Casey Luskin has a post up over at the Discovery Institute’s website that discusses an article that was recently published in PLoS Biology. The post itself is nothing particularly remarkable – Casey takes a paper that says that current hypotheses don’t adequately deal with all of the problems of figuring out how life started, and claims that a lack of a workable hypothesis is evidence that an Intelligent Designer is needed to explain how life got here. Along the way to the argument from ignorance, he manages to misrepresent portions of the article, put words into the author’s mouth, and use three little dots to chain sentences located paragraphs apart into a single quote. In most respects, it’s a fairly typical example of Discovery Institute work.
This time, though, Casey added a little something extra to his usual work product. He stuck a little image up at the top left corner of his post. His use of the icon in question demonstrates an eagerness to assume the trappings of intellectual respectability without actually making the effort to be respectable.
The icon in question is the ResearchBlogging.org “Blogging About Peer-Reviewed Research” icon. You may have seen the icon before. I’m one of a large (and growing) number of bloggers who have used the icon to mark posts that feature an in-depth discussion of an article found in the peer-reviewed literature. The ResearchBlogging.org website provides a single location where you can find all of the properly marked posts.
ResearchBlogging.org is just getting started, and it shows a lot of promise. The goal of the project is to provide both a simple way for bloggers to mark posts that contain an accurate and thoughtful discussion of a peer-reviewed articles and a simple way for interested readers to find such posts. The hard part is ensuring that the posts more or less fulfill the “accurate and thoughtful” part of that equation. That’s handled as a community effort. If a post is submitted that doesn’t meet those criteria, it’s brought up for discussion on the site. If there’s a consensus that the post violates the guidelines, it’s removed from the database. Hopefully, more bloggers will join the community, more people will use the website to find posts that provide more information about published articles than you get from the press releases.
The Research Blogging icon was designed to be used as part of that larger project. Anyone who wants to use the icon is welcome to. All you need to do is make sure that your post meets the guidelines for the project, register at the ResearchBlogging.org website, and follow the simple instructions that are provided. Casey did all but three of those things.
Instead of joining what has become a very promising community effort, Casey decided to “borrow” the icon without actually contributing anything. Instead of linking to the icon from his website, Casey copied the icon. He placed that copy on the Discovery Institute’s website, and used the copy in his post. He did not ask for permission to use the image, and neither he nor anyone else even attempted to register the Discovery Institute’s blog with the project.
Before I continue, there’s something that I want to make very, very clear. I have absolutely no problem in principle with Casey Luskin – or anyone else – participating in the ResearchBlogging project. They have every bit as much of a right to participate as any other blogger on the internet. But that’s not what happened here.
Casey made no effort to become a participant in the Research Blogging project when he tacked the icon onto his post. Instead, he became a parasite. The people who have done the work to build the Research Blogging website, icon, and community have done an incredible amount of work in a short period of time to get things off the ground. One of the things that they’ve been trying to do is to gain respectability for their project, by creating a set of standards for participation, and a means for the community of participants to identify and exclude posts that don’t meet the standards. Casey decided to ignore all of that, and simply misappropriated the icon for his own purposes. His behavior is made more reprehensible because it’s taking place so early in the Research Blogging project. When he slapped the icon on a post that does not meet the standards of the project, Casey made it harder for the project to gain a reputation as a way to find reliable information about peer-reviewed papers.
Addendum: Dave Munger has a post up on the ResearchBlogging project’s blog where he’s asked for discussion about whether or not Casey’s post fits the project’s standards. Let him know what you think.