02 March 2018

Scientific publication


A few days ago I got a comment from climate change denier citing all bunch of posts from his own blog as a proof of his claims. So I figured out I need to explain why is a waste of time trying to convince a scientist by presenting just some blog posts.
I talked about scientific papers and how they are written in my previous post. But the major difference between some blog or newspaper article and the scientific paper is in a peer-review process.


When scientist finishes his paper he will submit it to a scientific journal. Then editor of the journal sends that paper to one, two, or more scientists from the same area of expertise. The careful attention is given to determination of a conflict of interest. When I submit the paper, I have to list all the people who worked with me, all the people I collaborated with. Every single name from that list is removed from the list of the potential reviewers, leaving basically just scientists who are my fierce competitors. Those scientists go over the paper carefully, criticizing cr...p out of it. Not only that methodology and analysis are scrutinized but also every statement, sentence, and word in the paper. The anonymity of the referees is preserved, meaning when your competitor goes through the paper he can be as nasty as he wishes, regardless of that pint and pleasant chat you shared at the last conference.
I reviewed papers of other scientists, and every single paper of mine went through the peer-review process. Once I insisted that authors need to redo graph because they left out points that were discussed in the text. And boy, I refused to say a paper is good for publication till they did it. Yep, they argued with me.
As I said, every paper I wrote was refereed. And I received loads of requests, questions, and suggestions. Sometimes requests infuriated me, I was going around the lab ranting and fuming. But when I calmed down, I realized that request was spot on and actually following it makes my paper and research better. Most of the times suggestions I received helped me to make a stronger representation of my results. An average scientist has to develop a thick skin and learn not to take criticism personally, only then one can actually calmly evaluate criticism and see that yep, there was a mistake, either in analysis or how the statement was worded.
So good scientists love when they receive criticism because it helps them to get better at research. It helps them see reality better.
The problems arose when an average scientist starts to apply the same approach to other humans, but that's another topic...


Compare that with an average blog post. There is no checks and balances there. You get point of view of one person, a blogger. I know because, my blog posts are not reviewed by anyone, except Grammarly app. But I am not pretentious to assume you should take my words at the face value. Quite contrary, I encourage you to think by yourself. Please, evaluate for yourself everything you read here.
So, when I got a comment from climate change denier citing only his blog against the consensus of the whole scientific community, I removed the comment. When weighed against the careful controls and checks of the scientific method and scientific publication, an opinion of one person who is not even an expert in the field simply is not significant. And yes, this means that if I talk about something I’m not expert in, you should not take my opinion seriously either, especially if my opinion is the opposite of the scientific consensus.

Expert opinion

By now you got a feeling that I do take an expert opinion seriously. I know it is unusual in this time and age when an average person lost the trust in the authority figures. The difference between me and such person is that I know scientific method works and it is something developed through centuries to be resistant to a usual corruption of the authority. Scientific method survived several other social upheavals when the ruling class (i.e. the authority of the time) was overthrown because of corruption. The scientific method was invented by Ibn al-Haytham around a thousand years ago. And it is still the best method to figure out the truth. That's why is a waste of everyone's time trying to convince a scientist using arguments that are not backed by a scientific method. And that's why an average scientist still considers that expert opinion is worthy of attention, especially if there is a scientific method behind it.

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