The conference dinner chatter way of (not) correcting the scientific record

I’m reblogging this important post by Raphael Levy on the value, or lack thereof, of discussion and ‘debate’ at scientific conferences. Raphael highlights two key issues: the “behind closed doors”/”keeping it in the family” nature of scientific criticism, and, as he puts it, the play-acting that is part-and-parcel of many conference sessions. (Raphael and I, along with our colleagues at Liverpool, Nottingham, and elsewhere, spent quite some time a number of years back finding out just how much time and effort it takes to publish critique and criticism of previously published work).


One of the common responses of senior colleagues to my attempts to correct the scientific record goes somewhat like this:

You are giving X [leading figure in the field] too much credit anyway. We all know that there are problems with their papers. We discussed it at the latest conference with Y and Z. We just ignore this stuff and move along. Though of course X is my friend etc.

This approach is unfair, elitist and contributes to the degradation of the scientific record.

First, it is very fundamentally unfair to the many scientists who are not present at these dinner table chatters and who may believe that the accumulation of grants, prizes, and high profile papers somewhat correlate with good science. That group of scientists will include pretty much all young scientists as well as most scientists from less advantadged countries who cannot get so easily to these conferences…

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Author: Philip Moriarty

Physicist. Rush fan. Father of three. (Not Rush fans. Yet.) Rants not restricted to the key of E minor...

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