Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Anonymous: The Bane of the Internet

Science has an interesting piece on the web site This is a web site where people can in total anonymity publish comments on peer reviewed published papers. The article states:

What does it take to run a website where scientists can chat freely about published papers?
Anonymous e-mail addresses. Temporary phone numbers. Undisclosed locales. Jitters that one day, your cover will be blown, your career destroyed, and your family's finances depleted. It sounds like a John le CarrĂ© novel. But no, the protagonists here are a handful of biologists who last fall unveiled PubPeer, which bills itself as "an online community that uses the publication of scientific results as an opening for fruitful discussion." The goal is something of a free-for-all journal club, welcoming comments from readers and authors across disciplines. 

 I am not a fan of anonymous anything. If one wants to judge and value a comment then tell me who made it and I can check their bona fides and see what they have produced. Anonymous posts have become the bane of the Internet. I can see this in a few MOOCs I have examined. There are endless non-sensical and some outright defamatory remarks made by unknowns. Now we open it up to peer reviewed papers as well. This will just feed the mill of the on line press. 

The article continues:

But many who participate in these discussions sit at a tense nexus: They long for more unfettered conversation about science, yet insist on doing so anonymously, fearful that their words will come back to haunt them. One of PubPeer's founders, who describes himself as a tenured professor, says that even a senior scientist "very rarely, myself included, wants to take the risk" of criticizing fellow scientists under their own names. The professor and his shadowy brethren—another founder tells Science that he is finishing up his Ph.D. somewhere in the United States—have gone to great lengths to protect their identities. "I don't want it to impact my scientific life or my personal life," says the professor of his site, adding that the phone number from which he was calling "probably won't work after a few days." 

 One must use their own name, because then and only then will one confront reality. If you are right then take the stand. If you have an issue but perhaps are not fully certain then say as much. Discussions in science and frankly in all fields requires open discussion. This is not Hamilton and Madison thrashing through the Constitution while at risk for their lives from the British. 

In addition the anonymous writer tends to often time be just nasty, thus accumulating a side conversation based on at best High School banter.The article continues:

A big reason for staying hidden, many scientists suggest, is that despite all the talk of honest discussion in their community, there's little reward for engaging in it. "If the system was much more open and much more tolerant of dissent then this would not be needed," says Raphael Levy, who studies cell imaging at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. He has left both anonymous and named comments on PubPeer. 

 Discussions and disagreements amongst scientists has been rampant in the past, and it is not new. On the other hand I have seen many peer reviewed papers as just a collection of clique published similitudes with no content. But all too often that is what people need for tenure. The paper may be correct but of little if any new value.