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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


Christian Monden drew my attention to this web-site devoted to the systematic trashing of a single paper published in a sociology journal. Though it stems from an advocacy group, it doesn't, as far as I can see, (and I haven't explored every nook and cranny) give an unfair representation of the content of the paper. 

It is a cautionary tale. Sometimes what you write can have consequences that you never intended. Loose words and imprecise formulations (to be charitable) can get you into a heap of trouble. Once the genie gets out of the bottle there is little you can do to stop the havoc. Sometimes the hoary old defense: "I was just trying to be provocative" won't prevent a world of shit falling on your head. Better be careful what you wish for.

And there is collateral damage. I don't believe for one minute that there was a conspiracy at Social Science Research to publish an anti-gay parenting paper. What is much more likely is that a busy editor was just delighted to get a paper quickly refereed and off his desk and made some bad calls. I wonder how many editorial decisions would survive this degree of scrutiny? 

How many referees of our papers are completely "independent"? If I am on record as holding the belief that Professor X's work is scientific garbage should that disqualify me from being a referee of her next paper? Is my belief a more significant or less significant disqualification than once having attended a meeting of the "steering group" for Professor X's project? Choosing at least one from each side doesn't work either in a world in which one negative referee's report is sufficient to torpedo a paper.

 I don't know what the answers to these questions are and I doubt that one could draw up a set of guidelines that would cover all eventualities. It's really a wonder that anyone wants to be an editor of a sociology journal.

And then there is the question of impact. If UoTaA were participating in the British REF would they be submitting Regnerus' work as one of their impact case studies? It fits all the criteria and has had much more "impact" than most sociology papers. I can't see anything in the guidelines that says that the impact must be positive and the science must be sound.

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