Re: Self-Archiving Refereed Research vs. Self-Publishing Unrefereed Research

From: Arthur P. Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2003 17:49:01 -0500

[By the way, Stevan changed my Subject line - but I suppose it's a
relevant followup]

Stevan Harnad wrote:

>I would say there is no particular lesson to be learnt from such cases,
>precisely because they are rare, and no one cares.
How do we know how rare they are? The problem I see with this, and with
the Bogdanov's, is that they are rare cases of (very likely) incorrect
research articles which are out there sitting with essentially no
comment; just a "part of the literature", BUT THEN somebody notices them
and makes a noise. How many similar cases are there which are NEVER
noticed? What measure is there of "likely incorrect results that have
received no public commentary"? With peer review there is some assurance
that at least one or two experts have read the article and found it
unobjectionable - an imperfect filter, but a filter none the less.

> Qualified experts
>discount quackery; others know that they should not trust results until
>they are peer-reviewed, except if they are from known experts, and even
>that, only tentatively.
Do they? Scientists may have an intuitive grasp of this - but Swedish
reporters perhaps not? Is there a line that should be drawn, when we
make information available to all the public? Do any of the e-print
archives out there actually require that something be published in a
refereed journal first? If so how is that verified?

> The bottom line is that you cannot build on a
>fraudulent or quackish or otherwise erroneous finding: It soon collapses
>under its own weight.
Not necessarily - in this particular case mathematicians have already
been building huge edifices on the assumption that the Riemann
hypothesis is true; any "collapse" would actually be a proof of its
falsehood, and also welcomed (though with a smaller prize). Can there
not be a more obscure case of some minor result that is published, never
properly checked, and somehow absorbed into the mythology of a field? So
that hundreds of scientist-years of effort are spent that rely in some
small part on it, and then all called into question at a later date?
There seem to be a few cases of this in bio-medicine in recent years -
we have to worry about this anyway. But it seems there's much more of a
danger of this sort of thing when the old checks on author
self-publication are removed...

I realize it's not a new issue, but perhaps this new example can clarify
some of our thinking on this.

Received on Tue Mar 04 2003 - 22:49:01 GMT

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