Blame the Journals
An email conversation about the news of the day.
April 15 2002 2:57 PM

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Dear Atul,

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Another point on the difficulty of circumventing such official guardians of knowledge as Nature, Science, and (your favorite, right?) the New England Journal of Medicine is that if you do write about something that hasn't yet been published—given the imprimatur of "peer review," whether or not the business of peer review is anywhere near as effective as it's made out to be—then you get criticized for participating in that much-maligned trend known as "science-by-press-conference." Heavens! How can you believe findings that haven't been fully masticated by the "scientific community"?

In addition, you always have to be on your guard for exciting new information generously provided by university public relations offices and pharmaceutical companies. Sometimes it is safer to trust results that have appeared, or are about to appear, in a scientific journal, or at least to use them as a reasonable starting place for a story of your own. At which point you distribute pre-prints of the report to various other scientists in the field, who proceed to squawk, "What! This is awful! How did they ever get this past peer review, anyway?!"

In sum, trust, and verify. And if something goes awry, blame the journals.

Natalie

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