CRF Blog

The Duck Penis Paradox

by Bill Hayes

In The Duck Penis Paradox for the New Republic, Alice Robb looks at whether pop science on open-sourced Internet sites is crowding out serious science.

The problem with [the co-founder of the open-sourced Public Library of Science Michael] Eisen’s method runs deeper than letting the occasional clunker of a study slip through. For one, most scientists can’t pick up a paper in another field and understand it, let alone evaluate it. Researchers are also busy securing their own grants and jockeying for tenure. “They would rather do science than comment on other people’s science,” says Yale sociologist Nicholas Christakis.

There’s a chilling effect to seeing your work corrected in public, too. “I’d rather have peer reviewers point out the problems with my paper in private,” says Christakis. Others don’t think academics — particularly social scientists writing on controversial topics like race and class — should have to think so much about public opinion; journals offer some protection from the politics of the day. John Holmwood, a professor of sociology at the University of Nottingham, fears post-publication peer review would expose scholars to “populist attack.” [more]