Facts shmacts

in support of Dr. Goldacre…

There is a recent controversy between Ben Goldacre and Jeremy Laurance concerning Goldacre’s ‘attack’ on health journalists. Laurance, doesn’t like it, and one of the points he brings up is that Goldacre doesn’t know the pressure journalists are under with deadlines and etc. Which presumably means we should be forgiving about him not checking the facts.

Well cry me a damn river …

We as scientists are under greater and greater pressure to do the same thing that journalists are doing according to Jeremy Laurance, namely, in order to keep our jobs in research we need – grants, publications, high-impact papers, etc. Where there is obvious pressure to pubish faster than we maybe normally would.

I feel this pressure, I need papers, I have several which are ‘almost there’ but I don’t think are good enough to publish. I have a fair amount of research experience, have written a fair number research publications (admittedly not inthe 100’s) and at this stage I have a pretty good idea when I might need to publish something, and when I need to hold off and do some more work.

So you might be thinking, yeah but you don’t have a deadline. REALLY? Scientists have deadlines just like anyone else (I am sure Ben Goldacre has deadlines too – he is after all a journalist). We give talks, go up for probation (and these days redundancy boards thanks to budget cuts), write grants (where your track record is assessed partly on your number of publications), have to get students (who don’t want to work for you if you aren’t well published) and all while teaching and doing administration.

But is anyone, ANYONE, going to feel sorry for me in the literature just because I had to publish my research quickly? And say, well, its ok that the facts weren’t checked, because scientists are under too much pressure these days? I sincerely doubt it.

And what kind of scientist would I be if I just shoved half-baked research out?
A really, really bad one is what I would be.

Whatever you think about his methods, it should be remembered that Ben Goldacre’s column is called BAD SCIENCE, and not ALL JOURNALISTS ARE CRAP – and this is actually important. There are bad scientists just as there are bad scientific journalists. And both are similar in that they either don’t check their facts or they don’t finish their job. And I think all Dr. Goldacre is pointing out is, they should have checked the facts.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain used to be an academic, but now is trying to figure out what's next. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain and Instagram @sylviaellenmclain
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