Calling to account? (was Re: TOP 40 NEWSGROUPS ...)

S. A. Modena samodena at
Wed Aug 12 21:57:14 EST 1992

In article <1992Aug12.164311.11959 at> cohen at (Mark Cohen) writes:
>In article <1992Aug12.071825.22559 at> samodena at (S. A. Modena) writes:
>>The recent calling-to-account of Gonnet et al. ought to be a sobering reminder
>>that journals may not allow frank expression, but there is no Prior-Restraint
>>to prevent explicit critique of science content, methodology or showmanship
>>when broadcast via UseNet.  [journals disseminate; InterNet broadcasts]
>Just in case you mean by "calling-to-account" that we were in any way unable to defend our paper I'd like to point out that it would probably be better to 
>describe the exchange on as an enlightening discussion for all

I call it a "calling-to-account" and you call it an enlightened discussion....
which was precisely my point: I call it the way I see it without necessarily
having to defer to the way you want to call it.

> ......I hope that we managed to clear up any points of ambiguity raised
>by our paper.

As recently as two weeks ago I have heard an honest range of opinions, some
of which agree with your methodology and some of which think it is valueless...
or at least, not a new or significant contributuion.  The value of open
expression of honest differences is that while there remain honest differences
of opinion on appropriate methodology or conceptual framework they can and
will be voiced for all to hear rather than suffer ideological filtering
which too infrequently is a side-effect of the current peer review system.

>    If this was not the case please get in touch and I will try and 
>do so now.

Personally, I think it is the mark of intellectual honesty that Gonnet,
Cohen and Brenner are willing to discuss their work at length with
anyone who has a sincere interest.

>     I think that the bionet.sofware debate added to our paper and 
>certainly added to the topic of sequence comparison. 

Agreed!  Though I am a neophyte to bionet, I suspect that the conflagration
surrounding your paper and the manner in which you (the authors) responded
might set an example to be followed (and admired) for other "controversial"
papers.  ("Controversial", like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.)

>........ ....................................Admitedly some of the
>initial responses may have been a bit incautious but if we consider the Internetas a type of informal debate and don't get too wound up or offended by what
>people say then debate of this type must be benificial.

"incautious"....or very frank verbal skepticism: hence, my use of the
phrase "calling-to-accounts", irrespective of the final outcome of
discussion or debate.

All-in-all, no better place than InterNet to find out who thinks that
questions about their published, *peer reviewed* work are cause for
getting wound up or personally offended.

>Mark Cohen,
>ETH Zurich

My observation is that there was as much question about the Peer Review/
Editorial Policy of Science as there was about the Gonnet et al. paper
itself.  Science is supposedly a flagship publication for the general U.S.
scientific community and editorially the "mouthpiece" for the AAAS. Why
would there be controversy about article content (especially with respect
to materials and methods)? Aren't they the standard bearers?

I've had it called to my attention that Nature also suffers misunderstanding
of its role in science journalism/gazetting.  In particular, an article
that caught my eye, and the imagination of a Nature staff interpreter, was:

"Long-range correlations in nucleotide sequences"
C.-K. Peng et al.
Nature 356:168-70 1992 (12 March)

Boston University, Harvard Medical School, NIH and MIT sound like heavy
hitting institutions.   And these heavyweight players are reporting:
"...a remarkably long-range power law correlation that implies a new scale-
invariant property of DNA."  I'd think this would have caused at least one
of the bionet groups to be a-buzz.   I don't remember it coming up at all.

When I mentioned the Peng et al. paper, I've been told that the work can not
be reproduced.

In projects that require substantial computing resources, what does peer
review amount to?  Sending a manuscript to a "big cheese" who says yea or
nay based on what?  Intuition as a fellow big computer resource player?

Perhaps the flap about the Gonnet et al paper was not so much a response
to the work or the results as to whether advanced computing technology/
methodology will finally render peer review for what it is: a credibility

If there are chinks in some of this advanced, state-of-the-art, resource
intensive "research," it might take a broadcast call to the wider 
community of "unknown" workers to zero in on objective scientific
specifics about merit and correctness.

On the other hand, it might be the function of priority, peer reviewed
publishing to sustain forward movement of the broader framework of a
field, which of course is best handled by the heads of the megaifiefdoms.
There is past evidence that incorrect science can awaken a field to new
heights of achievment.  N'est-pas?  :^)

|     In person:  Steve Modena     AB4EL                           |
|     On phone:   (919) 515-5328                                   |
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         Lighten UP!  It's just a computer doing that to you.

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