September’s Editorial in Nature Chemical Biology (5, 601; 2009) addesses the question of how to foster open scientific dialogue in the digital age while respecting the integrity of the scientific process. The publication of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals is the primary means by which discoveries are disseminated through the scientific community, with the most exciting being subsequently communicated to the public through the scientific media. The Editorial continues:
“New media such as blogs and Twitter can greatly facilitate scientific communication, and may offer a route for engaging scientists more directly with the public. Yet the ‘scientist as journalist’ model that is supported by these technologies presents challenges as a general mechanism for distributing scientific information. Transmission of unpublished data on the Internet circumvents the peer-review process that serves as our primary quality control mechanism to ensure that scientific studies are technically sound before they are communicated to the public. Presenting unpublished results from meeting presentations and posters as established facts may create misunderstandings between scientists and could lead to major misconceptions of ongoing research discoveries by the general public, who may have a limited understanding of the scientific method and peer review.
The first step toward a more open system of scientific communication is an enhanced public understanding of the scientific method and the peer-review process. Scientists understand this, but they must play a greater role in these educational efforts. In the meantime, we maintain that embargoed press coverage of newly published scientific studies serves an important purpose to ensure that science reporting occurs only after peer review. Press embargoes also provide adequate lead time for journalists to prepare informed news stories to coincide with publication of a new research study (for example, see ”http://www.nature.com/authors/editorial_policies/embargo.html">Nature Publishing Group’s embargo policy). Scientists who wish to engage with the online community should draw on the positive aspects of this system as they aim for greater openness.
Scientists should experiment with new communication styles and technologies, which offer potential benefits for collaboration, data sharing and the advancement of scientific thinking. As these technologies gain wider acceptance, scientists must agree on guidelines for their appropriate use in the context of scientific discourse, and these guidelines should be consistent with our common goal of ensuring the integrity of the scientific information that we share among scientists and communicate to nonscientists."