Do we need a new rule for pseudoscience/crackpots?

Administration 31 Comments
By Dave Munger

Our guidelines for individual posts and registering blogs are fairly robust: They allow us to take a careful look at posts and blogs to decide whether they should be allowed on ResearchBlogging.org.

But as ResearchBlogging.org becomes a higher-profile organization, it also increasingly becomes the target of pseudoscientists and crackpots advancing personal agendas that are not supported by serious research.

Because these individuals are highly motivated, they often take special care to couch their blogs in the trappings of legitimate research. Still, it doesn’t take long for a serious researcher to examine their work and see through the veneer to the real agenda behind it.

What does take a long time — what is, in the end, nearly impossible — is convincing the pseudoscientist/crackpot that her/his blog does not represent real research, and therefore isn’t acceptable.

But we don’t need to convince them — what we need to do is to convince our readers that we have real standards. From this arises the question: Should we have a new rule designed to eliminate pseudoscientists and crackpots from consideration without the benefit of extensive deliberation?

As it currently stands, if a blog is rejected due to insufficient rigor, the blogger is given the opportunity to defend him/herself publicly on this blog. We’ve done that once before, and our decision wasn’t changed. We’re currently working behind the scenes on two other such requests. Handling these requests according to our existing guidelines takes a lot of time and effort. We have to recruit experts in the relevant fields to accumulate evidence that the blogs should not be approved for our site. But we already know these blogs are unacceptable — this is essentially wasted effort.

I think we ought to give site administrators the latitude to reject obviously pseudoscientific / “crackpot” blogs simply by consulting informally among themselves and their colleagues — just as they already have the latitude to approve blogs that are obviously high quality. Only on true borderline cases should a formal review or public debate be necessary. But maybe our readers disagree — perhaps such a review is essential to the site’s mission.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments. Or make a post on your own blog, then post the link here.

31 Responses to “Do we need a new rule for pseudoscience/crackpots?”

  1. Rense Nieuwenhuis Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I’d say: go ahead. As the organisers of a very well designed initiative you should be able to control who participates. Already you decide whether or not to approve blogs for aggregation, which does not happen publicly either. However, I would argue to do make public the blogs that you excluded, and still allow a blogger to defend. This makes your process less demanding, and still has some ‘checks and balances’.

    This is part of a longer post on the subject, to be found here:
    http://www.rensenieuwenhuis.nl/archive/on-researchblogging-keeping-high-standards/

  2. Sandra Porter Says:
    October 1st, 2008 at 11:58 am

    I agree. I think you’ve proposed a reasonable solution.

  3. Dave Munger Says:
    October 2nd, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Rense,

    I’m not sure about the idea of a public debate for everyone. Why should we offer free publicity on our blog for every obscure crackpot and pseudoscientist that comes knocking?

    Instead, what I’m considering is requiring a vote among administrators (we have a minimum of three in each language). If there is a split decision (e.g. 2-1 to reject instead of 3-0), then we might consider having a public debate. The blogs I’m talking about are so clearly not based on real research that it would only help them and harm us to offer them the chance to debate.

  4. Rense Nieuwenhuis Says:
    October 3rd, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Dave,

    I agree with you when stating that researchblogging.org should not become a stage for the people you want to ban. On the other hand, I strongly believe that openness is not something to be scared of. Additionally, the discussion would not take place on researchblogging itself, but on the news-forum (or even: a forum / blog with specifically that purpose).

    So, let people discuss all they want: It doesn’t harm the casual reader of researchblogging, and still allows people to form their own opinion.

    (Please note that I don’t object against the administrators banning blogs, especially when unanimous. I just think there should be some degree of justification.)

    A minimum-option would possibly to just mention the banning of bloggers somewhere, without the opportunity to react to that.

  5. Bjørn Østman Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 12:05 am

    I second Rense in the suggestion that at least a list of banned blogs on the site. It would be interesting read, but also be more open. Perhaps a short description of why the blog was not accepted. No opportunity to react is also fine.

  6. Jeremy Yoder Says:
    December 1st, 2008 at 1:32 am

    I like documentation, except when I have to provide it.

    However, if a list of banned blogs is to be published, it must include justification to short-circuit the “stage for the people you want to ban” effect. Then the list can defend itself, especially to people who don’t already agree with the banned blogger. A documentation page need not include a forum for debate, though.

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