by Judith Curry
The rise of digital media has revolutionized the management of information and created opportunities for broader involvement in science’s production.
Jerome Ravetz has a comment published in the latest issue of Nature entitled “Sociology of science: Keep standards high.” The comment is available online [here]. The comment is short, here are some excerpts:
Some trends are apparent. The rise of digital media has revolutionized the management of information and created opportunities for broader involvement in science’s production. Collaborations are growing ever larger, transforming the concept of authorship. Prepublication discussions of research on blogs dilute a principal author’s claim to discovery. And the public is increasingly involved.
As a result of these developments, the product of research is becoming more fluid. The journal is losing its status as the sole gatekeeper — simultaneous guarantor of quality, certifier of property, medium of communication and also archive.
In response to these trends, some individuals are becoming self-appointed gatekeepers. During the polarized ‘climategate’ debates in 2010, for example, climate scientists stepped in to defend the work of a reputable colleague from criticism by a ‘mere’ mining engineer. That critic, Steve McIntyre, claimed on his blog simply to be applying the standards of the business world to climate data.
Although scientific expertise presents a bar to interference, concerned outsiders have a legitimate and useful role. The setting of policy priorities is one such example.
Whistle-blowing is another vital form of intervention.
In some circles, gatekeepers are being done away with. Many high-technology sectors already operate along communitarian lines. For example, ‘open source’ and ‘creative commons’ enterprises handle intellectual property collaboratively. Signatories publish their specifications freely, allowing others to copy and adapt the work, as long as people credit it and there is mutual access to ideas. These sound like the ideals of science as based on the work of US sociologist Robert Merton: communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originality and scepticism.
As more people become involved in online debates, quality need not fall by the wayside. It is encouraging to see that well-conducted discussions of points of contention between the scientific mainstream and critics are emerging, as the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study demonstrates.
Scientists have a special responsibility, but also a special difficulty. When their training has been restricted to puzzles with just one right answer, scientists may find it hard to comprehend honest error, and may condemn those who persist in apparently wrong beliefs. But amid all the uncertainties of science in the digital age, if quality assurance is to be effective, this lesson of civility will need to be learned by us all.
Jerome Ravetz is well known to WUWT and Climate Etc. readers:
- Climategate: Plausibility and the blogophere in the postnormal age
- Lisbon Workshop on Reconciliation: Jerome Ravetz’s lecture
The comments on the Nature piece are interesting, in response to concerns about blogospheric civility, Ravetz states:
There are important climate-science blogsites of a generally critical or questioning orientation where the courtesy rule is respected. Judith Curry initiated the courtesy rule in the course of a debate over the significance of Hurricane Katrina for global warming, and it is maintained on her website, see http://judithcurry.com. Anthony Watts’ site http://wattsupwiththat.com has vigorous discussions but again well within the limits of courtesy and mutual respect. That may be one of the reasons that it has been named ‘Best Science Blog’ last year and previously. Although talking (and listening) to bad people is well recognised as essential for the resolution of power-political disputes (see Northern Ireland and South Africa), it is, I recognise, a very new and strange idea for science-political disputes.
Well I wouldn’t go so far as to say the discourse at WUWT and Climate Etc. is courteous, but I think it is sufficiently civil for useful dialogue to occur.
JC comments: I am a fan of the concept of “extended peer community” put forth by Funtowicz and Ravetz. Also, Ravetz’s phrase “the radical implications of the blogosphere” has definitely stuck in my head. Re the civility issue, I agree some level of civility is needed. Some think that Climate Etc. is to raucous (a not infrequent complaint made at collide-a-scape). A fair place for an honest debate might not be especially courteous. But the blogosphere enables a range of different types of fora and moderation rules. The challenge is to extract signal from the noise. I am pleased that sociologists are studying this.