Science.

March 12, 2007

I just finished watching The Great Global Warming Swindle on youtube. I missed it when it was on Channel 4 recently, but had heard enough about it to be tempted to watch. You can too: part1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. They put forward a good argument, and it’s certainly one of the more intelligent programmes I’ve missed on TV lately.

I won’t make your mind up for you regarding climate change, but the programme presents a compelling argument different to the norm. I was pleased to see that the arguments were reasonably balanced, and that it wasn’t a stand by the anti-wind-turbine gang to halt attempts to have people use less energy, to use greener energy, and generally move in the correct direction away from burning fossil fuels to make up a significant portion of the energy we use today. I think the more worrying information presented by the programme was the eternal issue of funding, and of how political or industrial agendas might influence some corners of science to their own benefit. It doesn’t leave science or scientists standing in a good light.

This made me wonder once again if there is any way to improve on the existing peer-review process. I wonder, what would people think if we were to extend the peer-review process somewhat?

I’ll explain. I’ve seen sites like scienceblogs.com, and these are generally excellent at distilling information from published research into a form more easily digestible in this web-2.0 world we all live in. It’s also a great way of pushing science closer to the people, without the traditional press getting in the way (and chopping off paths to references at the same time).

I do wonder if a blog, used to critique papers, would make sense? For example, one paper could be posted daily, with a reasonable attempt made to ensure disparity in posted topics on a day-to-day basis so that people’s efforts are not diluted. Post a paper, then let people comment on it.

How could this work? I think a few things would have to be considered:

  • Copyright issues. Publications generally assume copyright of the text of a paper once accepted, but are also lenient enough to allow people to post their own work on their own website. I have to assume then that for so long as this new “blog” idea were to link to either the “official” copy on the publisher’s website or a copy hosted at the author’s institution or personal web space, there would be no legal issues of this sort.
  • Anonymous commenting would not be permitted, for obvious reasons. So users would have to sign up … and that’s always a hassle. A confirmation mail to an authoritative address would be required to confirm the identity of anybody willing to comment.
  • A moderation process would be required whereby candidate papers are submitted and chosen for publishing (linking to…) on the blog.

Once a paper is posted, people may then comment at will. With real names attached, hopefully some of the abuse would be cut out. But would this work at all?

Does anybody have any thoughts? Reading a paper isn’t always easy. In fact, most often it’s difficult due to the formal language of papers. This isn’t a 15-minute blog break at lunch sort of site, it would require that people invest some time. But it could be an interesting way for the author of a paper to defend his or her work. It could be an interesting interactive playground for new research students or staff to play off each other, figure out their core interests, and figure out how to actually analyse, critique, or even refute the results presented in a paper.

Hmm. Just a thought.

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2 Responses to “Science.”

  1. Seb said

    I think as an idea it has merit.

    I read my wife’s MSc and Phd thesis (both on environmental topics – nitrogen deposition, soil science etc) and whilst the science was for the most part lost on my ‘o’ grade chemistry, I was able to ask some off-the-wall questions that made my wife think.

    I work in Software Testing, where peer reviews, and reviews by the end users is an essential part of the process.

  2. Queen Minx said

    I think this is a great idea. I especially would like Quantam Physics/Mechanics explained to me in a version I could use in a story!

    xx

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