Nature, one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals, opines that blogs and online comments might actually provide helpful feedback for researchers. (link)
Bloggers and online commentators have an important part to play in the assessment of research findings, and many researchers' blogs, in particular, contain better analyses of the true significance of a scientific finding or debate than is seen in much of the mainstream media. Science journalists who repeated NASA's claims on the arsenic bacterium and did not tap into the widespread criticisms, did little to defend themselves from claims of reporting by press release. Blogging scientists, meanwhile, should remember that such informal forums do not excuse insults and casual discourtesy towards colleagues — especially those being urged to respond.Paging T. Colin Campbell, paging T. Colin Campbell . . .
In the end, the scientific truth will prevail, as it usually does. In the meantime, researchers must accept some harsh truths about the speed and spread of digital criticism.
The Nature article relates the discovery by some NASA scientists of a bacteria that can replace phosphorus with arsenic in its DNA and was heavily publicized by NASA, with suggestions made about it being a possible alien life form (“astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life”). Meanwhile, several prominent researchers in the field published detailed critiques of the paper at which point the authors suddenly "retreated behind the walls of peer review".
Nature strongly encourages post-publication discussion on blogs and online commenting facilities as a complement to — but not a substitute for — conventional peer review.I couldn't agree more.
Not because I think my little blog is going to change the world or has anything to do with valid criticisms of cutting edge research, but because I think this might signal a significant shift in the acceptance of non-traditional sources of information.
This extends beyond peer reviewed science vs criticisms raised by their peer's blogs, to the idea that science can only be disseminated by science journalists interpreting the great hallowed truths of 'experts' when these same journalists usually couldn't pass a chem 101 class to save their lives. And, of course, the idea that a blogger can make valid criticisms of the statistical methods of a vegan activist bible on her blog despite not having the obligatory PhD.
I first came across evolutionary diet principles and the thorough debunking of the "SFAs will kill you" myth from blogs, and was impressed with the depth and breadth of knowledge of people like Peter at Hyperlipid, Kurt Harris, Stephan Guyenet, etc. Had these blogs not existed I wouldn't be aware of any of this stuff and I don't think I'm alone in this. I'd still be trying to jog off my beer belly, slogging through the snow and nursing injuries.
The legitimacy of non-traditional media sources should ultimately prevail, and has already done so in the case of my outlook on health, diet and exercise.
(HT: John Hawks)