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Blog posts can be good sources

RoyLatham
Posts: 4,488
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5/27/2012 12:15:37 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
This discussion is spin off from comment discussions in my debate with Thaumaturgy on the global warming hockey stick. http://www.debate.org... The question is whether it ever makes sense to reference a blog post rather than scientific literature. I argue that it all depends, but that sometimes it does. Wikipedia is essentially a blog post, so it falls into that category. Amazon book blurbs are also in the category.

1. A blog post is a worthless reference if it just gives the opinion of a person not qualified as an expert. An unqualified person may make a logically sound argument, but that's no good in a debate either, because arguments must be made directly in a debate not included by reference.

2. A blog post is a good reference if it in turn has good references supporting the claims made. A common case is when a blogger makes a graph out of data from one or more referenced sources. Another case is when the blogger (or Wikipedia) makes an apt summary and includes pointers to the claimed references.

3. A blog post is a good reference when the blogger is a qualified expert and provides an overview of a controversy. In the hockey stick debate, for example, I references a science blogger in M.I.T.'s Technology Review who identified himself as a proponent of anthropogenic global warming and who supported a criticism. Of course, there are experts countering other experts all the time so that doesn't end the debate. It just qualifies an expert summary.

4. Peer reviewed scientific literature is most likely incomprehensible to the general reader not schooled in the subject matter. So if a debater claims "The world will end soon. [1. The Journal of Real Science. ...]" it begs the question of what the journal article really says. Does it actually support the debaters claim? The reader generally cannot tell by reading the article. It's much better to have expert opinions that interpret the science.

5. The scientific literature lags science by at the minimum the publication cycle, and sometimes by as much as a decade. That means that the last results won't be in the literature. If a theory is published. it may take a decade to perform all the experiments or amass all the data needed to publish a counter theory.

6. Some issues relative to science are not themselves published in journals. A Senate committee inquiry revealed that all the peer reviewers of an important paper that relied on statistical methods were not qualified to review the methods, and the reviewers themselves admitted that was the case. That's not a scientific result subject to peer review, that's an issue of the process of getting published.

7. Scientific articles rarely provide summaries of the literature as a whole. Sometimes they do, but it's often the case that there are dozens of pieces of evidence supporting one side of a controversy and dozens supporting the other side. The issue at the heart of the global warming controversy is the claim by proponents that climate prediction is essentially a solved problem. That's argued at a higher level than individual papers.

8. A claim that skeptical papers are systematically blocked from publication will never be decided by reference to peer-reviewed literature. If the claim is true, there won't be peer-reviewed evidence of it. If there is evidence, it must be elsewhere.

9. A blog post is valid when it supports a claim that something exists. If the claim is "No Republican ever criticized X" then a blogging Republican that criticizes X is valid counter evidence. A claim that books have been written supporting X and Y is accurately supported by pointing to the amazon blurbs for the books. Amazon references are good because they also give excerpts from the book, independent book reviews, and a summary of what the book claims. Referencing a book never proves the book is fully accurate, but it does provide a level of evidence that there is a substantial viewpoint on the subject.
Stephen_Hawkins
Posts: 5,316
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5/27/2012 4:23:17 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
1 - Agreed, and I hate it when people reference to other people ad verecundium to confirm stuff.

2 - Wikipedia is a confirmed source that holds accuracy from a neutral perspective and grants strong information on subjects. Every major claim is cited. If it is not, then it states clearly, and therefore that claim cannot be cited.

3 - Agreed. However, this needs to be confirmed in debate. Further, it is a single person's opinion.

4 - Do you mean inaccessible? If so, agreed, I dislike people who use this repeatedly. I keep to internet sources and famous books (e.g. On Liberty). If the jargon, though, makes it unreadable, then there's a problem, depends on the circumstance. If it is a specific field and someone is using complex jargon, then there's multiple possibilities:

a) it is common jargon, and should be known
b) someone is hiding bad science with long words
c) the complex jargon uses words that do not exist

Depends on the circumstance.

5 - The science lags to make sure it is correct, but this "sometimes by as much as a decade" is something which I don't think is entirely accurate: something would not be published if it is wrong. Nor would it be taking ten years to publish. The research collection may take that long, but that does not make it "wrong". It makes it long term data.

6 - Rare circumstance, which has been fixed. Would like to know what this example is specifically, on the off chance that it's fifty years old.

7 - The collation of data into a single piece is not done by science at all, so this does not make sense to me. Nor does the citing blogs make reference. It seems too focused on a science/blog dichotomy. Philosophical books, political books, newspapers, journals, etc. can all focus on this issue well.

