A recent post at Retraction Watch revealed that Fazlul Sarkar of Wayne State University is behind the attempt to lift the anonymity of commenters at PubPeer
The Spectroscope has posted The REAL threat to PubPeer is a real threat to science communication.
I agree entirely.
Science depends on discussion and argument. Without discussion and argument, we are engaged in a faith-based activity. That is not science.
To function, science has to be democratic: the voice of the student is equal to the voice of the senior professor, otherwise we cannot access the creativity of all. However, like any enterprise involving a lot of people, there are social and power structures. As is often the case, these can conspire to stifle the enterprise. Power structures in particular, which can involve a direct dependence, e.g., of a student on a professor who is their supervisor/advisor or an indirect dependence such as colleagues on decision-making panels (tenure, promotion, grants, reviewers and so on) will mute criticism. So anonymity is absolutely critical.
The arguments against anonymity do not wash.
An often used argument is that criticism equal bullying. This has been raised by a number of people, the example I am most familiar with is Francesco Stellacci’s comments reported in a piece in Science. Before anyone embarks on a heated discussion, I refer them to the excellent post on this particular charge by Neuroskeptic and a more general piece on subject of bullying by Ken White at PopeHat. They nail it for me.
We should also remember that PubPeer is moderated and if an offensive (as opposed to critical) comment is put up unnoticed (the moderators have a day job too), an e-mail to PubPeer will get the comment’s tone changed or even deleted.
Fazlul Sarkar is not taking on PubPeer – why not? Because he would lose. Instead he is taking what is to me an insidious and anti science route of trying to lift the anonymity of PubPeer commenters. Anonymity is essential, because of power structures. So if Fazlul Sarkar is successful, we lose the ability to engage in criticism and argument, because the scientific enterprise can only access the critical faculties of a very small minority. The results is an elite caste of high priests, whose judgement is always correct presiding over and imposing their views on a mass of trainees and society at large, regardless of the evidence.
I finish with a quote left on Retraction Watch by “Scrutineer”
“But I felt that these two illustrations might be indicating a trend. Slightly misquoting the redoubtable Lady Augusta Bracknell, to have gel slices used over two papers may be regarded as a misfortune. To have pairs of papers reusing gel slices, with added band flips, looks like carelessness.”
Perhaps someone at the University of Mississippi is also a fan of Oscar Wilde?