There's an article at WUWT today (archived here) which is edited by that Master of Delusion himself - Anthony Watts. Anthony is portraying himself as a super-hero (again). He is telling his readers that blogs are better than scientific journals. In particular, his climate conspiracy blog is better - oh boy!
Anthony thinks that a blog article he came across via a tip from Judith Curry (of all people) means that WUWT is better than Nature and Science when it comes to scientific articles. (Remember, Anthony is also under the delusion that his climate "hoax" conspiracy blog WUWT is a science blog.)
Anthony's contribution to the article is a sentence at the top of his copy and paste, some comments in brackets in the copy and paste, and some deluded comments at the bottom. (He's not one for writing much these days. He gets himself into too much strife.)
The article he links to is by experimental psychologist, Daniël Lakens, who is arguing (I think) for an improvement in the quality of social science and/or psychology journals. Dr Lakens does this by putting forward (but not testing) an hypothesis that blog articles are better than science journals.
Are blogs of higher quality than journal articles?
One interesting thing is that Daniël Lakens doesn't provide much by way of data or analysis (let alone code) to support his hypothesis. Before getting into that, though, lets look at what he is arguing. He wrote:
In this blog, I will examine the hypothesis that blogs are, on average, of higher quality than journal articles. Below, I present 5 arguments in favor of this hypothesis.His five arguments are as follows:
- Blogs have Open Data, Code, and Materials
- Blogs have Open Peer Review
- Blogs have no Eminence Filter
- Blogs have Better Error Correction
- Blogs are Open Access (and might be read more)
One big problem I have with his hypothesis as constructed is that it does not distinguish between blogs. He doesn't place a restriction, for example, that the blog have any internal quality control or credibility. He does restrict journal articles to peer-reviewed journals. Perhaps he meant his readers to assume some miminal level of competence (and ethics) by the author of the blog subject, although two of his five arguments suggest not.
On the five arguments above, I offer the following comments:
1. Open data, code and materials. Now open access to data is extremely important and these days with computer storage quite cheap, there's little excuse not to provide it, even if the data sets are gigantic as they often are. However there are also very good reasons for not sharing raw data with every Tom, Dick and Mary in some instances. For example: if you are collecting personal data from people on the understanding that their private information will only be used by the researchers and not aired to the entire world, you'd have a hard time (as would everyone in your field) getting any more people to participate if you broke that commitment. You'd also be violating ethics codes of your profession and research institution. You'd probably also be breaking the law. There are privacy regulations in many countries.
In the field with which I'm most familiar (climate science), the majority of blog articles written by climate specialists are derivative in that they are discussing work that has been published in a scientific journal. It's the journal that has the data, code and materials. These days, with storage much cheaper than it used to be, most though not all journals provide that (and most insist upon it). Therefore the issue of open data, code and materials is much less of an issue than it used to be, and the reference to it in blog articles is often to the supplementary information in the journal - or to the data held on a climate site (such as temperature data).
2. Blogs have Open Peer Review. This may be so to a point. However, as Daniël Lakens points out, "The quality of the peer review process is as high as the quality of the peers that were involved in the review process."
On blogs that have no quality or peer filter, it is very difficult for the casual reader to determine the quality of comments. It may not be possible for the casual reader to determine if there is a filter in place at all, or whether the people commenting are peers of the author, or have any expertise in the subject.
Blog owners can place restrictions on who can comment on their blog. That is done to a greater or lesser or no extent on climate blogs. The main problem with blogs when there is open slather for comments, is that the lay person can become very confused and find it difficult to distinguish between knowledgeable comments and utter nutter comments such as you'll see at WUWT or relegated to the bore hole at RealClimate.org. Further confusion can arise when amateur or professional science disinformers add their bit, with the intent of confusing readers. (This happened at NYTimes DotEarth a lot, where there were a couple of regular disinformers who took over the comment threads.)
At WUWT, Anthony Watts has banned most scientists and knowledgeable climate hawks from commenting. The result is that the comments under his articles are commonly of the type "climate science is a hoax" and "it's not warming" (regardless of what the article is about). The "peers" in his case are disinformers, wacko climate science deniers, conspiracy theorists and fully paid up members of the scientific illiterati. Judith Curry's blog is little better. She panders to climate science deniers and the illiterati, which is reflected in the comments.
