I wouldn’t be so bold as to publish so many evaluations of ideas without the backing of formal peer review. I wouldn’t be as concerned about the validity of my criticisms, but rather the perceived validity. Perhaps I’m hypersensitive to alienating other scientists. I just wouldn’t want to be responsible for airing other people’s dirty laundry.
I’m not saying that you’re unfair. But I think most people whose work is being reviewed on your site feel that it won’t stand up to rigorous review.
In spite of many of my commentators who leaped to my defense (thanks!), I am inclined to agree with my unknown colleague. Since the beginning, I have had two recurring thoughts that give me pause about blogging on scientific topics, both related to the lack of peer review.
First is the nakedness of blogging. I’m the only person keeping me from looking like an idiot in public. There’s no editor to purge any of my flat-earthisms before I click “publish”. So if I’m horribly, terribly mistaken on some obvious point, if I routinely misspell some common latin name, well, there it is for all to see. It’s far easier to be seen as a moron as a blogger than it is as a carefully vetted publishing scientist.
Second, the fact that my posts aren’t reviewed provides a ready excuse to dismiss any legitimate criticisms I might have about a particular bit of work. For example, A few weeks ago I published a criticism of a rather large study of ant macroecology. Authors of that paper- rather than address my argument, can if they like point to the fact that this is an unreviewed blog and ignore it. In fact, I was privy to some behind-the-scenes emails about the post, and that’s exactly what happened. Had I published my critique in a technical journal it’d carry much more weight.
And the thing is, that’s true. People are welcome to ignore everything I write here. This blog is not a scientific journal and it is not intended to be taken like one.
There are research topics that I am deeply invested in, and for those I use the traditional peer-reviewed outlets. Then there are areas where I’ve only got passing opinions, topics that are interesting but not enough for me to devote a couple weeks to getting an article through the journal system. If it is something that’s worth only an hour, well, the blog fills a niche that wasn’t there before.
I am not trying to avoid accountability by ducking the review system. It’s that the blog is an outlet for short snippets that I’d not have tried to publish previously. Does exercising this new niche damage my academic credibility? I don’t really know. Scientific blogging is an emerging media without established norms.
But granting these two risks, blogging also has benefits. On a personal level I enjoy the venue. And I can’t pretend blogging hasn’t increased my visibility among scientists. I know from various sources that a large portion of the myrmecological community reads the blog regularly, regardless of whether they agree with my various rantings.
So, mindful of the risk that I’m only broadcasting my own shortcomings, I have no immediate plans to change course.