.
If all the journals started implementing comments on their papers tomorrow I would not cry “copycats!” No. Instead, I’d be absolutely delighted. Why?
Let’s say that you read (or at least skim) between a dozen and two dozen papers per day. You found them through search engines (e.g., Google Scholar), or through reference managers (e.g., CiteULike or Mendeley), or as suggestions from your colleagues via social networks (e.g, Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook). Every day you will land on papers published in many different journals (it really does not matter any more which journal the paper was published in – you have to read all the papers, good or bad, in your narrow domain of interest). Then one day you land on a paper in PLoS and you see the Ratings, Notes and Comments functionality there. You shake your head – “Eh, what’s this weird newfangled thing? What will they come up with next? Not for me!” And you move on.
Now imagine if every single paper in every single journal had those functionalities. You see them between a dozen and two dozen times a day. Some of the papers actually have notes, ratings and comments submitted by others which you – being a naturally curious human being – open and read. Even if you are initially a skeptical curmudgeon, your brain will gradually get trained. The existence of comments becomes the norm. You become primed….and then, one day, you will read a paper that makes you really excited. It has a huge flaw. It is totally crap. Or it is tremendously insightful and revolutionary. Or it is missing an alternative explanation. And you will be compelled to respond. ImmediatelyRightThisMoment!!!11!!!!11!!. In the old days, you’d just mutter to yourself, perhaps tell your students at the next lab meeting. Or even brace yourself for the long and frustrating process (see Example 1) of submitting a formal Comment to the journal. But no, your brain is now primed, so you click on “Add comment”, you write your thoughts and you click “Submit”. And you think to yourself “Hey, this didn’t hurt at all!” And you have just helped thousands of researchers around the world today and in the future have a better understanding of that paper. Permanently. Good job!
That’s how scientific self-correction in real time is supposed to work.

Praxis

A run-down of good recent stuff, highly recommended for your weekend reading and bookmarking:
PLoS One: Interview with Peter Binfield:

…In my view PLoS ONE is the most dynamic, innovative and exciting journal in the world, and I am proud to work on it.
In many ways PLoS ONE operates like any other journal however it diverges in several important respects. The founding principle of PLoS ONE was that there are certain aspects of publishing which are best conducted pre-publication and certain aspects which are best conducted post-publication. The advent of online publishing has allowed us to take a step back and re-evaluate these aspects of how we publish research, without the burden of centuries of tradition. In this way, we have been able to experiment with new ways of doing things which may result in dramatic improvements in the entire process of scholarly publication.
The most important thing which has come out of this premise is that unlike almost every other journal in the world, we make no judgment call whatsoever on the ‘impact’ or ‘significance’ or ‘interest level’ of any submission. What this means is that if an article appropriately reports on well-conducted science, and if it passes our peer review process (which determines whether it deserves to join the scientific literature) then we will publish it. In this way, no author should ever receive the message that their article is scientifically sound but ‘not interesting enough’ for our journal, or that their article is ‘only suited to a specialized audience’. As a result, we short circuit the vicious cycle of “submit to a ‘top tier’ journal; get reviewed; get rejected; submit to the next journal down the list; repeat until accepted” and we are therefore able to place good science into the public domain as promptly as possible, with the minimum of burden on the academic community….

The evolution of scientific impact (also a good FriendFeed thread about it):

What is clear to me is this – science and society are much richer and more interconnected now than at any time in history. There are many more people contributing to science in many more ways now than ever before. Science is becoming more broad (we know about more things) and more deep (we know more about these things). At the same time, print publishing is fading, content is exploding, and technology makes it possible to present, share, and analyze information faster and more powerfully.
For these reasons, I believe (as many others do) that the traditional model of peer-reviewed journals should and will necessarily change significantly over the next decade or so.

A threat to scientific communication (read excellent responses by Peter Murray-Rast and Bjoern Brembs and a thread on FriendFeed):

Sulston argues that the use of journal metrics is not only a flimsy guarantee of the best work (his prize-winning discovery was never published in a top journal), but he also believes that the system puts pressure on scientists to act in ways that adversely affect science – from claiming work is more novel than it actually is to over-hyping, over-interpreting and prematurely publishing it, splitting publications to get more credits and, in extreme situations, even committing fraud.
The system also creates what he characterises as an “inefficient treadmill” of resubmissions to the journal hierarchy. The whole process ropes in many more reviewers than necessary, reduces the time available for research, places a heavier burden on peer review and delays the communication of important results.