3. Blogs have no Eminence Filter. Daniël Lakens wrote: "It is an egalitarian and democratic medium. This aligns with the norms in science". I think his argument is around the author of the blog in this case, not the people who comment on the blog article.
In scientific publications there are all sorts of filters put in place, some desirable some less so. There are some classic examples of papers that were rejected which turned out to be ground-breakers in science. However this is the exception, not the rule. Newcomers to a field have a lot of hurdles to jump in order to make a name for themselves. They will often break in by attaching the name of an eminent scientist as co-author of their papers. (It could be interesting to compare the papers that get rejected with the papers that get published. I'll bet the rejections include some real doozies.)
On the other hand, having no eminence filter on a blog article means one of the usual guides for the non-expert is missing. If the blog article gets endorsement from an eminent person in the field (in the comments or via Twitter or by a referral from another blog article), then that can indicate to a person who has no expertise, that the article has merit. (People with expertise, eminent or otherwise, can judge the article on its own merits, of course.)
One more thought - readers can apply their own eminence filter to blog articles. People go to Isaac Held's blog because he is "eminent". People go to realclimate.org because the owners are eminent in their field. People go to WUWT because they are anti-science or they want to find out the latest conspiracy theory doing the rounds in the deniosphere. (I've no idea why people go to Judith Curry's blog. Perhaps to see what fluff or outrageous nonsense she came up with today?)
As an example of providing an "eminence" filter, Anthony Watts introduced Daniël Lakens as "an experimental psychologist at the Human-Technology Interaction group at Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands". The intention was, most likely, to draw attention to his academic credentials, or "eminence" :) (He is in the Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences Department, and has published some work on p-hacking among other things, most probably making a valuable contribution to his field of work.)
4. Blogs have Better Error Correction. This seems to me to be a case of argument by assertion. The only example Daniël Lakens provides is when a journal he published in didn't put the link to his error correction above his paper. It's the norm in climate journals that I read to put a prominent link to corrections at the top of the paper. I can't say if it's always done or not. Mistakes happen, even in scientific journals. In Daniël's case, that's a problem for the journal but not an argument for blog science.
Daniël says that he can much more easily correct an article on his own blog. That's so. He has full control there. Not everyone is as thorough. How does the casual reader know if a blog article contains errors or not? A scientific journal has processes for error correction. If the error correction is made by the author it is published and (should be) prominently displayed above the original article. If another person submits a comment that disputes something in a paper, it is published as a comment for everyone to read, together with the reply by the original authors. In the extreme case, an author or the journal itself can retract a paper. In some cases, errors in journal articles are first discussed on blogs.
What about blog articles? There is no guarantee or standard process for error correction on blogs. Some of the few means a non-expert person have to judge a blog article is by the reputation of the author and the reputation of those adding comments (those that are let through the blog owner's filter). They may also look around to see if there are other blog articles or scientific papers on the topic, but that takes effort and knowledge. This brings us back to the eminence filter and the quality of the peers argument. Since no-one can be an expert in all things, judging the quality of an article often comes down to trust and credible authority.
Incidentally, in my experience, science bloggers are much more likely to correct mistakes than are science disinformers, who only survive in the blogosphere because they don't correct disinformation. Their target audience is people who don't want to "believe" science and who would leave their blog in a jiffy if disinformers started to publish fact instead of fiction.
5. Blogs are Open Access (and might be read more). There are also open access journals, but I'll put that to one side. In climate science, as I wrote in the first argument, many blog articles are about papers that have already been published in a scientific journal. They are a way of bringing science to the general public. They may be review articles about a general topic and refer to a number of papers, or an article explaining just one or two papers on the same topic. They might also be an article about something that's news (with no published science yet), or some nonsense doing the rounds on denier blogs. In any case, they will normally be supported by links and references to scientific data and papers in scientific journals.
Being read more does not provide any guarantee that what is being read is credible, sound or robust. Consider the number of people who still think that climate science is a hoax, because someone on a denier blog said so.
