Troubleshooting the NN protocol

February 2, 2010

Longtime blogfriend bill is laughing right about now. Or he will be soon.
I’ve been a considerable skeptic that Web2.0 has anything serious to offer the pursuit of science itself. Not a theological skeptic who can’t see the potential, just one who doesn’t think we’re there yet and can’t necessarily see the path to full Web2.0 / Science integration.
Nevertheless I see potential for the public outreach mission of Web2.0 adoption by scientists. Obviously- since I haven’t stopped blogging yet.
Getting my feet wet allows me a little greater latitude and perspective in trying to think about what needs to be done to realize broader Web2.0 adoption in the daily conduct of science. And I have some ideas.
When you have an idea, the best thing to do is to figure out how to test it, right? To figure out what preliminary data you need, what literature is most relevant and what experts you need to consult. In the design stage, you can use all of these factors to check your assumptions. See where your gut might be leading you astray.
As you proceed along, you can try to see what parts of your protocol are working, what needs to be tweaked and what needs to be junked.
Like I said, I have some ideas. I share the broadest goals of what NPG is trying to accomplish in terms of using the more interactive internet technologies to enhance the conduct of science. I’m working on a couple of projects.
This is by way of lengthy preamble to why I would be gazing upon the cockup that is the Nature Network introspection exercise with some dismay.

Let us consider the oft-repeated goal that NPG has of having online discussions of science papers develop. Let us also consider the only slightly less frequently repeated observation that scientists are as yet, somewhat reluctant to adopt this as a new style of engaging with papers.
Then let us consider an interleaved exchange that might have bearing on the motivation of scientists to discuss science online.

Maxine: “and if some members of it are somewhat two-faced/snide about it on other (outside) sites”
I’m sorry that you saw it that way. If you’re referring to the threads I think you’re referring to, I saw it as NNers defending some aspects of NN while saying that they agree with criticisms of other aspects. Is it really realistic to expect everyone who uses this platform to agree that all aspects of it are perfect for every user? Are people who don’t think the platform is perfect somehow “breaking ranks”?


Just to clarify, I was not referring to anything to do with ScienceOnline (which I neither attended nor followed) or ScienceBlogs when I made the comment about people being two faced. I have a lot of independent blogs in my RSS reader (not ScienceBlogs, I do not follow those because I don’t like the overall quality, lack of knowledge and manner of the comments). On some of those posts I find comments from people who actively participate in NN, making the sort of comment that they would not make here. My only point was to suggest that I think it is a good idea for people to be consistent.


My apologies, Maxine, I thought you were referring to recent posts on ScienceBlogs where several NNers (including me) showed up to share our opinions.
I tend to think it’s normal for people to post different types of comments in different venues, i.e. adapting their tone to fit the tone of the hosting blog. I post stuff on my other blog that I would never post here, even if it’s science-related, if I’m feeling a bit venty or sweary. We all have different moods on different days, and some moods fit NN better than others


just to be even clearer, I am writing about people who take up one position when on NN and a rather different one on the same topic elsewhere. I personally value honesty and consistency.

Now of course this is yet more evidence in direct support of my hypothesis that when the civility fans assert “don’t piss on my carpet” what the really mean is that you shouldn’t be pissing on anyone’s carpet. In short, they really do mean to assert a general, internetwide behavioral code. In this exchange, Maxine is saying that if you adopt the local culture of Nature Networks while commenting there, but adopt the local culture of, e.g., the Comrade PhysioProf blog while there, you are “two-faced”, dishonest or inconsistent. Or, if we credit the progress of the discussion, if you defend your homies in one place but admit to a bit of nuance elsewhere, you are the suxxors.
No biggie, right? Just some same-ol, same-ol blogwarz. Well, yes and no. The trouble is that “Maxine” in this case is the executive publishing editor of what is considered to be one of the most desired of the GlamourMags. Many scientists are in a position in which they feel it necessary to try to publish their work in Nature. Or even if they don’t feel it absolutely necessary, they recognize that it would be a very GoodThing indeed for their career and ability to continue doing the science that they love the way they see fit.
Reading an exchange like this from someone who is highly influential in whether their paper gets accepted for publication or not…well, what do you think the motivational valence is going to be?
Don’t strain yourself, I’ll tell you. Don’t write a damn uncivil thing or, gods forfend, anything remotely critical of any NPG publication or activity. Otherwise you might be viewed as incivil, two-faced or dishonest and put your paper acceptance at risk.
So here we have the apparent corporate goal of increasing scientists’ willingness to make comments, particularly on NPG published articles. And one of the senior staff is blundering about making comments that are going to be interpreted by scientists in a certain way. The effect will be to diminish their already near-unmeasurable interest in commenting on journal articles.
Heckuva job, Clarkey.

