Being Misquoted

Dean Millot has a new post attacking me on the peer review issue that Eduwonkette promotes on her own site.

But Dean Millot is being fundamentally dishonest in that he misquotes me. He says that I argue: “In short, I see no problem with research becoming public with little or no review.”

In fact I wrote: “In short, I see no problem with research initially becoming public with little or no review.” (See here )

The absence of the word “initially” makes quite a difference and sets up the straw man that Millot wishes to knock down. The issue is not whether research can benefit from peer review, but whether it is inappropriate to make it publicly available INITIALLY, before it has received peer review.

Readers may want to wonder about the credibility of Millot’s claim that “One of the reasons I do my best to quote the very words of people I write about in edbizbuzz is that I prefer to fight fair.”

And so much for Eduwonkette’s praise of Millot’s “measured, careful, and thoughtful analysis.”

I’m waiting for the correction and apology from both of them.

3 Responses to Being Misquoted

  1. Ryan Marsh says:

    You should consider pointing out that in the 1990s a man named Andrew Wiles was working on a general proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem and thought he had it, so he put together a seminar–without revealing his work to anyone–and showed them his proof. He, like Millot disparages, was releasing what he thought was a finished product with no peer review. It turned out there was a flaw in the proof, as one of the people who read his work pointed out, but the fact that he released his work to the public galvanized people into working on it and led to someone who was at that seminar helping him around the flaw and led to his proving it shortly thereafter (“shortly” in academic journal time). He did this while being closely watched by the media, and therefore presumably “the public.”

    On a side note, does anyone know “the public”? Is this some rock star like “the Edge” or “The Circle”? I’ve always wanted to meet him/her/them/it and ask what the public is interested in, but I can never find the public. That saddens me, because so many people (such as Millot) seem to know…

    One of the things publicity does is get other people interested in your work, whether for or against, and this leads to more people working on it. If people are decrying the lack of quality research on the subject, they should stop to think about how eliminating or weakening general interest in the field will not improve that.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    That’s a really good argument defending Jay’s position, one that Jay himself has not much relied on (if he’s brought it up at all). Jay has been focused on how releasing research to a broad audience without delay benefits that audience, and he’s right that it does. But he could also be pointing out that it benefits the researchers.

    If there’s anyone on the other side of this debate who’s interested in a fair and dispassionate discussion, I’d very much like to hear what they think of that point.

    As for your point about “the public,” that’s sort of what I had in mind when I phrased the issue this way: is it naughty for scholars to provide journalists with accurate information about their work? That’s really what’s at stake here – Eduwonkette doesn’t object to working papers being available on the web, and presumably if the journalists found the working papers on their own, without being told where to look, she would have no grounds to object. So the issue is whether it’s naughty for the scholars to help journalists do their jobs.

    It’s worth considering that if the scholars did follow Eduwonkette’s advice and stop talking to journalists, political PR people could just take over the function of tracking down working papers on the web and bringing them to the attention of journalists. The only difference would be the presence of a middleman between the scholar and the journalist – a sort of ethical condom who would prevent the scholar and the journalist from being contaminated by direct contact with one another. Whether that would lead to a better-informed or worse-informed public (there’s that word again!) I leave for Eduwonkette to ponder.

  3. Hobart Milton says:

    Interesting points. However, how are we to know if a research paper is “accurate” as you proclaim without some sort of review and analysis by neutral parties who have the expertise to judge the information and statistical methods used?
    Eduwonk makes a key point when he states that the public and journalists are lacking in such skills. He uses a firewall image to describe the peer review process, invoking an image of a process which could be construed as a hindrance. However, another meaning of firewall is a way to protect your system.
    In drawing the line, when do we sacrifice accuracy and credibility for immediacy and availability?

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