No hypothesis testing
As part of his conclusion, Daniël Lakens wrote:
Before this turns into a ‘we who write blogs recommend blogs’ post, I want to make clear that there is no intrinsic reason why blogs should have higher scientific quality than journal articles. It’s just that the authors of most blogs I read put some core scientific values into practice to a greater extent than editorial boards at journals. I am not recommending we stop publishing in journals, but I want to challenge the idea that journal publications are the gold standard of scientific output. They fall short on some important dimensions of scientific quality, where they are outperformed by blog posts. Pointing this out might inspire some journals to improve their current standards.My conclusion is that Daniël Lakens' blog article is not a good example of blog articles that have "higher scientific quality" than journal articles. It is not supported by data other than a few anecdotal illustrations of particular points he wants to make. The "blogs I read" comment in the paragraph above suggests that Daniël Lakens applies a filter to the blogs he reads, maybe an "eminence" filter😏. (I don't know how often he gets around to reading other blogs.) He did not report that he gathered the necessary information from blogs, or blogs that purport to be scientific blogs, to test his hypothesis. There is no attempt to collect or compare the quality of blog articles in general with the quality of journal articles. In other words, there is no rigorous testing of his hypothesis. (See the dissertation and paper by Paige Brown Jarreau in the references section below.)
I expect that was not Daniël Lakens' intention. I figure his blog article was merely meant to be provocative, not scientific. However the implicit irony struck me.
The value of scientific blog articles is that they are not as restricted as journal articles. People can write in plain english for the layperson. If written for the general public, they are less likely to be overloaded with scientific jargon (the language of the experts). Blog authors are free to hone in on a particular point and can refer the curious reader back to journal articles for further information. There is no length limit or graphics limit in a blog article. One is less likely to find a well-written blog article so full of acronyms that too much time is spent figuring out what they all mean.
Blog articles are a very important means by which scientists can bring science to the public. In my view, they are extremely valuable as an addition to scientific papers, not a replacement for them. Blog articles are not subject to the same rigorous review before or after publication. While they can be great as a way of explaining science and stimulating ideas for further research, they cannot be a substitute for the peer-review process of scientific publications.
Anthony Watts uses a blog article to justify his climate disinformation
Now you won't be surprised that Anthony Watts is very pleased to use Daniël Lakens' article as an excuse to avoid publishing his nonsense in scientific journals. He delights in promoting the notion that pseudoscience and conspiracy theories on climate disinformation blogs is every bit as good as quality research published by career scientists.
Anthony Watts, showing delusions of grandeur, wrote:
It has been said to me by a few people that WUWT has changed the world. I think it has, but I view it as a collective effort with other climate blogs. If climate blogs didn’t exist, there would be no exposure of Climategate, no exposure of the [IPCC’s] horrid messes in AR4 and AR5, among other issues.Seriously? WUWT has changed the world? How? His "exposure of Climategate" was a non-event that at best. A few of the stolen emails showed scientists have human feelings. They are not automatons or robots. "Climagegate" did not change the science in any way other than to strengthen it (through the resulting enquiries). There were no "horrid messes" in the IPCC reports. These reports had way fewer errors than your average telephone White Pages (or a dictionary), whereas WUWT is nothing more than one big error.
From the WUWT comments
There was an early diversion into the merits and otherwise of the Prius, which had nothing to do with the topic of blog articles. There were some comments about what misinformation readers have "learnt" at WUWT (eg that climate science is wrong). Then there were some classics.
eyesonu has never entered the hallowed grounds of a university, from what I can tell:
April 15, 2017 at 9:14 am
I have said it before and will say it again: WUWT is a University experience. I’m sure others agree.
I follow some other blogs and follow links but get most of my ‘classes’ here. A lot of years invested so far.
Latitude points out that Anthony Watts' habit of banning knowledgeable people means that his blog comments are one-sided (and predominately of the "stupid" variety):
April 15, 2017 at 9:15 am
…all true, except when blogs are heavily censored, people are banned that disagree
William Evans started his "thought" with this, and it got worse, much worse:
April 15, 2017 at 1:46 pm (excerpt)
Luke warmers are the ignorant hicks who made ”Yah but thuh.. basick signts is SoWND, Ya’W” a global statement.
If it’s not able to discuss gas mechanics freely and explain itself, yet thinks magic gais is areal signts.
