Why do people pass on items before scrutinizing them? Some members of my Tweeter gang regularly Tweet press releases from such sources as Science Daily as if they were news. Then these Tweets are reTweeted and the peeping and chirping and crowing of Tweety birds grows louder and louder.
In a post from Arstechnica, the practice of treating such aggregators as PhysOrg and Science Daily as news was criticized:
[I]n a large number of contexts, these two sites are treated as credible sources of scientific information. Items posted there make frequent appearances on social news sites, and a number of people I've talked to have been shocked to discover that the majority of the sites' content is nothing more than rebranded press releases.
Ultimately, the job of editing and of peer review is to help ensure that only scientifically valid data and ideas end up in the literature. The job of the press should be to ensure that the public only receives reports of equal quality (or better, since the press can act as an additional layer of filtering). Unfortunately, with the rise of the press release, and of aggregators that disguise press releases as news content, the public is not being well served in this regard.
Aggregator problem reinforces the need to understand and filter before passing on. A new virtue for the 21st century!
A new virtue. I like that suggestion. Wouldn't it be nice if people did some digging prior to Tweeting? Even chickens don't eat
I confess that I have been less than virtuous, but any virtue vacuum has occurred more in the relatively distant past than recently (I hope). Over the years, I have acquired a new level of skepticism. Yes, it takes time to find the underlying study and read it before blogging or Tweeting. However, why would you broadcast something that has not been checked, or as Todd put it, understood and filtered? That's not a rhetorical question. Why do the Tweety birds do it?
In the Arstechnica post linked to above, an example of the irresponsible spreading of a press release is described; in this situation, the release was ultimately retracted. Another tale of blithe and uncritical dissemination of something that should not be interpreted as valid was recently told at two blogs. The "something" is a theory by an economist that the language someone speaks influences how they behave about the future: specifically, the future tense of a language innfluences the decision process of those who speak that language.
From the Debunkery section of io9.com:
[I]t's worth pointing out that this paper hasn't even been finished, let alone peer reviewed and published, so the finished product might well have some interesting things to say. Until then, it's best to hold off on basing too many personality analyses off of how people use the future tense.
And from Language Log:
Language Log has been asked more than once to comment on an unpublished working paper by Yale economist Keith Chen that is discussed in various online sources, e.g. here and here, and most recently David Berreby's post at Big Think. Briefly, Chen's paper alleges that a certain simple grammatical property of languages correlates robustly with indicators of profligacy and lack of prudence, as revealed in the speakers' lack of concern for their financial and medical prospects. Language Log does not really want to comment on an unpublished working paper about language by a non-linguist that is not written for publication and has not had the benefit of serious critical attention from academic referees. But neither does it want to disappoint its readers by clamming up. So I will make a few remarks about Chen's work, and the journalistic reporting that it is beginning to attract. ...
To prevent instances like this, and to better communicate with our Twitter followers and blog readers, perhaps we can all pledge to online virtue, to checking and verifying before we send science into the ethers of the Internet? I pledge.