Back room politics: analogy edition
Article today in NY Times about a possible public safety database got me thinking about how this controversy is much like the current rift in scientific publishing.
In brief, there's a divide between the manufacturers, who don't want to be unfairly accused and/or undermined by fake reviews, vs. the consumers who fear that the manufacturers are just trying to make money regardless of who gets hurt.
This seems quite similar, I think, to parties who have gotten conflicting results and are both trying to publish them.
The manufacturer doesn't know if the consumer's experiences are real and/or due to user error. The consumer doesn't know if the manufacturer could have been aware of the potential safety issues and/or is already taking steps to fix the problem(s).
So let's talk about three options when it comes to conflicting data:
1. Just publish it: open access model, aka the public safety database.
Rationale: Who cares what was published before? Cite the earlier work, but say what you think is really going on.
Pros: Everything is out there.
Cons: It's a way to make accusations, which may or may not be backed up by expertise and evidence. Have you seen the movie Doubt?
2. Before publishing, contact the people who got the original results, and work out some kind of compromise. Aka, contacting the manufacturer first.
Rationale: The data can all be published anyway, most likely only the interpretations will be massaged, and/or both parties will benefit from the advanced exchange of information, while potentially saving face and mending fences.
Pros: Keeps everyone on the same page, prevents all-out wars, and avoids nasty surprises.
Cons: Gives the manufacturer (or your competitor) time to manipulate the situation to their advantage. May result in political pressure to hide data or interpretations.
3. Anonymous review. Aka, the current situation (and the traditional scientific publishing system).
Rationale: Allows the manufacturers to know who the consumers are and what accusations they are making, and ask for more evidence before having to address the potential problems raised by the consumers.
Pros: Protects the manufacturers from unfair or unqualified accusations.
Cons: Effectively silences the consumers if the manufacturers are powerful enough to block the data from coming into the public domain.
So, given a choice, what do you think the government should do about the public safety database? Do you think we should protect manufacturers, given the risk that our economy relies on them all staying in business? Would the whole thing fall apart if the abuses were made public? Is it better not to know?
Similarly, does it make more sense for science to remain as a manufacturer-driven economy, that is, one where the senior scientists have all the power? Doesn't the whole system rely on their expertise?
Or would it be better to have a consumer-driven economy, that is, one where those people currently referred to as "trainee" or "junior" are free to openly challenge the status quo without fear of repercussions?