Why do we still publish scientific papers?:

I agree with the need to filter papers, but I want to be in control of the filter. I don’t want editors to control my filter and I definitely don’t want a monopolist like Thomson to muck up my filter. I don’t care where something is published, if it’s in my direct field I need to read it, no matter how bad it is. If a paper is in my broader field, I’d apply some light filtering, such as rating, comments, downloads, author institute, social bookmarks, or some such. If the paper is in a related field, I’d like to only read reviews of recent advances. If it’s in an unrelated field, but one I’m interested in nonetheless, I’d only want to see the news-and-views article, because I wouldn’t understand anything else anyway. For everything else, titles, headlines or newsreports are good enough for browsing. All of this can be done after publishing and certainly doesn’t require any artificial grouping by pseudo-tags (formerly called journals).

Science Jabberwocky (how to read/understand a scientific paper when you don’t know the technical terms):

I have to confess that in areas outside mine, there seems to be a terrible array of words no more obvious than ‘brillig’ and ‘slithy’. And words that look familiar, like ‘gyre and gimble’, but which don’t look like they are supposed to mean what I’m used to them meaning.

Media tracking:

The theropod behaviour paper that I have been boring you all with this last week or so has been the first time I have had decent control over the media access to my work and by extension the first time I have had a good idea of what happened to the original press release. I know what I sent to whom and when and thus can fairly easily track what happened afterwards to record the spread and exchange of information from that origin. In the past on the Musings I have targeted inaccuracies in news reports of scientific stories but without knowing the exact details of a story (I may have access to the press release but without knowing who it went to). Well, not so this time and as a result the pattern of reporting I can see is both interesting and informative both from understanding how the media works and knowing how to get your own work publicised.

Rapid evolution of rodents: another PLoS ONE study in the media:

Although media attention and coverage is not, and should certainly not be, the only criterion for scientific “quality” (whatever that is!), it is further testimony of the advantage to publish in “Open Acess”-journals in general, and PLoS ONE in particular. This study is also interesting because it shows the value of museum collections as a source for ecological and evolutionary research, a point that Shawn Kuchta has repeatedly emphasized in our lab-meetings (and which I completely agree with, of course).

20 Quick Points from ‘The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education’:

9. Open Access Journals (Opener #5): The publishing world is increasing becoming open access. Open access journals in the healthcare area provide invaluable information to those in the developing world. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) offers free peer-reviewed scientific journals. Scientists who publish in PLoS journals might present their work in SciVee. SciVee allows the user to hear or see the scientist explain his or her research in what is known as pubcasts.

Pedagogy and the Class Blog:

I’ve been using blogs in my teaching for several years now, so I wanted to share a few ideas that have worked for me. I’m no expert and I’m still casting about for solutions to some of the more nagging problems, but after thirteen course blogs spread across seven semesters (I just counted!), I have obtained a small measure of experience. In other words, I keep making mistakes, but at least not the same ones over and over.

Practicing Medicine in the Age of Facebook:

In my second week of medical internship, I received a “friend request” on Facebook, the popular social-networking Web site. The name of the requester was familiar: Erica Baxter. Three years earlier, as a medical student, I had participated in the delivery of Ms. Baxter’s baby. Now, apparently, she wanted to be back in touch…..

Are young people of today Relationally Starved?:

The more I toss it around, I’m not so sure that our students are “relationally starved.” I just think that relationships look much different today than they have in generations past. Their relationships are more fluid and maybe a little more fragile. It is obvious that advances in technology have changed the way relationships are built and maintained (it has for me). This doesn’t mean that children aren’t in need of the same nurturing and love that we might have had, but there are other layers that we need to ask them about. And I think that might be the key, ASK THEM!

