We live in a world where junk science abounds. Jenny McCarthy is viewed as a scientific authority based on "mommy instinct." Vaccine opt-outs increase in enclaves of the affluent and well-educated. Complex scientific issues like global warming are addressed on schoolyard name-calling level by both sides of the debate.
How can scientists make things better? Perhaps by being open about the scientific process and not engaging in politician-style behavior that encourages the junk-science-addled populace to believe that science is a big scam run by shadowy insiders, and that they ought to put their faith in talk show hosts and herb peddlers and people they read on the internet.
Scientists can make things better by not acting like L. Harry Edmunds, Editor of The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.
The blog Retraction Watch noted that the Annals of Thoracic Surgery withdrew a 2004 study on a medical topic, but offered a less than illuminating explanation. Retraction Watch asked for more details. That's what people invested in the scientific process do — they ask for more information. Journals that are generally interested in advancing scientific knowledge in their field should be invested in that as well. But L. Harry Edwards wasn't.
We had the pleasure of speaking this morning with L. Henry Edmunds, Jr., the long-time editor of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, who gave us a better sense of why his retraction notice was so delicately worded. Edmunds, responding to question of why the letter didn’t say more about the matter:
"It’s none of your damn business."
Ranting against “journalists and bloggists,” Edmunds, a cardiac surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania, said the purpose of the retraction notice was merely
" to inform our reader that the article is retracted."
Curiosity and details be damned! After all, he added,
"If you get divorced from your wife, the public doesn’t need to know the details."
Here lofty scientific goals run headlong into mundane scientific reality: scientists are people, and many people are assholes.
If the Annals want to be taken seriously, and contribute to the body of scientific knowledge without contributing to woo-woo superstitions about science, then they ought to hire an editor who is invested in the scientific process rather than invested in being a grumpy old man, shouting at kids to get off his lawn.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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