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Caveat lector: This blog is where I try out new ideas. I will often be wrong, but that's the point.

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22.9.11

"Peer-review" does not equal "publisher-owned journal"

Yesterday was my first real day working at UCSF. Most of it was spent filling out paperwork and completing all of the regulatory training.

For those of you unfamiliar with the regulations required for human research, let me just say that they are legion, for they are many. In order to work with human subjects you have to (among other requirements) complete several online courses and questionnaires.

This is usually all well and good if not a bit annoying... (Yes, I know I shouldn't inject my subjects with radioactive spider venom without their consent. No, I didn't consider that radioactive spider venom would be an Investigational New Drug. Yes, I disclosed my consultancy income from OSCORP.)

Anyway, many universities such as UCSF, Berkeley, etc. require researchers who work with human subjects to complete their online training on a specific website: the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative.

For example I had to complete the "CITI Good Clinical Practice", "Human Subjects Research", and the "Responsible Conduct of Research" curricula. While answering questions in the latter, I encountered the following (which I got "wrong"):
(Someone needs to "peer-review" the inconsistant capitalization in the headers and that superfluous comma in that "Comment".)

This question struck me as especially odd. "Why," I asked, "is this unscientific, unsubstantiated question here? Are they afraid that researchers will stop publishing their research in peer-review and just BLOG everything?"

Does "those who have an interest in the work" not include peers? Have the authors not heard of arXiv.org?

Of course "BLOGS" aren't a replacement for peer-review. Blogs can be peer-reviewed, though, and "peer-review" is not equivalent to a publisher-owned journal. Where does the line between "blog" end and an online journal with commenting begin?

As Bora said over at the SciAm blogs:
Blog is software. Blog is primarily a platform. It is a piece of software that makes publishing cheap, fast and easy. What one does with that platform is up to each individual person or organization.

He points out the open science approach by Rosie Redfield as an example of peer-review that can be moved onto a blog to some extent.

Blogs may not replace peer-review, but they are certainly part of it already.

As was pointed out in a Nature News piece:
To many researchers, such rapid response is all to the good, because it weeds out sloppy work faster. "When some of these things sit around in the scientific literature for a long time, they can do damage: they can influence what people work on, they can influence whole fields," says [David] Goldstein.

Personally, I use my blog for many things. I talk about my own research a lot.

But I also post some fun, off-the-cuff ideas and analyses that, were I more motivated and had infinite time, I could probably polish and write up for peer-review.

It doesn't make those ideas less valuable, just more rough. And I hope someone takes some of them and runs with them. But of course, a major issue here is one of idea attribution.

As Ben Goldacre said in his Correspondence to Nature:
The growth of blogs, Twitter and free online access have caused a welcome explosion in scientific content. But this is atomized and interconnected by a hotchpotch of linking and referencing conventions. If we are going to harness its true value, we shall need dedicated librarians and information scientists to find ways of automating the process of linking content together again. That in itself would be a transgressive scientific innovation.

The current academic reward structures don't give me anything for this blog. So in the meantime I'll continue doing research with people and publishing it in "real" peer review while rolling my eyes at the occasional awkwardness with which academia approaches technology.

ResearchBlogging.orgGoldacre, B. (2011). Harnessing value of dispersed critiques Nature, 470 (7333), 175-175 DOI: 10.1038/470175b
Mandavilli, A. (2011). Peer review: Trial by Twitter Nature, 469 (7330), 286-287 DOI: 10.1038/469286a