***** 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). 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