They grab their shovels and dig themselves in.
And they’re not particularly careful about where they throw the mud.
Fundamentally, the Internet discussions we encountered contained comments that did not require citation for at least two reasons: i) they reflected general knowledge that in our opinion was not necessary to cite, not even as a personal communication because they were not specifically directed to any of the authors via telephone, email or in person; and more importantly ii) at present, Internet communications/contributions of the sort being discussed here are not components of the peer-reviewed literature and thus are not placed on record as part of the official scientific discourse.
Wow. Just... wow. A blanket statement of “Internet doesn’t count” is astonishing in an age when many journals have recommended ways to format references to web sites. Not online journals, mind you, but web sites. I have seen many papers that reference Internet materials. I’ve published some, and never heard “boo” about it from reviewers.
Heck, I have even seen Wikipedia - yes, Wikipedia! - cited as a reference in a original, peer-reviewed, technical paper published in a long-established journal. I have reservations about that, but it points out that what peers consider to be acceptable references changes all the time.
Worryingly, a logical extrapolation of this view would be that because you don’t have to credit anything on the Internet, you could plagiarise anything you wanted.
We are not sure what a “Twitter hashtag” actually is, but since they presumably are not actual references, we will continue to ignore this type of commentary for purposes of formal citations until it becomes clear that the scientific journals and community have adopted new criteria, standards, and procedures. For example, BioEssays currently does not allow authors formally to cite Internet commentary of the sort referred to by Dr. Redfield.
Then BioEssays needs to get with the program. The editor needs to expand the reference format to allow citations of more kinds of materials.
Journals have generally had an inclusive policy concerning “gray literature”, and Internet commentary isn’t fundamentally different from, say, conference abstracts. But people often cite conference abstracts. It’s generally not a problem.
And while admitting that some Internet commentary about the arsenic life paper was not anonymous, they go on to say that it’s still bad.
Signed comments should be applauded and indeed offer a measure of authenticity, but nevertheless these “chat room” environments are not constrained or screened and at times become ad hominem attacks, which have no place in the scientific literature.
“Oh my goodness! People are talking about non-peer-reviewed data in environments unscreened by selected moderators! However will science survive this chaos!”
This might well be Rosen and company’s response to the Internet, but I was actually thinking that might be something that could be said almost every scientific conference ever.
We are all aware of the massive misinformation that pervades the Internet and that is why so many simply choose to ignore it rather than track it as part of their efforts to stay informed of the scientific literature pertinent to their research. Because of such accuracy issues, at present and in its current structure, organization and process, the term “authoritative blogs” far too often represents an oxymoron.
Yes, that’s why we never see blogs by people who are the presidents of major scientific societies... Oh, wait. We do.
Well, that’s why we never see scientific societies asking people to blog at their conferences... Oh, wait. We do.
Well, that’s why major scientific journals of note would never write articles about online science blogging, Twittering... Oh, wait. They do.
Rosen and company forget that nobody ever gets to declare their own authority. Authoritative is something that other people say about you. And guess what? Other people see bloggers - even those using pseudonyms - as authoritative. Nature quoted Biochem Belle. The New York Times quoted Dr. Isis about arsenic life.
Rosen and colleagues have, perhaps unwittingly, provided a wonderfully unfiltered and honest view of how conservative some researchers are, and how tall and white is their ivory tower.
The past needs to die for the future to be born.
Rosen BP, Ajees AA, McDermott TR. 2011. Life and death with arsenic. BioEssays: in press. DOI: 10.1002/bies.201100012 (DOI link may not be working yet; try http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bies.201100012/abstract if it isn’t.)
Wolfe-Simon F, Blum J, Kulp T, Gordon G, Hoeft S, Pett-Ridge J, Stolz J, Webb S, Weber P, Davies P, Anbar A, & Oremland R. 2010. A bacterium that can grow by using arsenic instead of phosphorus. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1197258
Photo by Jeff_Werner on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.