Two things: good and bad

13 March 2014 by Kausik Datta, posted in Peer Review, Personal, Society and Life

Two things I encountered today, good and bad in equal measures. First, the good.

In the recent past, I received an invitation for reviewing a submitted manuscript from a noted journal (which shall remain nameless). The topic of the study verged on pharmacognosy and ethnobotany, both areas of knowledge that I - as an erstwhile drug discovery researcher in another lifetime - find fascinating. I accepted the invitation to review because the study piqued my interest.

The review, however, proved a daunting challenge. The study was technically sound, but the manuscript was poorly written - as evidenced from:

  • Inconsistent use of symbols and abbreviations; typographical errors galore,
  • Incorrect references (not to mention, incorrect conclusions drawn from those references),
  • Unclear/incomplete methods,
  • Lack of identification of controls (which, I discovered, were incorporated properly in the actual study - but not identified in the study design or report),
  • Inadequate statistical analysis, and most importantly,
  • Over-reaching conclusions drawn from a dataset that didn't appear to support those conclusions, in view of relatively small differences between the groups,

... among others. However, despite the atrocious first submission, I did see a possibility in the manuscript, and therefore, wanted the work to be successfully presented to the wider scientific community. I took time to review it minutely, line by line, offering suggestions and marking up corrections. It was to be indeed a major revision.

I was glad to learn today that the authors complied; they extensively revised the manuscript incorporating the constructive suggestions made by me and the other reviewer, and now their paper has been accepted for publication. This made me happy.


Now the bad. Okay, may not be bad bad. But certainly bewildering, to the point of mind-boggling - and yes, rather bad when you think about it.

This morning, it amused me greatly (cue: 'sardonic laughter') to realize that the two highest number of comments I have ever received have been on two of my 2011 posts debunking pseudoscience, one about the ridiculous notion of Water Memory, and the other about the equally ridiculous use of homeopathy in hemorrhoids.

Which per se would have been fine, rather gratifying even, had it not been for the fact that most of these comments came from aficionados of pseudoscientific quackery and woo-woo. As they say in the US, "FML."

I have been blogging on a professional platform (first Nature Blogs, which morphed into the current Scilogs) for close to four years. I always meant my blog to be an interactive experience, and I look forward to the readers commenting. Possibly because I don't get gazillion-bazillion comments, I am generally able to respond to each commenter's contribution. I quite enjoy the parley. But sadly, my posts have always suffered from a paucity of comments, even those posts that have - strangely, it always seems to me - enjoyed a high page visit count.

I have found this lack of comments... disappointing, dispiriting, depressing even, at times - but I keep my feelings on a tight leash. I am fully alive to the fact that I am not (and shall never be), say, an Ed Yong, a Carl Zimmer, a Maryn McKenna, or a Deborrah Blum - my Science Communication heroes. I am also fully cognizant of the possibility that I may be a talentless hack and may not write well, that I may altogether lack the ability to engage the attention of the reading public. But I find that oftentimes I do have a lot to say about a lot many different things, and my scientific training and expertise allows me to offer a particular perspective. So, I keep at it.

That's why it jangles even more. Why... Oh why do these two posts of mine have to be such quack magnets? How did these two posts ever become such popular destinations for tiresome know-nothing crackpots?


6 Responses to “Two things: good and bad”

  1. Paige Reply | Permalink

    Don't give up the good fight! I'm not an avid commenter, but I do think comment structures on blogs need to be revised. When I'm reading on Medium.com, with the commenting possible in the sidebar, I can't seem to hold back from commenting!

    • Kausik Datta Reply | Permalink

      That's an interesting line of thought, Paige. I agree with you.

      However, to be honest, I was cribbing not so much about the lack of comments, as about the surfeit of comments from quacktastic crackpots. I miss good quality comments that provoke thought and discussion!

  2. Mel Reply | Permalink

    Echoing Paige...don't give up! I am not an avid commenter either, but I soak up social media (twitter, blogs, facebook posts) and I try to react when possible. I also run my own blog but it's not regularly updated so I also lack visits and comments are few. I ran a blog for the http://www.evomics.org site during their workshop that was highly viewed but commented on little. It can be rough. I blog for the enjoyment of writing and getting my thoughts out there and try not to worry too much about the lack of comments or low views...it is a 'high' though when I see my views jump on a post or series of posts. Another blogger I follow @hopejahren she inactivated comments on her blog because of the quakaloonery she was getting and invites people to message her instead. Keep it up, there are people that enjoy reading your stuff!

  3. Jalees Rehman Reply | Permalink

    Think of it in homeopathic terms - the less comments your post has, the bigger its impact must be. :)

    Jalees

    • Kausik Datta Reply | Permalink

      Oh, Jalees! LOL!! You know, may be that's why the quackmeisters throng these two blog posts...

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