***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org ***** It's hard to imagine Nature either gaining or losing readers by virtue of this column, since they have a niche and humor's not it. But we might as well let the editor know that what seemed like a good idea, to have a column in a science journal that belittles science, really wasn't. Steven Corman wrote: > ***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org ***** > > Did Nature dumbly pick Prof. Watts for this "honor?" At first, I > thought yes, they overlooked the fact that he probably has a large small > world that, mobilized effectively, could bring a sh*tstorm down upon > them. In that case, then I should probably contribute to said storm by > writing a letter and passing on the word. > > But then my cynical self reminded me that maybe they deliberately > targeted him because of his probably large small world. They get him > lathered-up, he sets off a protest campaign, and at the speed of e-mail > huge numbers of people (many of whom are probably opinion leaders) > propagate info about this new parody column in Nature that had a little > fun with Duncan Watts. In this case I don't want to help push things > along. > > If you think the latter is far-fetched, consider the case of GoDaddy, a > small Internet Service Provider in Tempe, Arizona. They ran a > controversial commercial during the Superbowl two years ago, and the > resulting brouhaha made them the biggest domain registrant in the world. > > What to do, then? > > Steve > > > -----Original Message----- > From: Social Networks Discussion Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On > Behalf Of David Gibson > Sent: Thursday, January 12, 2006 10:02 AM > To: [log in to unmask] > Subject: [SOCNET] [Fwd: Nature's fake news] > > ***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org ***** > > Socnetters -- this is a truly outrageous situation. In the very least > beware of Helen Pearson. > > -------- Original Message -------- > Subject: Nature's fake news > Date: Thu, 12 Jan 2006 11:02:25 -0500 > From: Duncan Watts <[log in to unmask]> > To: Duncan Watts <[log in to unmask]> > > > > Dear colleagues -- you might be surprised to learn that /Nature News/, > that bastion of reliable and informed science reporting, is now in > competition with the Daily Show. > > But apparently it is. Starting this week, /Nature News /has begun > publishing an online column: "To be blunt: Looking for the point of > seemingly pointless research," authored by "Sybil", an apparent > reference to the namesake of multiple-personalty disorders. Like the > original Sybil story, however, the news, and the reporter who writes it, > is fake. > > The reporter is, in fact, Helen Pearson, a writer for /Nature/ who has > apparently won awards for science journalism in the past. Her intent, > however, is not to understand or explain the research she discusses, but > to ridicule and belittle it. > > I'm embarrassed to say I was Ms. Pearson's first unsuspecting victim. > > Last week my graduate student, Gueorgi Kossinets, and I published a > paper in /Science/, entitled "Empirical analysis of an evolving social > network". I won't burden you with the details here (you can find them > at http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/311/5757/88 if you're > interested), but I'm very proud of the paper, as well as Kossinets' > herculean efforts in performing the required analysis. > > So I was particularly pleased when Ms. Pearson called me last week, > expressing her interest in writing a story for /Nature's/ online news > site. Having read Philip Ball's careful and insightful reports for > years, I imagined that /Nature News/ would be a great opportunity for us > to have a substantive but accessible news story written about our work. > And after speaking with Ms. Pearson for about two hours on the phone, > over two consecutive days, sending her some additional reading material, > and recommending (at her request) a number of other social network > researchers she could talk to, I felt pretty confident that we would > have exactly that. She asked lots of questions, seemed intent on > understanding my responses, and generally acted like a real science > journalist. > > So imagine my surprise when monday morning I saw that our work had been > characterized as "bizarre" and "pointless" in a derisive fluff piece by > a fictional columnist. You can read it, which I recommend you do, > at http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060109/full/060109-1.html (don't > worry, it won't take long). > > I'm not sure what offends me more: the snide, silly, and ignorant nature > of the column itself; or the weirdly unprofessional manner in which Ms. > Pearson conducted herself. If you actually read our paper, it should be > obvious that Sybil hasn't, nor has she paid attention to anything I said > or wrote (remember, we spoke for two /hours/, not two minutes). She also > somehow never got around to soliciting comments from anyone else, or > perhaps she just ignored them as well; either way, her opinions remain > uncontaminated by any actual expertise. That the NSF and the McDonnell > Foundation funded our work, and that /Science/ saw fit to publish it > were also both obviously beside the point. > > So what was the point? > > According to the news editor, Nicola Jones, Sybil's goal is "to peer > into science that, from its summary, press release or title, appears to > have arrived at a somewhat obvious conclusion. But, by interviewing the > authors of these works and delving more deeply into the science, we hope > to reveal the reasons why such questions are indeed worth > investigating." > > I don't know what /Science/ said in its press release, because I had > nothing to do with it. But if you can find the part where our questions > are revealed to be worthy, please let me know, because I seem to have > missed it. And even overlooking the disingenuous nature of Ms. > Pearson's enquiries, since when does not reading anything, or soliciting > third party opinions, qualify as "delving more deeply into the > science". Or even satisfy the basic standards of science journalism. > In any case, understanding the point of our work was clearly never > Sybil's intent, seeing as she overlooked or disparaged most of what I > told her anyway. > > So maybe it wasn't meant to be serious, in which case presumably it > doesn't matter that it's sloppy, slanted, and sarcastic. Ms. Jones, at > least, seems to think I'm the one being unreasonable: the real > intention, she claims, is to "enlighten and amuse" (so much for "delving > deeply"). Why can't I just be a better sport about it? > > Well, if you think that publicly belittling someone's work that you > haven't even bothered to read, while remaining anonymous yourself, is > somehow clever, then feel free to have a laugh at my expense. But > please spare a thought for my graduate student, whose first big paper > has now been tarnished by Ms. Pearson's cheap shot. > > And if you don't think it's funny, please share your opinion with the > Editor-in-Chief of Nature, Dr. Philip Campbell <[log in to unmask] > <mailto:[log in to unmask]>>, who ought to know that while this kind of > silly nonsense might be OK on the Comedy Channel, it has no place in a > distinguished journal like /Nature/. > > Sincerely, > > Duncan Watts > Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy > 815 IAB > Columbia University > New York, NY 10027 > > (212)854-4343 (phone) > (212)854-8925 (fax) > http://cdg.columbia.edu <http://cdg.columbia.edu/> > > > > -- > > David Gibson > > Assistant Professor > > Department of Sociology > > University of Pennsylvania > > 3718 Locust Walk > > Philadelphia, PA 19104-6299 > > > > http://www.soc.upenn.edu/~gibsond/ > > _____________________________________________________________________ > SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social > network researchers (http://www.insna.org). To unsubscribe, send > an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line > UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message. > > _____________________________________________________________________ > SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social > network researchers (http://www.insna.org). To unsubscribe, send > an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line > UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message. > -- David Gibson Assistant Professor Department of Sociology University of Pennsylvania 3718 Locust Walk Philadelphia, PA 19104-6299 http://www.soc.upenn.edu/~gibsond/ _____________________________________________________________________ SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social network researchers (http://www.insna.org). To unsubscribe, send an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message.