For the archive: Peculiar activity at Nature Materials… [Ben Goldacre]

Posterous spaces where Ben Goldacre had ‘his second blog’ seems to be gone, so I re-post here that piece he had written last December.

Here’s an odd mess. I’m in two minds about blogging it, but there are three people who might read the whole thing through, and there’s one core feature that caught my eye. I’m fascinated, in cases like these, to see the people who benefit from older forms of publishing: (1) engage in dogged insistence that journals are the only right place to discuss science, while (2) simultaneously demonstrating that this may in fact not be the case.

Here’s the story. A researcher thinks he’s found a problem in a bunch of scientific work, and publishes a paper in an academic journal. So far so whatl: this is the healthy bread and butter of scientific work.
The researcher also posted a blog, and quite right too. He’d published an interesting paper, and wanted to share. It’s not rude or weird, to my reading.
There is no word from the scientist whose work he has critiqued, though there is this rather odd anonymous comment:


It talks about the protagonist researcher/blogger’s research life in rather personal terms, you can draw your own conclusions about whether this comment was written by someone involved in the original research being criticised. It then goes on to say things like: “I’m peer-reviewing your baseless blog: this stinks! You have to pick one, are you a scientist or a blogger? Can’t be both. You know where attacks like this don’t happen? In peer-reviewed articles.” Which I think is a bit unhelpful. Lots of people are both scientists and bloggers, and that’s great. Things change.
Anyway. Then a journal response comes, and a response to the response.
But then, curiously, we suddenly see a huge (huge) number of odd defensive blog comments from someone called “Pep”, who then turns out to be… the editor of Nature Materials.


This is then followed by a bunch of denunciations from people in his field.
It’s a very odd mess. I think the best we can say is: we’re all learning new norms around the discussion of scientific research.

Mathias Brust Liverpool Prof of Chemistry, gold nanoparticles person


Sir, while I much welcome your decision not to participate any longer in this debate, I hope it does not save your job. When, so far, neither Stellacci, nor any representative of the laboratories that have reproduced his work or collaborated with him, have opted to voice their views on this site, what on earth has motivated you to meddle with this under an ambiguous alias? Are we to understand your comments now as Nature Materials position on this dabate, or are they just the musings of an editorial clerk who has temporarily run out of control? In addition, your pseudo scientific comments give embarrassing insight in Nature Materials’ editorial shortcomings. I will no longer submit my work to Nature Materials and remain by wishing you a peaceful and reflective festive season.”

Philip Moriarty Nottingham Prof Physics, works on STM, which is at the center of the story:


First, I am absolutely appalled that an editor of Nature Materials, someone who is far from a ‘disinterested observer’ with regard to the striped nanoparticle controversy, posted here (prolifically) without revealing their affiliation.

You should be ashamed of yourself. Science, of all things, should be as open and honest as is humanly possible. Your posting here without revealing your connection to the work in question is immensely dispiriting and makes me revise downwards my (already low) opinion of editorial standards at NPG in relation to this striped nanoparticle debacle. (This may help explain the rather ‘robust’ tone of my comments below).”

If you’re bored:

I’m @bengoldacre on Twitter.
My first book is Bad Science
My second book is Bad Pharma
My main blog is here.
My throwaway blog is here.
I did this TED talk, and this TED talk.

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