On SAGE Insight: The case of #arseniclife: Blogs and Twitter in informal peer review

From Public Understanding of Science

Recent high-profile retractions from the prestigious scientific journals Nature and concerns over the ethics of a recent study on emotional contagion using the social networking site Facebook, have increased discussions among the scientific community of post-publication peer review enabled by Web-2.0 technologies and among broader audiences. These technologies have led to new ways of communicating scientific findings, potentially facilitating informal means of legitimizing scientific knowledge. Using the “#arseniclife” controversy as a case study, authors examine the roles of blogs and Twitter in postpublication review. The controversy was initiated by a scientific article about bacteria able to substitute arsenic for phosphorus in its genetic material. Authors present the debate chronologically, using prominent online media to reconstruct the events. Using tweets that discussed the controversy, they conducted quantitative sentiment analysis to examine skeptical and non-skeptical tones on Twitter. It remains to be seen whether academic journals will embrace a more transparent and open peer review process, whatever form it may take. Of course, this is dependent on other influences, such as academic norms, publishers’ economic incentives, and commercial constraints. At the very least, the arsenic life case study has exemplified how traditional peer review has the potential to benefit from open post-publication debates online.

Abstract

Using the “#arseniclife” controversy as a case study, we examine the roles of blogs and Twitter in postpublication review. The controversy was initiated by a scientific article about bacteria able to substitute arsenic for phosphorus in its genetic material. We present the debate chronologically, using prominent online media to reconstruct the events. Using tweets that discussed the controversy, we conducted quantitative sentiment analysis to examine skeptical and non-skeptical tones on Twitter. Critiques of and studies refuting the arsenic life hypothesis were publicized on blogs before formal publication in traditional academic spaces and were shared on Twitter, influencing issue salience among a range of audiences. This case exemplifies the role of new media in informal post-publication peer review, which can complement traditional peer review processes. The implications drawn from this case study for future conduct and transparency of both formal and informal peer review are discussed.

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Article details
The case of #arseniclife: Blogs and Twitter in informal peer review
Sara K. YeoXuan LiangDominique BrossardKathleen M. RoseKaine KorzekwaDietram A. ScheufeleMichael A. Xenos
Public Understanding of Science
First Published 26 May 2016
DOI: 10.1177/0963662516649806

 


     
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