👓 Mathematics matters | Bits of DNA

Read Mathematics matters by Lior PachterLior Pachter (Bits of DNA)
Six years ago I received an email from a colleague in the mathematics department at UC Berkeley asking me whether he should participate in a study that involved “collecting DNA from the brigh…

Not sure how I had missed this in the brouhaha a few weeks back, but it’s one of the more sober accounts from someone who’s actually got some math background and some reasonable idea about the evolutionary theory involved. It had struck me quite significantly that both Gowers and Tao weighed in as they did given their areas of expertise (or not). Perhaps it was worthwhile simply for the attention they brought? Gowers did specifically at least call out his lack of experience and asked for corrections, though I didn’t have the fortitude to wade through his hundreds of comments–perhaps this stands in part because there was little, if any indication of the background and direct identity of any of the respondents within the thread. As an simple example, while reading the comments on Dr. Pachter’s site, I’m surprised there is very little indication of Nicholas Bray’s standing there as he’s one of Pachter’s students. It would be much nicer if, in fact, Bray had a more fully formed and fleshed out identity there or on his linked Gravatar page which has no detail at all, much less an actual avatar!

This post, Gowers’, and Tao’s are all excellent reasons for a more IndieWeb philosophical approach in academic blogging (and other scientific communication). Many of the respondents/commenters have little, if any, indication of their identities or backgrounds which makes it imminently harder to judge or trust their bonafides within the discussion. Some even chose to remain anonymous and throw bombs. If each of the respondents were commenting (preferably using their real names) on their own websites and using the Webmention protocol, I suspect the discussion would have been richer and more worthwhile by an order of magnitude. Rivin at least had a linked Twitter account with an avatar, though I find it less than useful that his Twitter account is protected, a fact that makes me wonder if he’s only done so recently as a result of fallout from this incident? I do note that it at least appears his Twitter account links to his university website and vice-versa, so there’s a high likelihood that they’re at least the same person.

I’ll also note that a commenter noted that they felt that their reply had been moderated out of existence, something which Lior Pachter certainly has the ability and right to do on his own website, but which could have been mitigated had the commenter posted their reply on their own website and syndicated it to Pachter’s.

Hiding in the comments, which are generally civil and even-tempered, there’s an interesting discussion about academic publishing that could have been its own standalone post. Beyond the science involved (or not) in this entire saga, a lot of the background for the real story is one of process, so this comment was one of my favorite parts.

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