Inspired by a recent tweet from @xmalik, three reasons to call yourself a scientist:

  1. Your qualifications. Does being qualified in science make you a scientist? And how qualified do you have to be? Is it good enough to have a high school qualification in a science subject, or do you need a university degree, or maybe a PhD is the entry point into ‘being a scientist’?
  2. Your job. Do you have to be working at increasing our understanding of the world to be a scientist? You could do this by carrying out experiments or developing theory or maybe just summarising and synthesising the experiments and theory of others. Or does communicating about science in a way that non-scientists (whoever they are…) can understand and appreciate makes you a scientist. Is a school science teacher a scientist? And what about people who worked at pushing back the frontiers once, but do a different sort of job now? Are they scientists? And if not when did they stop being scientists?
  3. Your way of thinking. Are you constantly trying to understand more about the world around you? Is the question “What is the evidence for that?” often on your lips? Do you naturally question and analyse? Do you try to extract general principles from your observations, while always being wary of generalizing too much? Is your reaction to a number often to ask “Compared to what?”?

Thinking like a scientist. That’s what makes you one…

Publishing peer review

November 15, 2010

Peer review is the central pillar of the process of scientific research yet it remains a black box, invisible to those outside of the research community. As I have said previously, lifting this veil and making peer review of journal articles more transparent could make a big contribution to increasing trust in scientific research. A recent report [subscription required] in Nature decribes a programme to just that at the journal of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO). There is also an excellent discussion of the article by Joerg Heber on his blog.

The experience at EMBO demonstrates that:

  • Researchers seem to be happy with publishing peer review. In the case of the EMBO Journal, only 5% of authors declined to have peer review process documents published.
  • Readers of papers see a value in accessing this material. Although for this pilot study peer review process documents were made comparatively difficult to access there was a reasonable rate, about one tenth of the access of the papers themselves.
  • The process influences (and probably improves) the quality of peer review. Peer reviewers claim to be taking more care over the wording of their reports because they know that they will be published, albeit anonymously. Even if this is just about writing in a clearer way it represents a real benefit, but it may also be encouraging more considered and constructive comments.

Overall this seems to have been a really successful experiment, which is now to become a standard part of the operating procedures at this journal. Given this success it is hard to find reasons for not applying the practice to all peer reviewed research.

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