[Taxacom] Fitness for use

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Tue Nov 30 14:39:31 CST 2010


Excellent points, and the problem is being compounded by two recent trends. The first is the publication online of unfinished scientific papers by leading journals; final versions appear in print and online at a later date. I don't know what the editorial policies are in these cases, but it would be nice if the journals drew a line and said 'The data reported [as opposed to the analysis and discussion] must not change, apart from error corrections'. The further this trend proceeds, the harder it will become for the traditional filters of peer and editorial review to operate in weeding out scientific noise.

The second trend - which I haven't noticed so far in taxonomy - is the offering online of raw data and provisional analyses. It's seen as a way of inviting helpful comment from the community of investigators working on similar problems. For obvious reasons, you don't see many research blogs in the world of Big Grants, competitive universities and patent-seekers, but there could be more research blogging in future as the prospects for real employment in science dry up. For example, a colleague of mine recently retired and wants to start doing phylogenetic at home analysis using genetic data she gets herself: borrowing lab space and spending her own money on materials and sequencing. If she joins an online community of phylogenetic research bloggers/collaborators, she won't feel so isolated, and she's likely to get valuable suggestions on improving what she does.

[Disclaimer: I'm part of Trend Two. For some time now I've been putting the results of a parapatry mapping study online at http://www.polydesmida.info/mapping  I've had some interesting feedback.]

It seems to me, though, that the key need in deciding on fitness for use will always be specialisation. You are obviously much more likely to know good data/results/analyses/conclusions if you know a lot about the subject. If I knew nothing about millipedes, I wouldn't be able to say if Makhan's recent millipede-taxonomic papers were good or not. I know a lot about millipedes, and regard those papers as junk.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
Ph: (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/?articleID=570

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