Neurocritic found this editorial in Nature in his post on ‘The Voodoo of Peer Review’. To quote from the editorial
‘More researchers should engage with the blogosphere, including authors of papers in press’
This is a tremendous piece of support for science blogging. I’ve been looking at some of these issues, when considering the complexities of the ‘Voodoo Correlations in Social Neurosciences’ article which is reviewed here. In the editorial there is an interesting discussion of the embargo that is placed on articles before their publication. This is relevant to the above article as much of the discussion on the blogosphere took place after the article was accepted for publication but before it was formally published. However the editorial further explores the types of public discussion that should and shouldn’t take place before publication. They also go on to say
‘Indeed, researchers would do well to blog more than they do……Moreover there are societal debates that have much to gain from the uncensored voices of researchers’
I agree with this. Journals for psychiatrists for example typically contain papers that span medical, psychological and social domains and a wide variety of research methodologies. Interpretation of the constant influx of such papers is technically demanding. Furthermore papers in scientific journals can be considered as minimalist works of art where each sentence, each paragraph has been chiselled down to the final masterpiece – a paper which conveys the essential details necessary for others (knowledgeable and invariably working in the field) to reproduce and for readers to gain an understanding of the study. This minimalist work though conceals a whole human experiential world beneath it – the conceptualisation of the study, the immense work put into searching through the literature to see if it is relevant, the design, the creation of the infrastructure, the struggle for funding, the ethics application, the recruitment of subjects, the trials and tribulations of the study, the analysis of the data when it is all done, the sleepless nights spent thinking about the results, discussion with colleagues, endless ideas and implications – a whole world of ideas and perspiration which is barely hinted at by the restrained, disciplined format of the scientific publication. This concealed world might be just what is needed to connect with the reader, knowing the thoughts and aspirations of the researcher, how they came to propose the study in the first place, the difficulties they faced, the reservations they had about their final conclusions. As Damasio has suggested, people use emotions to help them interpret and act on information and in this regards readers of scientific journals are no different. The internet provides the medium necessary to help engage the reader in this ‘other world’ – podcasts containing interviews with researchers, videos of research methodology/findings and of course the informal coverage or debates seen in the blogosphere. Perhaps the events surrounding the Voodoo paper broke several conventions but rightly or wrongly for that specific case showed that people are receptive to a rational-emotional debate about ‘statistical correlations’. Perhaps a new contract is being brokered between science and those with an interest in science.
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