8 - This claim is simply that: a claim. The only people who are blocked are crackpots promoting the ludicrous general, such as creationism, in science. The specifics, such as (made up title) "The percentile increase of sodium in the water compared to expected data to analyse age of the earth" has got through before, even though proven wrong. Possibly because science did not know much of this field, and this major question made scientists focus on this paper.

9 - Relevant blogs debating an opinion is fine. Blogs giving argument, and citing journals is fine. Blogs giving argument, then backing the premises and facts by another blog, which is uncited / not from a reputable source is not fine.
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RoyLatham
Posts: 4,488
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5/27/2012 9:45:47 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 5/27/2012 4:23:17 PM, Stephen_Hawkins wrote:
2 - Wikipedia is a confirmed source that holds accuracy from a neutral perspective and grants strong information on subjects. Every major claim is cited. If it is not, then it states clearly, and therefore that claim cannot be cited.

Wikipedia is very good on non-controversial subjects, which is 99% of it. But on hot topics they commit sins of omission. They fully reference everything they claim, but fail to include counter arguments. That's not a problem for accessing the data that they do source.

4 -... If the jargon, though, makes it unreadable, then there's a problem, depends on the circumstance. If it is a specific field and someone is using complex jargon, then there's multiple possibilities:

a) it is common jargon, and should be known
b) someone is hiding bad science with long words
c) the complex jargon uses words that do not exist

I was referencing (a) as a problem. Not only is the terminology generally unfamiliar by the necessary background to understand the issues and methods. Papers in the social sciences are usually not too bad, but try to read a paper on organic chemistry or quantum physics without having taken a course in the subject. I haven't encountered (b) or (c) as serious problems, although sometime social scientists try to make their stuff sound more scientific than it is.

5 - The science lags to make sure it is correct, but this "sometimes by as much as a decade" is something which I don't think is entirely accurate: something would not be published if it is wrong. Nor would it be taking ten years to publish. The research collection may take that long, but that does not make it "wrong". It makes it long term data.

Wrong stuff is published all the time. The scientist who wrote the paper may have had bad data or overlooked some factor in the analysis or claimed to have confirmed a wrong theory with too few tests. One reason for publishing is to allow other scientists to see if they can confirm or deny the results. A recent example involved an error in an instrument in a satellite. Publication brought forth conflicting data, and the error was ultimately fixed.

As to ten years, a guy had a theory on cosmic rays causing cloud seeding. He published it, but it was questioned. A further test required experiments on the CERN accelerator, which in turn required getting millions of dollars in funding. it took ten years, and was confirmed, but it might have failed.

6 - Rare circumstance, which has been fixed. Would like to know what this example is specifically, on the off chance that it's fifty years old.

It came up in the global warming hockey stick debate. The paper was published in 1999 and Senate hearings in 2003 revealed that the climate scientists who reviewed it were not qualified to review the key statistical methods. An expert panel found the methodology to be bogus. Errors in using statistical methods in the social sciences are, in my experience, not too uncommon.

7 - The collation of data into a single piece is not done by science at all, so this does not make sense to me.

Sometimes there are "meta-studies" published. For example, someone collects all the published data on whether cell phones cause brain cancer and attempt an overall conclusion. There was a metastudy on whether strict vegetarians are healthier than indiscriminate eaters. (They're not.) But there are many issues that don't fit the peer-review model.

8 - This claim is simply that: a claim. The only people who are blocked are crackpots promoting the ludicrous general, such as creationism, in science.

In the Climategate scandal, e-mails revealed global warming proponents vowing to block publication of papers from skeptics, including boycotting Journals who published dissent and taking over editorial boards. Skeptics include people professors at M.I.T.and others with long histories of scientific publications. Whether the claims are true or not is subject to evidence, but the subject matter is not going to be presented in a peer-reviewed paper.

9 - Relevant blogs debating an opinion is fine. Blogs giving argument, and citing journals is fine. Blogs giving argument, then backing the premises and facts by another blog, which is uncited / not from a reputable source is not fine.

Agreed. I was pointing to the odd case when "no one ever said" is contradicted by point someone saying precisely what was claimed never to have been said.
Thaumaturgy
Posts: 166
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5/29/2012 12:14:49 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 5/27/2012 12:15:37 PM, RoyLatham wrote:
This discussion is spin off from comment discussions in my debate with Thaumaturgy on the global warming hockey stick. http://www.debate.org... The question is whether it ever makes sense to reference a blog post rather than scientific literature.

To be fair to my original point: blog citations are less valuable than peer reviewed science citations.

