Trial by Twitter

The heavy hitters in the science publishing business are taking notice.

This critical onslaught was striking — but not exceptional. Papers are increasingly being taken apart in blogs, on Twitter and on other social media within hours rather than years, and in public, rather than at small conferences or in private conversation.

Like everything else in the modern world, old orthodoxies are going to have to change. I would love to accelerate this process, but it’s going to be an uphill battle.

This article in Nature discusses a GWAS (genome-wide association study) that supposedly linked a couple of genes to long life, and the arsenic bacteria story that Alex so thoroughly eviscerated on this blog.

To many researchers, such rapid response is all to the good, because it weeds out sloppy work faster. “When some of these things sit around in the scientific literature for a long time, they can do damage: they can influence what people work on, they can influence whole fields,” says [David Goldstein, director of Duke University's Center for Human Genome Variation].

The article mentions that Math and physics folks have long had a culture of open publication before submitting to peer review, but that sort of thing has never taken root in the biological sciences. I think we need to move towards that model, but it’s going to be tough without institutional changes – hiring committees and promotion boards generally don’t pay attention to anything published outside of the peer review process, and most biologists fear getting scooped.

I would love to show my work on this blog before it’s actually done, but that would never fly with my boss. And I couldn’t even show it if it’s been accepted by peer review, because then the work is owned by the publisher.

I don’t know what the solution is, or how to move the process forward, but I at least feel privileged to be part of the new media landscape. With our powers combined, maybe we can have a positive impact.

Comments

  1. #1 IanW
    January 21, 2011

    The solution is to get tenured people (and others) to start publishing new research openly. Once respected scientists are doing this, once some ground-breaking papers are published this way, the bastion will fall.

    How about someone starting a “wikiscience’ (I’m sure we can come up with a cooler name than that!) designed specifically for this purpose?

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