The New Yorker vs. the Kindle:

Now, let’s imagine for a moment that we are back in the 15th century, to be precise just shortly after 1439, when Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg invented movable type printing. I can only imagine the complaints that Baker would have uttered in the local paper (which was, of course, copied by hand from the original dictation). What? Only one title on the catalog? (The Bible.) Oh, and the fonts are sooo boring compared to handwriting. And no colors! And the quality of the drawings, simply unacceptable. This movable type printing thing will never ever replace the amanuenses, it will simply die as yet another “modern invention” and things will keep being just the same as they have been throughout what they at the time didn’t yet call the Middle Ages.

The New Yorker & The News Biz:

After many years, I am finally subscribing to the New Yorker again. Not in print, but via their Digital Reader. I’m blogging about it because I like their model: the Digital Reader adds something I wouldn’t get from the library version, and I feel like this new model bears watching as we migrate from print to online.

The psychology of reading for pleasure:

According to a neurological study that Nell performed, processing demands are higher with books than other media (movies, television) but that also means that when you are absorbed in a book, you are more likely to block out distractions. While readers describe being absorbed in a book as “effortless,” their brains are actually intensely active. As one critic said, this is not an escape from thinking, it’s an escape into thinking – intensely, and without distraction.

How Twitter works in theory:

The key to Twitter is that it is phatic – full of social gestures that are like apes grooming each other. Both Google and Twitter have little boxes for you to type into, but on Google you’re looking for information, and expecting a machine response, whereas on Twitter you’re declaring an emotion and expecting a human response. This is what leads to unintentionally ironic newspaper columns bemoaning public banality, because they miss that while you don’t care what random strangers feel about their lunch, you do if its your friend on holiday in Pompeii.
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For those with Habermas’s assumption of a single common public sphere this makes no sense – surely everyone should see everything that anyone says as part of the discussion? In fact this has never made sense, and in the past elaborate systems have been set up to ensure that only a few can speak, and only one person can speak at a time, because a speech-like, real-time discourse has been the foundational assumption.
Too often this worldview has been built into the default assumptions of communications online; we see it now with privileged speakers decrying the use of anonymity in the same tones as 19th century politicians defended hustings in rotten boroughs instead of secret ballots. Thus the tactics of shouting down debate in town halls show up as the baiting and trollery that make YouTube comments a byword for idiocy; when all hear the words of one, the conversation often decays.

Blogging Evolution (PDF):

I describe the general characteristics of blogs, contrasting blogs with other of WWW formats for self-publishing. I describe four categories for blogs about evolutionary biology: “professional,” “amateur,” “apostolic,” and “imaginative.” I also discuss blog networks. I identify paradigms of each category. Throughout, I aim to illuminate blogs about evolutionary biology from the point of view of a
user looking for information about the topic. I conclude that blogs are not the best type of source for systematic and authoritative information about evolution, and that they are best used by the information-seeker as a way of identifying what issues are of interest in the community of evolutionists and for generating research leads or fresh insights on one’s own work.

What Do Mathematicians Need to Know About Blogging?:

Steven Krantz asked me to write an opinion piece about math blogging in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. I asked if I could talk about this column on my blog, and even have people comment on drafts of it before it comes out in the Notices. He said okay. So, just to get the ball rolling, let me ask: what do you think mathematicians need to know about blogging?

Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing and Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing, pt. 2:

Journalists are pretty good at working the scene of a disaster. They’ll tell you what happened, who did it, and why.
But when it comes to the disaster engulfing their own profession, their analysis is less rigorous. An uncharacteristic haze characterizes a lot of the reporting and commentary on the current crisis of the industry.
It could have been brought on by delicacy, perhaps romanticism. And since it is not just any crisis, but a definitive one–one that seems to mean an end to the physical papers’ role in American life as we have come to know it–perhaps there’s a little bit of shell-shock in the mix as well.

Online Community Building: Gardening vs Landscaping:

The Gardener creates an ecosystem open to change, available to new groups, and full of fresh opportunities to emerge naturally. The approach is focused on organic collaboration and growth for the entire community. The gardener is simply there to help, cultivate, and clear the weeds if/when they poke up.
The Landscaper creates an ecosystem that matches a preconceived design or pattern. The approach is focused on executing a preconceived environment, regardless of how natural or organic it may be for the larger area. The landscaper is there to ensure that everything stays just as planned.

Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style (book review):

So I end up feeling a bit torn. He’s telling us “Don’t be such a scientist”, and it’s true that there are many occasions when the scientific attitude can generate unnecessary obstacles to accomplishing our goals. At the same time, though, I want to say “Do be such a scientist”, because it’s part of our identity and it makes us stand out as unusual and, like Randy, interesting, even if it sometimes does make us a bit abrasive. But, you know, some of us revel in our abrasiveness; it’s fun.

This has also been in the news a lot last week:
Threats to science-based medicine: Pharma ghostwriting
Wyeth, ‘Ghost-Writing’ and Conflict of Interest
More On Ghostwriting, Wyeth and Hormone Replacement Therapy
Wyeth’s ghostwriting skeletons yanked from the closet
Ghostwriters in the sky
Quickie Must-Read Link … (probably the best commentary of them all).
Several recent posts on the topic dear to my heart – the so-called “civility” in public (including online) discourse:
How Creationism (and Other Idiocies) Are Mainstreamed:

One of the things that has enabled the mainstreaming of various idiocies, from altie woo, to creationism, to global warming denialism is mainstream corporate media’s inability to accurately describe lunacy. For obvious reasons, ‘family-friendly’ newspapers and teevee can’t call creationists, birthers, or deathers batshit lunatic or fucking morons. This is where ‘civility’ (beyond the basic norms of decency when dealing with the mentally ill) and pretensions of ‘balance’ utterly fail.

Weekend Diversion: How to Argue:

You are, of course, free to argue however you like. But if you want to argue on my site, you’re really best off remembering this hierarchy, and staying as high as possible on it. Most of you do pretty well, but this has served me well in general, and I hope it helps you to see things laid out like this. And if not, at least you got a great song out of it!

When an image makes an argument:

Along similar lines to a frequentist interpretation of the strata, maybe this pyramid is conveying something about the ease or difficulty inherent in different types of engagement. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to call someone an asshat, but understanding her argument well enough to raise a good counterexample to it may take some mental labor. If this is the rhetorical work that the pyramidal layout does here, it may also suggest a corresponding hierarchy of people who have the mental skills to engage in each of these ways — making the people at the tippy-top of the pyramid more elite than those using the strategies from lower strata.

How to Argue…:

White men are sufficiently privileged enough to demand that they be treated respectfully while white women, at best, can expect to be presented with contradiction and counterargument. When I saw the category “responding to tone” I thought of the “angry black man” who, although perhaps right, is castigated for his anger and lack of civility for not conforming to the norms of white society. If you’re a non-white woman? Then, the best you can do is hope to not be denied food and shelter if you don’t fuck your husband enough (h/t to Free-Ride for pointing this article out), but you only expect to be part of the discussion if you’re allowed to be.
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The call to civility is a frequent tactic to derail the discussion and is as much of an ad hominem attack as calling someone a cocknozzle. It fails to recognize the perspective of the other party or appreciate why they might be angry.

More on the topic:
Dr. Isis Learns to Argue:

I am lucky to have such thoughtful commenters. When I wrote the previous post I had no idea that bleeding from my vagina was clouding my judgement. Then, just when I thought I had cleared enough of the estrogen from my girl brain to understand, I learned that this was all a carefully planned tactic to teach me a lesson. Damn! I hate when that happens!

Weekend Diversion: How to argue…and actually accomplish something:

Here we arrive at the meat of the matter. Once having accomplished more than about 300 ms worth of consideration of a given topic, people are highly resistant to the idea that their rationale, conclusions and evidence base might actually be wrong. And the wronger the consideration might be, the more resistant to acknowledgment is the individual. We might think of this as the intrapersonal Overton window.

A Tale of Two Nations: the Civil War may have been won by the North, but in truth the South never emotionally conceded.:

The Civil War may have been won by the North, but in truth the South never emotionally conceded.
The Town Hall mobs, the birthers, the teabaggers are all part of that long line of “coded” agitators for the notions of white entitlement and “conservative values.”
Of course, this conservative viewpoint values cheap labor and unabated use of natural resources over technological and economic innovation. It also – and this is its hot molten core – fundamentally believes that white people are born with a divine advantage over people of other skin colors, and are chosen by God to lead the heathen hordes.
That a Town Hall mob is itself a heathen horde would never occur to the economically stressed whites who listen to the lies of the likes of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs. Lies that confirm an emotionally reinforcing worldview – however heinous – become truths for those in psychological need of feeling superior and chosen.

