Marcia McNutt is the Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine, a well-known venue to communicate research results, and of other Science journals. She has recently contributed an editorial entitled “Due Process in the Twitter Age” where she tells us readers that the process of post publication revision has now changed because of the prominent role played by social media. Apparently, the anxiety created by social media, where anyone can hide and fire misconduct allegations or spill their anger at the world, fuels quick post-publication revision, putting pressure on journal editors. In other words, according to McNutt, social media influence the post publication fate of research articles because of the anxiety they generate in the scientific audience. Can you imagine a working scientist whose time is so precious reading blogs to judge or evaluate published research? It is hard to imagine that someone in McNutt’s position would say something so egregiously stupid but that’s pretty much what she wrote, I’m afraid.
The absurdity reached a climax when she identified social media outlets that in her opinion cause anxiety in the scientific establishment. She mentioned Retraction Watch, a blog created by two journalists, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, where literally anyone comments anything, and its sister blog PubPeer, a sort of reading club contributed anonymously, where there is no way to tell whether the contributors are anybody’s peers or simply coopt the site to attack people. This leaves us wondering why Retraction Watch founder Ivan Oransky has been named Science’s Garbage Man (Muellsammler der Wissenschaft).
Clearly journals have only themselves to blame for the sorry state of post publication revision. As McNutt’s editorial piece makes it abundantly clear, ineptitude is the sole culprit of the current crisis. When a player in science policy says what McNutt has said, it leaves us wondering about the fate of research. Hopefully such nonsense will not prevail, otherwise research is doomed as we know it.
Perhaps the following quote by a lucid Londoner commenting in the Daily Mail (UK) may help Marcia McNutt put in perspective the scientific impact of social media:
Social Media has turned us all into the baying masses of the medieval witch hunts, with no mediators of our hysterical views, and with the loudest, most ignorant and angry up at the front with their burning tweeting torches.