27 September 2011

Question Place

I'm now back from my hiatus from the net, and will be putting up pictures and science comments on them over the next few days/weeks.

But first, here's a place and chance to ask questions and make suggestions.  I've been pretty thoroughly off-net since the 8th, so please be sure to provide links if you're asking about recent events.  (See the link policy; links to science content are good things whether I've been off-net or not.)

08 September 2011

Off net

I'll be off net for a while.  When I get back, I'll finally hang out the shingle for a question place.  Arctic ice will have pretty much revealed by then which, if any, of my guesses was best.

03 September 2011

Peer review and Wagner Resignation over Spencer and Braswell

"It's peer review, not God review"    My wife's comment about peer review seems particularly apt for the current tempest regarding the resignation of Wolfgang Wagner from his post as editor in chief of the journal Remote Sensing.  It regards a paper I mentioned in July, and related to the one that prompted Barry Bickmore to suggest "Just Put the Model Down, Roy". 

I won't be taking the usual line of consideration here (surprise!).  Rather, let's go back to talking about peer review.  As my wife said, it is not God review -- reviewers and editors are human, and therefore make mistakes.  At the end of peer review, therefore, you don't have gospel, you have something that has a fairly good chance of being worth your time to read.  To rephrase Wagner, papers that pass peer review should at least not contain fundamental errors of method or false claims.  And it now seems likely to him that this paper (Spencer and Braswell) may well not pass that standard.

Richard Feynman's comment about fooling yourself is commonly quoted:
We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it's this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science. "Cargo Cult Science", adapted from a commencement address given at Caltech (1974)

This underlies some parts, I think, of the failure in Spencer and Braswell's work, and the subsequent failure in the review and editorial process.  Namely, it is assumed by reviewers and editors that authors have already done some work doubting themselves and checking to see how it is they might have fooled themselves -- and to take action against such possibilities.  Further, the review process is based on the presumption that your purpose in publishing is to advance our understanding of science.