Peer Review for Bloggingheads

Like many other fans of (BHTV), I was saddened last week to learn that Dr. Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer had announced that they had chosen to end their participation in BHTV programs, which in the context of BHTV are called “diavlogs.” Dr. Carroll provides his account here, and Mr. Zimmer here. The matter is further discussed in this BHTV diavlog between BHTV founder Robert Wright and science journalist George Johnson.

The reasons for Dr. Carroll’s and Mr. Zimmer’s departures appear to be:

  • (1) that topics considered by peer-reviewed science to belong in the realm of pseudo-science, or persons advocating views considered by peer-reviewed science to be pseudo-scientific, have twice recently been the focus of BHTV diavlogs, with one of these diavlogs having been published in the “Science Saturday” slot usually reserved for discussion of topics recognized as authentic science in peer-reviewed scholarly literature;
  • (2) that the BHTV management has declined to establish an editorial policy to prevent pseudo-scientific topics, or advocates of pseudo-science, from being highlighted in future BHTV diavlogs; and
  • (3) that Dr. Carroll and Mr. Zimmer considered that their reputations had been compromised by their association with a media venue that highlighted pseudo-scientific topics or advocates of pseudo-science.

I regret Dr. Carroll’s and Mr. Zimmer’s decisions, because I have found their BHTV diavlogs extremely informative, and because I believe that their diavlogs have provided a very high quality of science education to a very large audience. I completely understand their concerns, however, and I respect their decisions to withdraw from BHTV. I also respect and understand the position of BHTV management, that they wish for BHTV to remain a generally open forum for public discussion and debate of a very wide range of topics.

Here is a proposal to change the editorial process, that hopefully will enable Dr. Carroll and Mr. Zimmer to resume participation in BHTV diavlogs, while ensuring that BHTV will remain open to discussion and debate of a wide range of topics:

  • Respecting the BHTV “Science Saturday” forum only, the BHTV management will name a peer review board composed of 3 scientists who regularly appear in BHTV diavlogs and whose work is regularly published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals (the “Science Saturday Peer Review Board,” or “SSPRB”). Each SSPRB member will serve a twelve month term. Any SSPRB member may serve consecutive terms. The inaugural SSPRB and the BHTV management will establish formal, written procedures for selecting future SSPRB members, both to replace existing members at the end of each member’s twelve-month term, and to replace an existing member who must leave before the end of his or her twelve-month term (the “SSPRB Membership Procedures”);
  • The BHTV management and the SSPRB will establish formal, written procedures for vetting proposals for future BHTV Science Saturday diavlogs (the “SSPRB Peer Review Procedures”). The SSPRB Peer Review Procedures will take effect once they have been approved by the SSPRB and BHTV management;
  • As of the date the SSPRB Peer Review Procedures take effect, no recording of any Science Saturday diavlog may occur without the topic and participants of that diavlog having been approved in advance by the SSPRB consistent with the SSPRB Peer Review Procedures;
  • Once every six months following the date the SSPRB Peer Review Procedures take effect, BHTV management will meet with the SSPRB to assess the effectiveness of the SSPRB Peer Review Procedures. Once every twelve months following the date the inaugural SSPRB is convened, the SSPRB will submit a formal, written report to BHTV management describing and evaluating the operations of the SSPRB during the preceding twelve months;
  • Nothing in this proposal would affect any aspect of BHTV programming other than Science Saturday programming.

The intent of this proposal is to institute a formal peer review process for BHTV Science Saturday programming, while leaving the rest of BHTV programming open to any topic and any speaker, as is presently the case. Comments are welcome.

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