No Responses Yet to “Troubleshooting the NN protocol”

  1. becca Says:

    Huh. If you had asked me to speculate on the sort of behavior Maxine was referring too, I would have guessed someone who is an enthusiastic proponent of open-access science publications in a comment on a wordpress blog, but who belongs to NN and at their blog there they are very Rah-Rah Nature in their blogging. (NB: this is purely hypothetical behavior; I am not aware of anyone having done this)
    In other words, she seems to be talking about content of positions in different arenas, rather than style of communication. Admittedly, the two do blur sometimes.


  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    the specific issue is irrelevant. it you transgress her standards for commentary, even outside of NPG webspace, you are a persona non grata. this is the impression generated by her comments. it has an effect which directly contravenes some of their explicitly stated goals, vis a vis online commentary.


  3. D. C. Sessions Says:

    Which brings us once again to the subject of pseudonymity, yes?


  4. DrugMonkey Says:

    Not really, DC. Remember I am one that warns that there should be no confidence of impenetrable anonymity. One would be foolish to assume a pseud will not eventually come out so if one gives a crap about being In Nature’s good graces…


  5. Comrade PhysioProf considers Nature to be the greatest, most awesomest journal in the history of science. And one of the greatest things about it is the fine scientific taste, wisdom, fairness, and judgment exhibited by its outstanding editorial staff. From the chief editor of the entire journal down to the lowliest footnote-crunching copy editor, they are all wonderful people.


  6. pinus Says:

    This is exactly why I would never say shit about NN. I don’t want to fuck up my already slim chance for a nature publication.


  7. becca Says:

    in response to what CPP said:
    2) +1
    Also, I would not even read blogs if it weren’t for Nature, plus they have a totally awesome podcast. So, they do a lot of things right.


  8. I’ll preface this comment by saying that I don’t do research any more and can’t foresee any circumstances under which I would ever submit anything to an NPG journal.
    Having said that:
    1) CPP’s comment is hilarious
    2) DrugMonkey’s take on this seems to reflect my own initial misunderstanding of Maxine’s comments (am I paranoid much, eh?!)
    3) Becca’s take on this (in comment #1) seems to reflect more closely what I think Maxine actually meant
    4) My initial misunderstanding of Maxine’s comments would have appeared more rational and less paranoid if you’d included more of the sentence whose middle part I quoted at the start of the first of my comments you’ve linked:
    “One reason I like Nature Network is that it is civil, and if some members of it are somewhat two-faced/snide about it on other (outside) sites, as I inadvertently noticed the other day for example, it can just be ignored”


  9. DrugMonkey Says:

    Yeah I should have included the initial gobsmacking comment from Maxine, Cath. I forget not everyone is following along 🙂


  10. Yeah, I think a good few people have completely lost interest by now. I’m trying to myself, but it’s hard when people keep quoting me 🙂
    Anyway, I repeat that I do now think tMaxine was talking about “content of positions in different arenas, rather than style of communication” to quote Becca, but that she didn’t express that clearly at first. I’m not sure which NNers she thinks have done that though, and would be interested to find out! But Maxine is not the type to name names like that.


  11. DrugMonkey Says:

    How veddy British passive aggressive.


  12. I’m Canadian now, it was on the citizenship exam.
    Off to watch the Canucks-Canadiens game on tape delay. Have fun.


  13. bill Says:

    I want to like NN — I like many of the blogs, and the people. But, but — but something, I just can’t put my finger on it, and no matter how often I go there following some link or other, I never hang around.
    The best I can do is describe NN as inward-looking and rather self-satisfied in overall feeling. The extra dose of rambunctiousness here at Sb seems to result in more engagement with interesting ideas, somehow.
    Or maybe I’m just a shambling barbarian, made uncomfortable by superior verbal grooming.


  14. KJHaxton Says:

    If given the choice, I think I’d prefer that people be consistent in their opinions rather than falsely polite (and change opinion to suit the forum), but I’d also like that they be aware of other issues (cultural issues for example) that might suggest certain ways of acting/reasons to phrase things one way or another, or not to use highly culturally specific terminology.
    I agree with bill’s perspective of NN as being inward looking and a little self-satisfied…at times, the description doesn’t fit the whole network. It is one of the reasons I stopped blogging there.