I remember an America where black men didn’t grow up to be President.:

And all of them are asking for their America back. I wonder which America that would be?
Would that be the America where the Supreme Court picks your president instead of counting all the votes? Would that be the America where rights to privacy are ignored? Would that be the America where the Vice President shoots his best friend in the face? Or would that be the America where an idiot from Alaska and a college drop-out with a radio show could become the torchbearers for the now illiterate Republican party?
I fear that would not be the America they want back. I fear that the America they want back is the one where black men don’t become President.
I remember that America. In that America people screaming at public gatherings were called out for what they were – an angry mob. Of course, they wore sheets to cover up their bad hair. Let’s be clear about something: if you show up to a town hall meeting with a gun strapped to your leg, the point you are trying to make isn’t a good one. Fear never produced anything worthwhile.

In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition:

The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America’s flora. Only now, it’s being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills — the one hysterics turned into the “death panel” canard — is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of “complaints over the provision.”

Two oldies but goodies:
Atheists and Anger:

One of the most common criticisms lobbed at the newly-vocal atheist community is, “Why do you have to be so angry?” So I want to talk about:
1. Why atheists are angry;
2. Why our anger is valid, valuable, and necessary;
And 3. Why it’s completely fucked-up to try to take our anger away from us.

Atheists and Anger: A Reply to the Hurricane:

Now my replies to the critics. I suppose I shouldn’t bother, I suppose I should just let it go and focus on the love. But I seem to be constitutionally incapable of letting unfair or inaccurate accusations just slide. So here are my replies to some of the critical comments’ common themes.

The Privilege of Politeness:

One item that comes up over and over in discussions of racism is that of tone/attitude. People of Color (POC) are very often called on their tone when they bring up racism, the idea being that if POC were just more polite about the whole thing the offending person would have listened and apologized right away. This not only derails the discussion but also tries to turn the insults/race issues into the fault of POC and their tone. Many POC have come to the realization that the expectation of politeness when saying something insulting is a form of privilege. At the core of this expectation of politeness is the idea that the POC in question should teach the offender what was wrong with their statement. Because in my experience what is meant by “be polite” is “teach me”, teach me why you’re offended by this, teach me how to be racially sensitive and the bottom line is that it is no one’s responsibility to teach anyone else. And even when POC are as polite as possible there is still hostility read into the words because people are so afraid of being called racist that they would rather go on offending than deal with the hard road of confronting their own prejudices.

The exciting history of history of science. And mammoths!

Scientific facts are fun. But probably to a limited number of people.
It’s more fun to know how scientists got those facts – their thoughts, motivations and methods. How they did it. Why they did it. Where did they get the idea to do it in the first place.
It’s even more fun, for a broader number of people, if that finding is placed in a historical context – how work of previous generations of scientists, meandering around various age-specific ideas, led to the work of this particular group.
But it is even more fun watching the historians of science at work. Most recent science is pretty easy to figure out. But going into the past, it gets harder and harder. The unit of information today is the peer-reviewed scientific paper in a journal that is for the most part easily obtainable online. But in the past, books were more important. The standards of evidence were not as stringent. The various pseudoscientific and borderline scientific ideas were mainstream. Many scientific findings were made by adventurous explorers, not people with long and sophisticated scientific training. The line between science and fiction was not very clear. While today English is the language of science, in the past many languages were used, and not everyone could read all of them. Transport of books around the world was slow and difficult. Plagiarism was harder to detect, thus rampant. History of science, and even more the work of science historians, reads like a detective thriller! Now that’s exciting!
Which is why I regularly read John McKay at Archy, who is a professional historian, slowly working on his book. And occasionally putting some of the essays on his blog for the commenters to help with corrections, ideas and additional information. See his latest output – all riveting reads:
Fragments of my research – VIII
A mammoth literary mystery
A very brief history of plagiarism
The intellectual dishonesty of Allan Quist
Quist, Antarctica, and all that
Mammoth on ice
Mammoth illustrations

Why or why not cite blog posts in scientific papers?

