Can Social Networking Replace Academic Peer Review?

Peer review is one of the essential cornerstones of scholarly publication.  Smart people with a vested interest in propagating correct knowledge get together and read and critique and fix what has been written for shared academic reasoning and publication.  The danger in peer review is that people tend to bring their own agendas and prejudices to the process and they can change and mold and even censor what has been researched and written to fit their own niche or to even destroy a new way of thinking that damages their self-believed right that what they know is only what other people should know.

Can social media enhance the idea of peer review while also protecting the integrity of the vetting process?  Or is social media too feral and febrile right now to be corralled and conquered into providing proper feedback and referencing?

Here’s an interesting tidbit from the Social Media Report:

Researchers are using social media tools to support every phase of the research lifecycle: from identifying research opportunities to disseminating findings at the end. They may not be the same tools, and they are certainly not the same researchers, but social media are most definitely making an impact on scholarly workflow.

The most popular tools used in a professional research context tend to be mainstream anchor technologies or `household brands’, like Skype, Google Docs, Twitter and YouTube. Researchers seem to be largely appropriating generic tools rather than using specialist or custom-built solutions and both publishers and librarians need to adapt to this reality. Is this a sign, perhaps, that there may be a gap in the market for simple bespoke tools?

If scholarly researchers are using social media tools to enhance and confirm their arguments and rationales, does it make sense for those researchers to turn around and offer their conclusions and findings back into the turbid social media morass for criticism and conflation?

Or do we first need more safeguards in the social media process like verifiable user identities and other local totems that press facts into the flesh and give meaning and substance to what one offers to the process beyond the flinging of wild fascinations into the wind like misbegotten breadcrumbs that deserve nothing more than their collection into a dumpster?

15 comments

  • We absolutely need verifiable identities. If any clown can get out of his car and say that something is fact when it is fiction and have his five clown clones (same person logging in from different computers) vote that the primary clown is correct, then any fiction can be published as fact.

    • Yes! Reputation is paramount in any sort of peer review. More experience gives you much more direct authority to comment. Current peer review offers no hiding. You know precisely who is taking you on and where they’re coming from and why. Social Media doesn’t yet have that sort of gravitas.

  • From my perspective, much of the internet in general and in particular social networking and blogging is a danger to quality and verifiability for the academic and journalism fields. It is these exact reasons expressed so eloquently by yourselves that there is nothing guaranteed – and thus accountable, tested, open to attestation or gradable – in this environment.

    I would go further and say that the rise in the voice of radicalism that we normally toss away or ignore in the basked called “fringe” equates with the rise of the internet and in particular social networking and blogging.

    This is not to say that social networking or the internet is bad, but the inability to verify and hold accountable the words written (or spoken) to someone or some group is something that needs to be dealt with. Social networking has done so much for the repressed but like the banner of “freedom of speech” so has there been a rise of “freedom to hate”, “freedom to lie”, “freedom to misrepresent” and worst of all the “freedom to destroy context”.

    Until there is a register and legal framework that confirms the ownership and responsibility of posts, articles and anything wishing to be considered value – what is on the internet is of the same value as gossip in the local pub (bar to you guys over the other side of the pond).

    As you can imagine as a former Queen’s Council (your equivalent of a Federal Prosecutor) that all I see is a great mess when it comes to verification and proof of authenticity when it comes to much on the internet.

    I am in constant dismay at the power of what I guess we would call agenda-spamming. That because people can pretend to be journalists, political commentators and even saviors of society they are able to spew, mislead, lie and totally confuse the general public whom in turn presume what in the printed word is correct. Your President is now a Kenyan-born Muslim to somewhere around the 12 per cent of the population because the fringe conspiracy-theory believing 3 per cent is supported by the 4 per cent partisan political activists (and because it is spammed across the internet and the tabloids) therefore the gullible 5 per cent element of the population believes it.

    Do you wish to hand over academic verification to this group? They would use it to suit their needs!

    D. Charles QC
    Gibraltar

    • Thanks for your outstanding comment! I wholly agree with your arguments and concerns.

      Obama is trying to push for a “trusted identity” program for internet users:

      http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501465_162-20027837-501465.html

      I’ve argued here, and in our other blogs, that bloggers should have to be licensed before they are allowed to publish. Why not have some sort of standard by which we can gauge the authenticity of what is being put down for public consumption? Anonymous Cowards have killed the integrity of the internet.

  • Difficult task. The world is always changing. Peer review will too. Probably done by Google Robots in the not too distant future. People are fallible ya know!

  • I have to go with the obvious answer, here; Peer review does, and should always do, what it sayes on the tin – namely, be a review by the author’s PEERS. If you are an atmospheric scientist and you are submitting in your field, opening up the peer review to people who know little to nothing about atmouspheric physics would lead to confusion, mis-judgement, predudice and, ultimately, calamity.

    There is already a “public peer review” about climate science in the popular press. Just look at the ammount of complete and utter bullshit it comes out with. Leave science to scientists.

    • Right! The job a peer review is quite serious. You are offering your reputation for analysis along with your analysis of the work — so there’s a personal stake happening on both sides of the review dyad that is missing when one opens up peer review to the anonymous internet.

    • Very well put comment Tim and I could not think of a better example than that of the Climate issue.

      The works of scientists and dedicated experts have been ridiculed basically for an agenda and because of the far-reaching capacity and power of the net, social networking (and the more questionable elements of the media) that effort and important message was badly damaged.

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