Recently, there has been some discussion over a post by the discovery institutes Casey Luskin over the use of the research blogging sites icon for “blogging on peer reviewed research”. This spawned some discussion over at the associated news blog for research blogging, particularly over if Casey followed the relevant rules and appropriately represented the paper he was presenting. Even more recently, Casey then chose to remove the icon, which is fair enough, but instead of apologising for the incident or the misuse of the icon, he instead posts a large series of excuses and hopes nobody notices his Sgt. Shultz defence doesn’t quite work. In one case, he’s simply ignorant because the icon has the website for research blogging clearly listed on it, which should promote most rational people to at least check the URL to see what the icon is about to begin with and in the other case he’s simply dishonest. What’s drawn my interest in the discussion, because creationist organisations misrepresenting some aspect of science is about as surprising as ducks being found near water (here is a good analysis of the original post and how it twists the original article) is the resulting debate over simply presenting evidence from papers or discussing it (the author presenting their opinion).
From the blogging research news blogs discussion about Caseys post, one of the users Olorin caught my attention with the following proposed rule:
Another rule might be to prohibit the review from expressing any opinions or conclusions that are not at least inherently contained in the reviewed article itself, and that they be labeled as such.
I disagreed with this statement, responding:
I don’t mean to hijack for a bit, but:
“Another rule might be to prohibit the review from expressing any opinions or conclusions that are not at least inherently contained in the reviewed article itself, and that they be labeled as such.”
Then what’s the point really? If the author isn’t able to give their own opinion on the article and perhaps even bring up other research (perhaps not addressed by the original paper). Someone might summarise a paper that is in their field and perhaps want to point out shortcomings or criticisms. Such things are to be welcomed, not stymied, but they do need to have a basis in reality.
To which Olorin further responded:
J. O’Donnell, I’m inclined to retract a proposed rule against expressing outside opinions or editorials. But, would you agree that the main purpose of the program is to inform rather than to editorialize?
Which I’ll begin to respond to now, not wanting to hijack the discussion there away from the issue of if Casey had appropriately used the icon or followed the rules (which the original thread is about, this is a different issue, even if related). Firstly, I’ll note that the mission statement (so to speak) from the original research blogging site is:
Research Blogging helps you locate and share academic blog posts about peer-reviewed research. Bloggers use our icon to identify their thoughtful posts about serious research, and those posts are collected here for easy reference.
In my opinion, this leaves open both the concept of summarising papers from the literature and also, to summarise a paper and present an opinion on the research in question. The question should really be as to how much of an opinion should the individual blogger have about the research and how the original research should be presented in support or against that opinion. For example, I see the current issue with the original discovery institute post by Casey being less about the unfair use of the icon and more about if Luskin has fairly represented the paper while presenting his opinion. The piece Casey wrote certainly isn’t a very good summary of the original paper, because Luskin only uses the paper to mine out a couple of quotes to use to support his position, while failing to describe what the paper was about, the author of the papers actual opinion and summary of the papers evidence for the authors opinion. Had Casey done these things and then presented evidence for his position on why the paper supports intelligent design, I would have viewed that at least a fair use of the paper but in reality, Caseys piece seems designed, haha little in joke there you see, to make it appear Orgel supports intelligent design when the paper has no such connotation.
However, just because the icon and goal of the research blogging site has been misused in this case, it doesn’t mean that an author should simply be confined only to summarising and presenting the authors opinion from the paper. I think that would be a disservice to people who read such posts and it would make blogging about peer-reviewed research in this manner a lot less interesting for the person writing the post. I for example, will want to pick papers that I had some degree of interest and that I felt I could add a worthwhile opinion towards, not just pick a paper for the purpose of summarising it. Additionally, in the case where the blogger is comparing research between two groups or papers, it would be very useful for the blogger in question to present their opinion (so long as evidence supports it) as to who they may think is correct. Adding your own opinion to such a post also encourages debate, particularly from other commenters who would have an idea or starting point for a discussion beyond the original paper as well.
I am all for adding ones opinion and commentary to a post about research being blogged, but if someone does this in my opinion, the original authors opinion must be clearly described, their support for their ideas discussed and then the blogger can add their opinion and commentary. This is because the original author of a paper often isn’t going to know about the blog post or what is said in many cases, so isn’t going to be actively able to defend themselves or their research. So it is only fair that the authors opinion be given a completely fair shake first before any opinion given on it should be presented.