What is "the normal way to debate and discuss scientific findings" anyway?
October 31, 2008
Oh you crazy bloggers. How dare you actually…..discuss….a scientific finding?
We would actually encourage you to write a comment to NEJM. NEJM is well known for its devotion for scientific debates on recently published papers. That would be a normal way to debate and discuss scientific findings. We would also have a possibility to answer on an “equal ground”.
Thus spake two authors of a study recently published in the NEJM on myocardial infarction and the daylight savings timeswitch.
Our good blogfriend Isis the Scientist took up the paper for a bit of analysis. You should read her post but really, the picture is worth a thousand words.
Figure 2: Janszky and Ljung interpret their data.Now as Isis pointed out in a followup response to the authors, this paper has been getting quite a bit of play in the mass media. I’ve seen it pop up on a blog or two as well. Are the authors patrolling all media and issuing rebuttals? (serious question actually, are they complaining elsewhere?)
As I commented at Isis’ blog, I’ve only had the occasional complaint from scientists after reading my coverage or discussion of their work. Although not exactly the same as Isis’ distressed correspondents, there has been a slight tone that somehow expressing a critique of a scientific finding or paper on a blog is unfair or beyond the pale.
That is ridiculous. Do these authors imagine that many fellow scientists are not saying the exact same thing about their work at journal club, at scientific meetings and in email exchanges with each other? Trust me folks, they are. That’s the deal. By design. Part of the strength of science is that we do indeed bash around criticisms of published work, chew over the data and interpretations and sometimes, gasp, construct studies to test the validity of the finding. It is a GoodThing when papers are being discussed by interested parties, no matter what the format for that discussion happens to be.
On the whole though, I’d rather such discussions be available to the original authors and the scientific community at large rather than being muttered around the water cooler. Exchanges of letters to the editor critiquing a paper and defending it have their place but this is not the only way to go about post-publication critique.
Now with respect to “equal ground” the authors are not thinking straight at all. I don’t want to speak for Isis’ pageviews but it strikes me that you have to be damn near PZ Myers’ level of readership before you would start to even be close to the same category as the top 50 or so experts in a given scientific field. So some random colleague commenting to the local press or interviewed by the GlamorMagz’ “news” side is going to be much less “even ground” for a discussion than is a blog which does not even focus entirely on a given subfield. I guess bloggers should be flattered that authors find them so important and influential but really we’re not. Yet.