Freedom of Speech and Public Shaming by the Science Watchdogs
Authors: Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva
Number of views: 464
Freedom of speech in academia can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives the liberty to express opinions about issues that affect academics, but on the other, such freedoms can also be used against academics, even by other academics. Science finds itself in a state of reform, perhaps even crisis, in which a dense amount of transformational changes are taking place. As the academic playing field transforms itself, one method by which this is taking place is through the correction of the literature via an active process of critical analysis. In peer review, this is generally handled primarily by blinded (i.e., known to the editors) peers, while in a post-publication process, this may also be subjected to anonymous (i.e., unknown identity to authors and editors) critique. One of the more radical end-points of the post-publication process, which may reveal errors or faults, are retractions. Two organizations, Retraction Watch and PubPeer, are leading the way in terms of raising awareness and critique, but are using public shaming to expose science’s faults and ills. These science watchdogs have now attracted considerable funding, including from powerful politically-driven US philanthropic foundations. Pressure is placed on scientists and academics by these organizations to be transparent, open and forthcoming about their errors. Scientists should cautiously assess queries made at or by Retraction Watch and PubPeer, directly or indirectly, and reserve their right to offer feedback. This is because what they state in response, either by email or on those blogs, may in fact be used against them on and by these public shaming platforms. The same applies to the blog of Leonid Schneider, another vocal science watchdog. Academia is at a cross-roads between openness and transparency, but at what cost? Academics need to urgently appreciate the importance and risks that Retraction Watch, PubPeer and similar websites pose, before their legends become irreversibly transformed by interaction with such watchdogs. This paper also highlights comment suppression, manipulation or blocking by these science watchdogs, which may indicating a deliberate suppression of freedom of speech.