This post initially appeared on Science Blogs
If you've had your head in the sand for the last 2 weeks, you might have missed the story about arsenic in bacteria and the resulting controversy. If you did go read Ed Yong first.
In an editorial published today in Nature, the editors make a similar point to the one I made yesterday, namely that it's hypocritical for the authors of this paper to parade their research in front of the media to great fanfare, and then refuse to respond to legitimate criticism in the media. In response to the arsenic bacterium claims, bloggers and researchers raised serious and thoughtful reservations about the paper's methodology and findings. But the authors say that they will not engage with these critics, or with science journalists drawn to the controversy, because such discussion should be moderated in the peer-reviewed literature. Meanwhile, they are urging other scientists to work to replicate their results -- a process that will take many months. "We are not going to engage in this sort of discussion," Felisa Wolfe-Simon, the paper's lead author and a NASA astrobiology research fellow at the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, told one Nature reporter, "Any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated."
Purists who hold peer review as the casting vote in such debates will read her words with approval. But the problem is that Wolfe-Simon's reticence is the polar opposite of the fanfare with which NASA trailed her discovery to the public.
It's great to see one of the major scientific journals give a ringing endorsement of the work that science bloggers do - now if only they'd do something about that pesky pay-wall problem. (though to be fair, at least this editorial is freely available, and my comment hasn't been deleted yet).