• Assessing Arsenic (and Beyond): Rules for the Road

    As Shawn noted earlier, the final version of the arsenic paper has appeared online, along with a slew of technical comments and responses, and will soon appear in print. Some back-and-forth has already begun in our comments section, and elsewhere. As that happens, I’d like to make a heartfelt request of the emerging PaleBlueBlog community: Let’s keep our discussions constructive…

    That doesn’t mean holding back on critiques of technical aspects of the arsenic paper or any other, or of making critical comments about “meta” aspects of a science story, such as public relations hooplah. Such discussions are not only tolerated here, but encouraged! The editors of this blog firmly believe that disagreement and debate are essential to progress in science.

    However, it does mean thinking twice before publicly casting aspersions on the characters and motives of authors, reviewers, editors, funding agencies, or research communities. Sure, it is natural for us as human beings to engage in gossipy, snarky speculation. My friends know that I am no saint in this regard! But I don’t see how it is helpful to air such thoughts to the world.

    On the flip side, doing so is harmful in many ways:

    It gives “open science” and blogging a bad name among the vast majority of scholars who have no appetite for this sort of public exchange;
    It sends people into a defensive crouch that inhibits rather than encourages pursuit of truth;
    It coarsens a culture that is already too driven by emotion-laden shout-fests that tear people down, when what we need are more constructive debates that inspire people to excel.

    Does all this mean that our blog will wind up a bit dull? I hope not, but perhaps. Will we have fewer hits than we otherwise might? Maybe. But we are convinced there is an audience out there for insightful and constructive news and commentary about science in general, and astrobiology in particular. We hope that audience will find this blog.