Thursday, May 23, 2013

An Open Letter to All Science Bloggers, Tweeps and Facebookers

Photo by Will Lyon, Via Flickr
Dear Colleagues,

That photo up above? That's the state of information on the internet. And us? With our tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates, we're effectively our readerships' valves where our jobs are to turn the torrent into something drinkable.

And being a valve I think comes with a simple obligation.

Before we tweet, post or update with links to, or commentary on, a press release, newspaper article or scientific abstract, I think it's our valvular duty to our readers and followers to read the source story's actual study and evaluate it critically to determine whether or not we're publicizing worthwhile information.

Sadly - and at times we're all guilty of this - many readers and followers don't get past the headline, or the 140 characters, or the update, let alone even make it through a story's first paragraph, and I'd venture nearly none pull and read the source study. Instead they take our link, retweet, or update as confirmation that we agree with the piece and feel that the study was a valuable addition to the literature, and as you all know, despite the existence of peer review, simple publication by no means guarantees quality.

And I know it's incredibly tempting to retweet a press release, news story or a blog post about a study that neatly confirms our own confirmation biases, but please, before we do, it's that much more important for us to first read the actual study and evaluate it just as critically (if not more so) as we would those studies that don't complement our own personal beliefs and narratives.

Now I'm not suggesting that we all have to come to the same conclusions, nor that we're all going to do a bang up job in our critical appraisals, I'm just suggesting that we owe it to our readers to ensure that the information we provide is information that we've personally and carefully curated (or at the very, very, least disclose right off the bat we haven't actually read or evaluated the study at hand).

The fact of the matter is, people follow our work because they trust us and it's up to us to ensure that we're deserving of that trust.

Simply put, you've got to read it before you tweet it.

(P.S. - because this blog post doesn't in fact refer to a particular study, please feel free to share it far and wide without the need for further review)

Yoni Freedhoff