Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peer review: If no one else reforms it, could Twitter do the job?

In "Trial by Twitter",Apoorva Mandavilli for Nature (19 January 2011) tells us that "Blogs and tweets are ripping papers apart within days of publication, leaving researchers unsure how to react."
"Scientists discover keys to long life," proclaimed The Wall Street Journal headline on 1 July last year. "Who will live to be 100? Genetic test might tell," said National Public Radio a day later.

These and hundreds of similarly enthusiastic headlines were touting a paper in Science1 in which researchers claimed to have identified a set of genes that could predict human longevity with 77% accuracy — a finding with potentially huge implications for medicine, health policy and the economy.

[ ... ]

This resulting critical onslaught was striking — but not exceptional. Papers are increasingly being taken apart in blogs, on Twitter and on other social media within hours rather than years, and in public, rather than at small conferences or in private conversation.
Some, of course, are calling for "a new set of cultural norms."

Personally, I think the right lesson is this: The tweet beat means that researchers can't just float a trial balloon like "Evolution explains why men like dumb women"or "Religious people have embezzlement gene", and then run off to collect their tenure or whatever other reward, before anyone gets around to reading their stuff months later and shouting, "Rubbish! Compost! Anyone have a shovel handy?"