At not point did I claim that blog citations are "worthless". But in comparison it is risible to compare the value of a blog citation to one that is an actual scientific journal citation.

2. A blog post is a good reference if it in turn has good references supporting the claims made.

Anyone who has actually published in the sciences realizes that if one wishes to cite a point from a particular publication, the original publication is preferred. This is not to dismiss "review" publications which aggregate other findings. But when discussing science in a debate it is far better to be able to resort to the original source material rather than a potentially "biased" spin of a blog which are usually crafted for a particular POV.

3. A blog post is a good reference when the blogger is a qualified expert and provides an overview of a controversy.

Something tells me if I were to rely only on RealClimate citations you'd find ways to suggest they are in on some sort of "network" with Mann et al. This is why your debate points were so off the mark near the end in our debate. You realized you weren't going to be able to go head-to-head on the details of what you called "component analysis", so you steered it over into the "Mann Mafia" hypothesis.

As such your inclination to ad hominem rather than discussion of the actual details of the science was laid bare.

4. Peer reviewed scientific literature is most likely incomprehensible to the general reader

And that is why it was my job in the context of the debate to frame the results as best I could. But to simply dismiss a reference because one didn't understand the details is absurd at best.

5. The scientific literature lags science by at the minimum the publication cycle, and sometimes by as much as a decade. That means that the last results won't be in the literature. If a theory is published. it may take a decade to perform all the experiments or amass all the data needed to publish a counter theory.

But blogs will get the most robust science out there fastest? This is an absurdity.

6. Some issues relative to science are not themselves published in journals. A Senate committee inquiry revealed that all the peer reviewers of an important paper that relied on statistical methods were not qualified to review the methods, and the reviewers themselves admitted that was the case. That's not a scientific result subject to peer review, that's an issue of the process of getting published.

This is why I had to repeatedly address the details of the points. I also cited a more FULL transcript of the report you cited, Roy. Only I was able to reclaim the original point that the hockey stick was little changed by much of anything Wegman suggested. As evidenced by the word of another stats expert, Von Storch.

7. Scientific articles rarely provide summaries of the literature as a whole.

That is what Review Articles are for.

Sometimes they do, but it's often the case that there are dozens of pieces of evidence supporting one side of a controversy and dozens supporting the other side. The issue at the heart of the global warming controversy is the claim by proponents that climate prediction is essentially a solved problem. That's argued at a higher level than individual papers.

So it sounds like your utopian vision is that people are too stupid to understand the science so best not to give them the science?

8. A claim that skeptical papers are systematically blocked from publication will never be decided by reference to peer-reviewed literature. If the claim is true, there won't be peer-reviewed evidence of it. If there is evidence, it must be elsewhere.

This is why this is a "CONSPIRACY THEORY" type argument. It is, effectively, unfalsifiable. Hence the reliance on it is intellectually vapid.

Amazon references are good because they also give excerpts from the book, independent book reviews, and a summary of what the book claims. Referencing a book never proves the book is fully accurate, but it does provide a level of evidence that there is a substantial viewpoint on the subject.

Again, details are lost. With just "snippets" from advertisers the details must surely suffer. If this is considered a "valuable" citation then the people making that assessment are likely so woefully out of touch with the science that they cannot be expected to make a valid decision on the validity or lack thereof in any given debate on the subject. May as well ask my dog, Aleister Growley, what he thinks about the topic. Whoever has the most cheese wins.

This argument is blatant justification for the "path of least resistance". The readers of this board and these debates are by and large far more savvy than that as is evidenced by the fact it is a structured debate format. The repeated insistence by certain parties on here that the science would bore or be over the heads of the readers so it is best to give them the thin gruel of pre-processed blog garbage and advertisements is demeaning to the readers.

But on the other hand, readers who adjudicate blogs and advertisements as equivalent to scientific citations perhaps should re-evaluate how they approach a scientific topic. Or at the very least their "opinion" of who has the more valid debate points is to be taken with a grain of salt.
MouthWash
Posts: 2,607
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5/29/2012 12:46:50 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 5/27/2012 9:45:47 PM, RoyLatham wrote:
Wikipedia is very good on non-controversial subjects, which is 99% of it. But on hot topics they commit sins of omission. They fully reference everything they claim, but fail to include counter arguments. That's not a problem for accessing the data that they do source.


Yeah, especially on gay marriage. I don't believe that they even list one competent argument against it.
"Well, that gives whole new meaning to my assassination. If I was going to die anyway, perhaps I should leave the Bolsheviks' descendants some Christmas cookies instead of breaking their dishes and vodka bottles in their sleep." -Tsar Nicholas II (YYW)