  15. steffi suhr Says:

    DrugMonkey, Maxine did explain herself and what she meant became quite clear, i.e. people ‘being consistent’ with what they say, which in my mind is fair enough. Unfortunately, she can sometimes sound slightly harsh in her tone, especially when she cares about the issue – nobody is perfect. You know what impresses the hell out of me about Maxine though? The fact that she very actively engages in the community on NN, despite the fact that she is the publishing executive editor at Nature, which is not an easy job.
    And no, I am not an active scientist anymore and will never come even close to publishing anything in Nature.


  16. Hi Drugmonkey – I agree with Steffi and think you’re wide of the mark with this post. As I understood Maxine’s comment, she was simply stating a preference for consistency of opinion which I think is a reasonable opinion to hold.
    Your extrapolated analysis that no-one should dare to contradict her or any other Nature editor for fear of compromising their chances of a future publication is without foundation. I have met Maxine in real life and know her to be a person of great integrity with a huge passion for science. I myself have drawn criticism from her; when I wrote a post on the lamentable state of Supplementary Information formats in many journals including Nature, she was quick to point out in no uncertain terms that Nature had got its act together. But I wouldn’t have the slightest reservation after that episode of submitting a manuscript to Nature or any other NPG title. In my view the publishing arm is a highly professional organisation and quite separate — operationally — from the blog platform.
    As to NN being introverted and self-satisfied as some have said. Well, perhaps there’s something in that. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, though I don’t really share that one. Oddly, from my perspective, the recent tweeted query from Lou Woodley about what NN could do better was an effort to reach out, to crowd-source, to seek outside opinion. That strikes me as being the opposite of introversion and indicating a possible dissatisfaction with the status quo.


  17. DrugMonkey Says:

    I would suggest that the two of you who have a good deal of knowledge of Maxine from your various interactions step back and see how the comments look without benefit of that extra knowledge.
    This is not about the refinement about what someone might “really” mean or godlike understanding of their true state of internal being. This is about how their actions are going to be perceived and if that perception works for or against certain stated goals of said individual.
    what she meant became quite clear, i.e. people ‘being consistent’ with what they say, which in my mind is fair enough.
    Yeah, I didn’t get that at all. I got the impression of someone saying what they really meant right from the start and then trying to back off it when challenged. Sorry but “two-faced/snide” is not a mere description. It has judgmental valence. You don’t just type that out by accident, especially when you are such a big fan of civility in online discussion and all…


  18. DrugMonkey Says:

    Oddly, from my perspective, the recent tweeted query from Lou Woodley about what NN could do better was an effort to reach out, to crowd-source, to seek outside opinion. That strikes me as being the opposite of introversion and indicating a possible dissatisfaction with the status quo.
    I totally agree. One of the reasons I’m bothering to think through what the NN experience tells those who may be thinking about launching slightly more institutional efforts of this nature is that NN appeared to be asking via Twitt.
    You will note that much of what I take issue with is the response from some of the NN crowd that boils down to “problem? what problem? not only do we not have a problem but we are totes better at this than are others”.
    I have a particular objection to the assertion that the NN approach to commentary is the way to make those scientists who are not engaging online “comfortable”. The evidence doesn’t really suggest that is working out too well. The Wild West of Sb may not be getting scientists talking about the latest research articles in a very consistent way but at least it gets a much larger number of scientists talking online. I’d argue that the taller hurdle is getting scientists to conclude they get some value out of science/career-related online behavior. Once they find that, it is easier to persuade them to do the journal article commenting thing.


  19. Re 17: I think you’re being too harsh and my point is that it’s often difficult to accurately ‘read’ a person from what they might hastily type into a blog comment. One of the great weaknesses of comment threads is that we are relying entirely on the written word to express ourselves. There are no facial expressions or hand gestures to modulate or nuance our meaning. I think that’s why the descent into name calling is much steeper online than it is in real life. So I would tend to give people a bit more latitude if I only know them by what they write.
    But anyway, as to your subsequent comment I think you may have a point. I don’t share the blasĂ© opinion that you ‘quote’ (and am not sure I know anyone who has expressed it). I am interested in ways to lower the barrier to get more scientists involved in the blogosphere (just wrote an article in The Biochemist about it – mentioning NN and SB, I hasten to add!). Even though I don’t share your enthusiasm for the wild-west (sorry pardner!), I think it’s good that there are different ecosystems out there, since it gives people more variety. The requirement for registration at NN may be a barrier but I’m not sure if it’s the only reason there isn’t more uptake. Maybe US scientists are a bit more gung-ho about embracing web2.0? I dunno.


