Peer-to-Peer

Refining and communication of science via blogs

This post is a continuation of the discussion about blogging and peer-review by selected reactions at RealClimate (a climate scientists’ community blog) to Nature Geoscience’s two commentaries on blogging.

Philip Machanick writes that the "problem with blogs is that there is no way for an outsider to know which are reasonably careful creations of informed scientists, which are opinions of the scientifically illiterate, and which are astroturf creations designed to confuse critics of science that is in conflict with an industry. Given that terrain, I would rather have something like RealClimate than not: it helps to balance things out. Errors tend to be corrected quickly here as a consequence of a large informed readership (even if it is sometimes annoying that you get drive-by ignoramuses who don’t benefit from getting their misconceptions answered). He goes on to suggest that a site such as RealClimate is of value in providing a forum for rebuttals of peer-reviewed science in order to develop a consensus on whether a “formally published rebuttal is worth the effort”.

Ray Ladbury’s view: “When it comes to peer reviewed papers, one has to presume the reader will have a minimum level of familiarity with the subject matter. One also presumes that the reader will have a day job, and so the question becomes whether the information in the paper is of sufficient interest to the average scientist in the community to say, “Hey, take a look at this. It looks mostly correct to me and has some interesting information/insights/methods…” This is not in any way the gold standard in the sciences. The gold standard comes when the community as a whole says, “Hey, cool, I can use this.” The paper is cited. The techniques are used. Science advances. Eventually, what was in the paper becomes part of the tacit knowledge assumed by reviewers.

The tacit knowledge one can presume for a blog like Realclimate is much lower. One presumes there is an interest in the subject–why else would the reader be perusing the blog. One presumes at least a passing acquaintance with the scientific method and maybe some familiarity with basic results like conservation of energy, etc. One could perhaps assume that the average reader has taken the time to acquaint him- or herself with material to which one is vectored via the ”http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/start-here/“>“Start Here” button–although this is far from Universal.

For the average newspaper reader of a science story, the tacit knowledge is nearly nonexistent–or worse, wrong. And then we have the blogosphere, where information density is at best, rarified and often toxic…….in an information economy, it seems that all too many readers and journalists are content to remain paupers.”

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