This week’s story about Rashard Mendenhall’s offensive tweets following Osama bin Laden’s death is also a story about the peer review process.
One of my colleagues has argued that blogs and twitter provide a mechanism for quick, informal, and sometimes brutal peer review, and I think he’s right.
Mendenhall released a few controversial comments on twitter, one of which was offensive to many (“We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style”). His comments were reviewed by journalists, his boss, and the general public (his peers!)
Soon thereafter, Mendenhall responded to his peers’ comments. This is what I found amusing. Mendenhall apparently deleted his offensive tweet and responded only to his other controversial-but-less-offensive tweets. I noticed that journalists and bloggers were not fooled–they called him out for failing to address all of the issues that were made. Many of the articles by these journalists were given titles about how Mendenhall “tries” or “attempts” to clarify his remarks. Let this be a lesson to anyone who doesn’t diligently response to every point in a journal review!
Twitter isn’t perfect. The peer review process isn’t perfect. In fact, the peer review process can be downright excruciating if you’re the author. Twitter makes you the author, and tweeting is like sending a paper out for review. You risk incurring the wrath of the reviewers, especially if you ignore their feedback and respond to something else.
I enjoy my colleagues tweets immensely, but I don’t like most celebrity tweets. I find it somewhat reassuring that something good has come out of twitter: it teaches most celebrities about the peer review process (the hard way).
May 5th, 2011 at 9:50 am
As painful (and dopey) as the academic review process can be, one key aspect is sometimes overlooked: someone (an editor or associate editor) selects the reviewers. So there is a filtering mechanism that (hopefully) weeds out the truly bad referees. Twitter lacks that. Anyone who reads your tweets feels empowered to comment on them.
As I opened a Twitter account against my better judgment, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of my colleagues’ tweets (and I’ve felt no impulse to criticize any of them). I’ve also found a considerable amount of useful information in the feeds I watch (another pleasant surprise). With very few exceptions, I ignore tweets outside the OR community, and the Mendenhall flap has just reinforced that decision for me.
May 5th, 2011 at 12:15 pm
Paul, you are correct about the filtering mechanism. The blogosphere and twittersphere are filled with people who feel entitled to comment on topics that they are not qualified to judge. I commented about how Mendenhall responded (OK, failed to response) to his peer reviews.
I also agree with you on twitter. It is a lot more fun and informative than I suspected, but largely because I prefer to follow colleagues who add interesting content (rather than others who feel the need to spout off about the topic du jour).
May 5th, 2011 at 9:45 pm
Paul, you wrote: “Anyone who reads your tweets feels empowered to comment on them.”
I see that as an advantage of Twitter (and other forms of social media). I firmly believe that in this day and age, we need to stop thinking of “peers” as only those with formal credentials. Peer-review shouldn’t be limited to only those who’ve jumped through the requisite hoops. And, it certainly shouldn’t be limited to the two or three referees the editor was able to coerce into doing the review.
May 6th, 2011 at 8:33 am
Jon, while I agree with you, I do think that too many people think they have informal credentials when they do not. For example, I am uncomfortable with the recent trend of the general public asking for oversight over specific NSF and NIH grants. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not qualified to determine which NIH (and many NSF) proposals should be funded.
Having said that, I do know what you mean. You are a model of how to use twitter and social media to generate *valuable* feedback from your peers.