  20. I think you’re being too harsh and my point is that it’s often difficult to accurately ‘read’ a person from what they might hastily type into a blog comment.

    This is an obvious truism. The point you seem to be missing is that when the chief executive editor of motherfucking Nature “hastily types” a blog comment, people pay a lot of motherfucking attention. Corollary to this is that people in positions like chief executive editor of motherfucking Nature might want to think twice before “hastily typing” blog comments. Capisce?
    Oh, and by the way, Nature is the greatest scientific journal to ever grace humanity with its presence, and all of its editors–to a person–are incredible human beings.


  21. Cath@VWXYNot Says:

    “You will note that much of what I take issue with is the response from some of the NN crowd that boils down to “problem? what problem?”
    I’m not denying that this response exists, but it is very much a minority opinion. As someone towards the other end of the spectrum of opinions at NN, it’s been exhausting trying to debate against that minority opinion at the same time as trying to dash around the internet defending myself and my friends against people who seem to think that the very existence of the minority opinion means that everyone at NN is a Luddite who doesn’t understand how the internet works and should just go and write in a leatherbound journal while conforming to British stereotypes which, if they have ever existed at all, applied to about 1% of the population about 157 years ago.
    [Phew. Deep breath before continuing].
    As I’ve said elsewhere, parts of this exercise have been very constructive. Many other parts have not. Right now a lot of us are feeling somewhat stunned and burned out, and need some breathing space before we can start talking to NN management about how to compile and react to the constructive comments directed at us all.
    Yesterday I had a first time commenter on my blog say that he’d been afraid to contribute to the conversation because of the recent shenanigans. I think (hope) we can all agree that this is the opposite of what we’re all trying to achieve here, and I just hope there weren’t too many other people who decided not to comment on ANY of our blogs (NN and SB) recently for the same reasons.
    Breathing space. Please.
    Peace out.


  22. CPP – well the great thing about comment threads is that people have a chance to discuss what has been written – to clarify (as Maxine has done) or provide a different perspective (which I tried to do). I can only repeat that I don’t think that anyone who thinks her comment might have been directed at them has any reason to doubt they will get fair treatment if they submit a manuscript.


  23. Isis the Scientist Says:

    So, did you tell him to get his own motherfucking blog?


  24. steffi suhr Says:

    DM, this is very interesting: you’re doing exactly what’s going to keep a very, very large number of scientists and people professionally involved in science – especially if they are in a somewhat prominent (or exposed) position – from touching the blogosphere with a bargepole: weighing and trying to interprete every word they type (not even allowing for correction/explanation) and making hasty conclusions about their professionality. Oh, and do it all under a pseudonym.
    (I don’t have a poblem with people using pseudonyms, but it does affect the discussion in some instances – like this one.)


  25. DrugMonkey Says:

    This is what cracks me up steffi. You make such strong assertions about what “scientists and people professionally involved in science” are going to do/not do. You insist that the pseudonym has some unspecified bad effect.
    but you have not the slightest backup other than your random opinion and that of the subset of bloggers who share your belief
    my way of doing things is shared by another whole segment of blogger/scientists and, more importantly, validated by our readership numbers. We who use GA or sitemeter or whatnot and we who occasionally engage with our readers and draw out the lurkers know that we are reaching a certain audience. We have the data. We are not just talking our of our nether regions about how things should be in our perfect world. We have the knowledge base to make a good stab at reaching goals*, whatever they may be.
    Far superior to speculating.
    *and you should follow along with what Isis has done in getting her (rather sizeable) academic society on board with new media, Twitter and blogging. It is rather impressive and shows that a blogging approach that you apparently disdain is excellent at reaching real practicing scientists who might never have heard of the new media of science before.


  26. steffi suhr Says:

    you should follow along with what Isis has done


  27. DrugMonkey Says:

    In case I was not clear, I am not suggesting that you should adopt the blog-schtick of Isis.
    I am suggesting you understand that despite her onblog shenanigans she has gotten “scientists and people professionally involved in science” including those “in a somewhat prominent (or exposed) position” to touch the blogosphere with your proverbial bargepole.


  28. Concerned Author Says:

    Right point, wrong target. Who got it stuck in your head that Maxine Clarke actually makes decisions regarding which manuscripts get published? This thread becomes quite silly with that (accurate) information injected.


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