It’s a lukewarmer. Or a believer.
Steven Mosher threw a spanner in the WUWT works, writing:
April 15, 2017 at 9:26 am
Funny skeptics posting here are the only people who have ever denied me requests for code and data.
Scafetta. Monkton. Amongst others.
Here’s a challenge Anthony. .. demand an archive before people post their articles LOL. …PLOS does that.
John Robertson doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that almost the only science you'll find at WUWT are his copies and pastes of press releases about scientific papers, which Anthony usually republishes under a headline starting with the word "claim". (That's the dogwhistle to his conspiracy clan that they are not to believe it.) He probably prefers the pseudo-science that Anthony's guest disinformers dish up, and the comments from WUWT's hard core conspiracy theorists.
April 15, 2017 at 9:42 am
Yes Blogs are now the best venue.
I get immediate access to the actual science offered up and get to draw my own conclusions as opposed to reading a breathless Press release and being directed to a paywall.
The imposition of ill-informed and or activist interpreters by most of the “science magazines” was the beginning of their demise.
The added benefit of instant criticism and points of view I would not naturally arrive at, do much to improve my learning.
Universities are doomed.
The School of Hard Knocks now has an active open learning wing.At a price the working man can afford.
son of mulder reports one of the many major deficiencies of WUWT blog articles. They generally don't adhere to argument 4 in Daniël Lakens' hypothesis:
April 15, 2017 at 9:56 am
The weakness of blogs is that after all the comments there is no revised version of the original article. It’s like an audit trail without the final accounts. At least authors could coment on whether significant revision is required or whether they are happy after the comments have dried up and at best revise their submission. And yes I don’t underestimate the additional work involved but it would leave a better than submitted article where appropriate or withdrawal.
Writing Observer is obviously not able to judge expertise. I doubt he or she has ever read a scientific paper much less met a traditional academic (whatever that is).
April 15, 2017 at 10:31 am
Speaking of correction within minutes… It’s “IPCC,” not “IPPC” in the last sentence of the next to last paragraph :>.
The other advantage of blogs is that one like WUWT assembles a “team” of high-quality experts in everything – theorists, observationalists, mathematicians, and even lowly copy-editors. Traditional academia rarely puts together such teams; there are always weak links somewhere.
Phillip Bratby prefers to swim in the denier fish bowl, and can't hack it when his silly notions draw criticism from real scientists.
April 15, 2017 at 10:44 am
Does RealClimate still exist? I haven’t been there in years; not since they didn’t like my criticism of one of their posts.
Aphan is under the delusion that there are conflicting opinions among scientists about the fundamentals of climate science. He or she doesn't know that it's the very fact that it's the consilience of all the evidence from the wide variety of different disciplines that is the strength of climate science.
April 15, 2017 at 11:11 amThat's enough. You can read the rest here.
I’ve often fantasized about “kidnapping” (if necessary) a group of the world’s “experts” in every area that affects the climate, and locking them in a building until they all come to an agreement on things. FORCING them to network, compare knowledge, explain each individual part of the planet to each other, and form a coherent, correct, cooperative platform upon which to build and understand from that point going forward.
Making the “atmospheric” scientists listen to, and validate what the geologists have to say. Making the computer jockies listen to and validate what the field researchers have discovered. And getting them ALL to sign a statement that lays it all out for the public in easy to read and grasp format. Something like “Here’s what we KNOW and can demonstrate. Here’s what we THINK. Here’s what we ASSUME. Here’s what we don’t know. ”
They all just do not mingle, share, or ask questions outside of their own specialties. And until they DO, and do it in an honest, open, clear way…we’ll never understand this planet completely or accurately.
References and further reading
Five reasons blog posts are of higher scientific quality than journal articles - blog article by Daniël Lakens at The 20% Statistician
Who's afraid of Open Data - blog article by Dorothy Bishop at BishopBlog, November 2015
All the Science That Is Fit to Blog: An Analysis of Science Blogging Practices - Doctoral dissertation by Paige Brown Jarreau, 2015
Jarreau, Paige Brown. "Science bloggers’ self-perceived communication roles." JCOM 14, no. 04 (2015): A02-2. (pdf here)