As the boundaries between formal and informal scientific communication is blurring – think of pre-print sites, Open Notebook Science and blogs, for starters – the issue of what is citable and how it should be cited is becoming more and more prominent.
There is a very interesting discussion on this topic in the comments section at the Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week blog, discussing the place of science blogs in the new communication ecosystem and if a blog post can be and should be cited. What counts as a “real publication”? Is the use of the phrase “real publication” in itself misleading?
You may remember that I have touched on this topic several times over the past few years (as two of my blog posts got cited in scientific papers), most recently in the bottom third (after the word “Except…”) of this post, where I wrote:

National Library of Medicine even made some kind of “official rules for citing blogs” which are incredibly misguided and stupid (and were not changed despite some of us, including myself, contacting them and explaining why their rules are stupid – I got a seemingly polite response telling me pretty much that my opinion does not matter). Anyway, how can anyone make such things ‘official’ when each journal has its own reference formatting rules? If you decide to cite a blog post, you can pretty much use your own brain and put together a citation in a format that makes sense.
The thing is, citing blogs is a pretty new thing, and many people are going to be uneasy about it, or ignorant of the ability and appropriateness to cite blogs, or just so unaware of blogs they would not even know that relevant information can be found on them and subsequently cited. So, if you see that a new paper did not cite your paper with relevant information in it, you can get rightfully angry, but if you see that a new paper did not cite your blog post with relevant information in it, you just shrug your shoulders and hope that one day people will learn….
One of the usual reasons given for not citing blog posts is that they are not peer-reviewed. Which is not true. First, if the post contained errors, readers would point them out in the comments. That is the first layer of peer review. Then, the authors of the manuscript found and read a blog post, evaluated its accuracy and relevance and CHOSE to use it as a reference. That is the second layer of peer-review. Then, the people who review the manuscript will also check the references and, if there is a problem with the cited blog post, they will point this out to the editor. This is the third layer of peer-review. How much more peer-review can one ask for?
And all of that ignores that book chapters, books, popular magazine articles and even newspaper articles are regularly cited, not to mention the ubiqutous “personal communication”. But blogs have a bad rep, because dinosaur corporate curmudgeon journalists think that Drudge and Powerline are blogs – the best blogs, actually – and thus write idiotic articles about the bad quality of blogs and other similar nonsense. Well, if you thought Powerline is the best blog (as Time did, quite intentionally, in order to smear all of the blogosphere by equating it with the very worst right-wing blathering idiotic website that happens to use a blogging software), you would have a low of opinion of blogs, too, wouldn’t you?
But what about one’s inability to detect relevant blog posts, as opposed to research papers to cite? Well, Google it. Google loves blogs and puts them high up in searches. If you are doing research, you are likely to regularly search your keywords not just on MedLine or Web Of Science, but also on Google, in which case the relevant blog posts will pop right up. So, there is no excuse there.

But, some will say, still….a blog post is not peer-reviewed!
Remember that the institution of peer review is very recent. It developed gradually in mid-20th century. None of the science published before that was peer reviewed. Yup, only one of Einstein’s papers ever saw peer review.
Much of the science published today is not peer reviewed either as it is done by industry and by the military and, if published at all, is published only internally (or on the other extreme: citizen science which is published on Flickr or Twitter!). But we see and tend to focus only on the academic research that shows up in academic journals – a tip of the iceberg.
If you think that the editorial process is really important, remember that manuscripts, in their final version, need to be submitted by the authors in the form and format ready for publication. It is not the job of editors to rewrite your poorly written manuscript for you. Thus, scientific papers, even those that went through several rounds of peer review on content are, just like blog posts, self-edited on style, grammar and punctuation (and comprehensibility!). What is the difference between peer reviewers and blog commenters? There are more commenters.
Then, think about the way gradual moving away from the Impact Factor erodes the importance of the venue of publication. This kind of GlamorMagz worship is bound to vanish as article-level metrics get more broadly accepted – faster in less competitive areas of research and in bigger countries, slower in biomedical/cancer research and in small countries.
As the form of the scientific paper itself becomes more and more dynamic and individuals get recognized for their contributions regardless of the URL where that contribution happens, why not cite quality blog posts? Or quality comments on papers themselves?