Crowd-corrected and crowd-improved: Comments to a piece are vital to its story.

I don’t usually post these type of non-news, opinion pieces as news, but this one is particularly relevant here. It’s about publicly peer reviewed articles.

It describes the case of the ivory billed woodpecker. Thought extinct, on several occasions, claims were made that it was located alive. Each time caused a stir. This piece serves dual purposes – it is a commentary on how we used the hopeful (but erroneous) sightings of this creatures to make policy decisions that might not otherwise have been made. And, the main point of the article is on allowing the public comments on the piece to be part of the official record.

It’s an interesting read. Please click the link and read the whole thing. Of course, let’s hear what you think in the comments. It’s what this website is all about, providing a different viewpoint and allowing the discussion to become part of its meaning.

Science and Truth – We’re All in It Together –

Almost any article worth reading these days generates some version of this long tail of commentary. Depending on whether they are moderated, these comments can range from blistering flameouts to smart factual corrections to full-on challenges to the very heart of an article’s argument.

[…]These days, the comments section of any engaging article is almost as necessary a read as the piece itself — if you want to know how insider experts received the article and how those outsiders processed the news[…].

Should this part of every contemporary article be curated and edited, almost like the piece itself? Should it have a name? Should it be formally linked to the original article or summarized at the top? By now, readers understand that the definitive “copy” of any article is no longer the one on paper but the online copy, precisely because it’s the version that’s been read and mauled and annotated by readers. (If a book isn’t read until it’s written in — as I was always told — then maybe an article is not published until it’s been commented upon.) Writers know this already. The print edition of any article is little more than a trophy version, the equivalent of a diploma or certificate of merit — suitable for framing, not much else.

Tip: @mpigliucci (Massimo Pigliucci) on Twitter

Using the woodpecker as an illustrative example:

Take the case of the ivory-bill. The article in Science has never been retracted. Cornell still stands by its video. The federal Fish and Wildlife Service acted as though the ivory-bill existed, and, in 2008, it asked for $27 million to support recovery efforts. Here’s the thing: The ivory-billed woodpecker is the Schrödinger’s cat of contemporary media — dead to those who’ve looked inside Tom Nelson’s blog but alive to the professionals who can’t bear to.

That’s an interesting view that occurs ALL the time.

When I find stories of questionable claims (like EVERY day), I like to read the comments to see if others have seen a different perspective and know something more about it. The news almost NEVER gets all the details or gets them all right. There are multiple sides to every piece. Comments almost always add to the value of a news piece because they reflect reaction. How people react to news actually IS more important often than the news itself. Meanwhile, someone can post other info that completely changes my view of the story. It may change other people’s minds as well. Commentary is important and should be considered so.

We chose what forums, news sources and communities we rely on and ignore the rest. We are not getting the whole story. This piece can spark endless discussion. That’s why I thought it was important to post here.

  4 comments for “Crowd-corrected and crowd-improved: Comments to a piece are vital to its story.

  1. May 6, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    Anyone who contributes their “knowledgeable opinion” does so on the premise that they believe they are correct. But agreement from all the other contributors of “knowledgeable opinion” is never unanimous.

    Whenever an academic ailment presents itself, just about everyone interested person insists that their own particular cure is the only sure fire treatment.

    Starve a myth, feed a rumor.

    Transplant facts with a need to believe.

    This belief meets my agenda.


    If we continue to dilute the scientific method with insubstantial opinions or nefarious business ethics, it will become the scintific disaster.

    It just makes no sense to me that people insist on running away from truth to chase shadows or financial gain, instead of running toward truth to cling to a substantial piece of knowledge that would inevitably benefit everyone.

  2. May 6, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    Apologies for the typos. I really need to be fully awake when I enter comments.

    I wish these things gave us an “edit” feature.

  3. F89
    May 6, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    “We chose what forums, news sources and communities we rely on and ignore the rest. We are not getting the whole story”

    News reports seem to be either feast or famine: If its’ a “feast” it’s usually so overloaded with pointless detail and over reporting, that it’s easy to get side tracked, but if it’s “famine” you may get one paragraph with bare details.

    Commentary is good, as long as its’ moderated: dissent is okay, and may provide some additional details. Not the all too common label slinging, name calling wars of one up manship that seem to erupt on many topics and boards.

  4. M
    May 9, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    I consider wikipedia to be a failed experiment. As to whether crowd-sourced anything can have value, I suppose I’ll reserve judgment until a revised model comes along. The rate at which news blogs are closing their anonymous commenting systems is not encouraging, however.

Comments are closed.