There’s a recent paper on blogs as a channel of scientific communication that has been making the rounds. Other bloggers have discussed the paper and its methodology in some detail (including but not limited to Bora and DrugMonkey and Dr. Isis), so I’m not going to do that. Rather, I want to pull back and “get meta” with the blogospheric discussion of the paper, and especially the suggestion that it might be out of bounds for science bloggers (some of whom write the blogs that provided the data for the paper in question) to mount such a vigorous critique of a paper that was, as it turns out, authored by a graduate student.
So, let’s consider the situation more generally:
Let’s say you are a graduate student. You have undertaken a research study (which maybe is central to your dissertation project, or perhaps is peripheral to your dissertation project). You think the research poses an interesting and important question, and that it makes a contribution to working out an empirically grounded answer to that question. Probably your research won’t be the last word on it, but you think it’s an important step forward (maybe because it puts forward a reasonable methodological strategy for tackling the question, or it at least tries to get relevant data where previous discussion have been data-free).
You write the research up and you submit a manuscript to a journal. Maybe it’s a high prestige journal, or maybe it’s a more “low key” journal. Maybe your graduate advisor (or another mentor) has given you a lot of feedback as you did the research and wrote the manuscript; on the other hand, maybe you’ve been feeling your way through the process pretty much on your own.
The journal editor sends you a bunch of comments from the people who refereed your manuscript.
You read these comments, make whatever revisions you’re inclined to make (or whatever revisions the communique from the journal editor makes it sound like you need to make to get the manuscript published, or whatever revisions your graduate advisor or other mentor makes it sound like you ought to make before the manuscript is published), and you send that revised manuscript back to the journal editor.
Then, the journal publishes your manuscript.
At this stage, what do you want?
Do you want people to read your article and discuss it?
If so, does it matter to you if this discussion is in private spaces (where you don’t know how it’s being discussed, or even that it’s being discussed at all)? Or in traditional scholarly public spaces (like print journals or conference sessions or letters to the editor of the journal where your article was published)? Or in public spaces like listservs and blogs (where you — or others who have read your published article — might happen on them via a search engine)? Why or why not?
Do you want the people having these discussions to point out what they see as the limitations of your data, or the shortcomings in your methodology? Why or why not?
Do you want people who might discuss your paper, positively or negatively, to take special account of the fact that you are a graduate student? Why or why not?