Thursday, June 3, 2010

Post Script to Uncle Joe and the Watermelons

This posting is not about the content. It is about blogs. The main point being, that regardless of what I said, it no longer matters. The ‘idea’ is ‘out there, to be chopped, diced, and used at whim. And it is ‘out there’ already. (see where to my surprise I have been promoted to ‘an Emeritus professor at Cambridge’. Sorry, wrong Bray. Anyway, you can read the blog if you want.

The initial post was getting out of hand - emotions were flying, tempers rising, etc. etc. I was getting pats on the back on one side and smacks in the face on the other- a real mixture. It is very easy to create such a situation - just add controversy to content. Eventually the post was closed by the blog administrator. Good thing to - next it might have been death threats (said with tongue in cheek).

Blogs are used for many thing by different people. Often, more often than is healthy, they are simply a cyber soap box for shouting some point of view or another, regardless of the point of view. But like I said, the idea goes forth regardless.  Blogs are easy that way. And more often than not readers of blogs are often simply seeking confirmation to pre existing beliefs. (I could name some prime example but I won’t and they are nothing to do with global warming anyway). When the reader finds contradictions on a blog that was not supposed to purport that point of view, all hell breaks loose. No need for further examples here.

Sometimes blogs are actually used for scientific exchange. I think many of Edu’s postings on this blog fall into this category and this form of exchange should be encouraged. I am a social scientist, and for me, blogs can also be a source of data or a platform for investigation. Which brings me to a question: Is this how evolving ‘extended peer review’ will look? It seems to me this is more like junior school playground behavior. Yes there are some ‘good’ blogs:;; But they too, all seem to support only a singular point of view.  Why not combine them? As is, anything posted to one of the blogs that is contrary to the customary will likely produce similar (but perhaps more subdued) results as the Stalin post. So where is the objective peer review.  It seems to me, the original idea of such blogs was to promote science, not sustain political viewpoints.

Blogs can and do give a sense of authority to rubbish - it is the ‘printed word’. It is not only ‘scientists’ that access them, or only scientists that contribute to them.  And when ‘scientists’ do read them - well, look at the emotions over the last couple of days. I am not trying to make anyone feel small here, but some behaviors were less than rational. Is there hope for a semblance of objectivity and rational response in ‘review by blog’? I don't know. Do we need a blog ‘rating’ if they are to be part of an extended review? Maybe. When the paper ‘in review’ differs from the expected, will that be cause to reduce the rating? Will unfavorable reviews simply be a list of insults and name calling? Let's hope not. If so, we should forget about science and focus on politics.


P Gosselin said...

If things worked only according to the wishes of one person on this planet, it would be a very terrible place indeed to live.
We live in a market place where the customer has the choice (of course, there are always some out there who'd like to take that choice away).
People should have the right to choose what they want too read. And if there are blogs out there that people don't like, or deem as unhealthy, then they don't need to read them.

Your question:

"Yes there are some ‘good’ blogs:;; But they too, all seem to support only a singular point of view. Why not combine them?"

is a good one. I think CA and RP would have no problems with that. But everyone knows RC is well-known for deleting comments that do not agree with their dogma, so don't expect these "real scientists" to go along with such a proposition. But ask them yourself - perhaps they'll consider the idea. In the meantime, I'll sit here and wait for hell to freeze over.

P Gosselin said...

Yes, I think it's a good idea to inquire at RC on whether they'd be open to sharing a platform with CA and RP.
Their reply will certainly provide some very interesting sociological results.
Personally, Dr Bray, I'm surprised that you seem unaware of the one-way dialogue that takes place at RC. It is the very raison d'etre
for sceptic blogs.

Dennis Bray said...

PG - I am well aware of the dialogue at RC - I have been crucified there myself - but I am also aware of the potential. One sided blogs and name calling are simply not the way to progress - not if blogs are going to serve of any real significance. The 'camps' need to go, or the disipline is in jeopardy - in science it should be about science, not politics. Call me an old fashion idealist, but if GW is as big an issue as sometimes claimed, it is time to stop the shool yard behaviour. There are of course other scientific disputes (the recent battle over the decline of the dinosaur) but they are not drawn out into the public and politcal forum and are of little contemporary consequence. On the otehr hand, they are indeed about knowledge - somwething that seems to be becoming sidetracked in much of the GW debate. Truism has no place in science. no matter which 'blog'.

Dennis Bray said...

If 'combining' blogs would be impossible, what about a selection of possibly opposing blogs, the 3 I mentioned for example, each online-reviewing the same 'paper' in a dispassionate manner? Would that act towards aiding in extended peer review? Are we grown up enough to try that yet? At least that way non-climate scientist types could follow the decision process.