How to trust science reporting: Is it peer reviewed? How about stuff on this blog?

The WWU Geology Department has posted a policy statement on science publishing. The department’s stated position says:

“The Geology Faculty at WWU believes that all science must be subjected to rigorous peer review and publication before it becomes worthy of serious discussion. We do not support publication of non-peer-reviewed scientific results in the general media. A brief guide to peer review is available at Sense About Science.”

The linked guide is titled “I Don’t Know What to Believe”. The article is about how to make sense of science reporting, whether in the popular media or on scientific websites (or places purporting to be ‘scientific’, such as creationist and global warming denialist sites). The article explains how peer review works.

The guide touches very briefly on abstracts submitted to scientific conferences. These are generally NOT peer-reviewed, although some aspects of the science reported in abstracts may have been reviewed. These are simply summaries of scientific investigation to date, and intended to initiate discussion with interested peers at the conference prior to writing a full journal submission. An abstract is NOT to be taken as a published paper. Anyone may submit an abstract to a conference; sometimes unscrupulous people then claim to the undiscerning public that they have ‘published a paper’.

A significant exception is any abstract submitted to a conference with even a single USGS scientist as a coauthor, regardless of where that person’s name occurs in the list of authors. This also applies to other ‘non-journal’ papers such as GSA, Northwest Geological Society, or any other organization’s field trip guides. All of the Mount Baker abstracts on which I am an author, for instance, have been reviewed by USGS scientists, as is the field guide to Mount Baker deposits in the Baker River valley published in the 2007 GSA field trip guide. For a list of these abstracts, scroll down on the abstract page at the MBVRC home page ; look for abstracts under “Tucker, D.S.” or “Scott, K.M.”, a USGS colleague co-authoring all my Baker work to date.

The  “I Don’t Know What to Believe” guide also a short comment about how peer-review journals are funded.

All the science I describe on this website has been, to some degree at least, peer-reviewed, and references are given at the end of each field trip. If there is no reference provided, then my text is a paraphrase of reviewed science. An exception would be the physical description of some very recent phenomenon. An example is the field trip up Silver Creek to see effects of the debris flows back in 2009. These trips are principally a report of observed events and deposits, rather than claiming to be some new scientific discovery.

While you are visiting the Geology Department’s “Position Statements” page, note that the faculty accept that human-induced climate change is a fact. This is in direct opposition to the outspoken views about ‘global cooling’ and statements about the ‘hoax of global warming’ made by Dr. D.J. Easterbrook (professor emeritus on the faculty). Dr. Easterbrook’s name is not specifically mentioned in the position statement.

My own policy on this website will be to clearly state what science appearing on my website has been peer-reviewed, what is simply my interpretation (or that of other scientists), and what is a general consensus in the geologic community.

Cheers,

Dave

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