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An interesting moment in science. We may have just witnessed the collapse of the big news of arsenic life--on a scientist's blog.
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Adrian J. Ebsary's profile photoPrithwish Pal's profile photoMartin DeMello's profile photoAnders Norman's profile photo
16 comments
 
Well, that sucks. I was hoping for it, but science is as science does and we must accept the truth of reality, no matter how lame it is. :\
 
I forget who said it: "Give me a fruitful error over a barren truth anytime."
 
Typo on last several words of first paragraph. Missing word is 'synthesize' or maybe just 'make.' Great post though.
 
I've been trying for a while now to persuade certain research scientists to blog their experiences. Most of them frankly, have been too old to get why anyone would be interested, much less why they should spend their valuable time doing it. Blogging just doesn't fit their understanding of "acceptable" scientific publishing.

I'm beginning, though, to find a younger generation of scientists - some of whom are doing really interesting work - open to the idea. Stay tuned...
 
"Blogging just doesn't fit their understanding of "acceptable" scientific publishing."

To the extent that publishing is also the way for you to stake a claim and to improve your CV (and thus your ability to pay rent and food), they'd be right.

Blogging is, right now, best seen as an adjunct to publishing. A place where you can expand on the paper you've got, or give informal (though very useful) commentary on others papers. It is not a place for publishing original results.
 
I quite liked the arsenic life hypothesis...which actually makes me thrilled that there's some evidence that may refute it...nothing better than being proved wrong in science. Perhaps a bigger story over the long-haul is that events like this point toward an eventual change in how results are shared in science I suspect.
 
The JACS refutation is also the first blog/online I'm aware of.

+Scott Hartman 'a change in how results are shared in science'. Scientists have always shared results like these with each other, pre-publication. They've just not gone public on blogs about that process. It's more like a change in how much anyone who isn't a scientist is let into the nuts and bolts of the process, right?
 
+Carl Zimmer in your story you say "Redfield then did something exceptional: she set out to replicate the initial findings, getting the original bacteria and seeing whether they can build DNA from arsenic when deprived of phosphorus"... but this is something we forget in science. Publication is only the start of the scientific process. The whole point we publish is so that others can replicate and build on our findings. Trying to replicate initial findings shouldn't be seen as exceptional.
 
+Charles Ebikeme In practice it's unusual for anybody to simply replicate somebody else's findings, without adding a twist or further development of their own. A replication study is difficult to publish — you aren't really presenting anything new after all — and few funding agencies would be willing to put up the money and time needed when they could be financing original research instead.

So yes, a straight replication is somewhat exceptional.
 
+Cameron Neylon The JACS refutation might be the most experimentally clear, but there have been plenty of blog posts that have pointed out errors, contradictions with the literature and even data manipulation. I like the idea of post-publication peer review, I just wish this data was better aggregated (either in comments to the papers, or easier to find links to Research Blogging/F1000 etc).
 
You know, if she can't replicate it, there's a chance she can't publish that. A lot of journals would reject that for a variety of reasons.

But good for her. I find a lot of people who cling to a bad paper (anti-vaxxers, anti-GMOers) shout: well, did anyone replicate it? And often there is no example of that because it either 1) wasn't done, because of the study design is impossible to re-do for various logistical reasons, or 2) was done but nobody could publish the outcomes.
 
+Jan Moren Yes, this is what I meant. I was under the assumption that for her to publish she would need to go a bit further than a simple replication of the arsenic paper. She would need to go further than simply stating it didn't work, but do further experiments as to why. Besides there are a number of journals out there that focus on publishing "negative results". Nature, even released a journal system like this earlier this year.
 
Does anyone have links to the JACS refutation blog posts? That's a new one to me.
 
+Richard Van Noorden Yes, thanks, I was commenting on the pubic documentation of the results prior to traditional peer review. And I think it's much more than merely documenting the process for outsiders - I think over time it will alter how priority is established, it will alter the dynamic between cultural input and research, and in all probability as more journals go all-digital the lines between the traditional journal system and blogs will probably blur.

Whether these changes are good or bad will depend on how they are executed, and of course individual perspective.
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