John Hawks, the funny, fearless, adventurous anthropologist who writes one of the richest blogs in all academia, recently read an editorial at Current Biology that, “wishy-washing its way through a non-opinion about the value of blogging in science,” worries that blogging opens the door to “criticism [that] can be harmful.” Better, the editorial writer suggested, to limit discussion of science to peer-reviewed responses.
We’ve been through all this before. Hawks did not take the suggestion kindly:
I have little patience for the risk-averse culture of academics.
The bottom line is: People need to decide if they want to be heard, or if they want to be validated. I have long been an associate editor at PLoS ONE, and once I edited a paper that received a lot of critical commentary. That journal has a policy of open comment threads on papers, so I told disgruntled scientists to please write comments. The comments appear right with the article when anybody reads it, they appear immediately without any delay, and they can form a coherent exchange of views with authors of the article and other skeptical readers.
Some of the scientists didn’t want to submit comments, they wanted to have formal letters brought through the editorial review process. “Why?” I wrote, when you could have your comments up immediately and read by anyone who is reading the research in the first place? If you want to make an impact, I wrote, you should put your ideas up there right now.
They replied, “How would you feel if someone published something wrong about Neandertals? Wouldn’t you want to publish a formal reply?”
I wrote: “In that case, I would probably get a blog.”
What is the difference between being heard and being validated? It’s whether you are contributing to the solution or to the hindsight.