Academic Minute Podcast

Jeremy Blackburn, Binghamton University – The Pros and Cons of E-Prints in the Scientific Community

Flawed research can be easily accessible nowadays and can cause a lot of damage.

Jeremy Blackburn, associate professor of computer science at Binghamton University, explores the perils of today’s dissemination of knowledge.

Dr. Blackburn is currently an associate professor at the Binghamton University Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science.

His research is about data science, with a focus on large-scale measurements and modeling.

The Pros and Cons of E-Prints in the Scientific Community

Scientific research, traditionally, undergoes the same process: A rigorous peer review before publication in a professional journal. It’s not perfect by any means, but it filters out a lot of flawed methodology and invalid conclusions.

The internet, in contrast, is far less discerning in what it accepts as truth.

Recently, the proliferation of “e-prints” is muddying the waters. These ‘e-prints’ are scientific papers made publicly available online without necessarily going through the peer-review process.

Scientists should realize that it is no longer just other scientists reading their work. E-prints available to the public means that bad actors can also utilize this research, which is where things can become problematic. Flawed research or dubious claims that are disseminated in this way can cause real damage.

There are benefits to e-prints, however, such as the papers being easily accessible. They also provide timely information that isn’t delayed by the lengthy peer review process.

Our research examined how these e-prints were used in the online forums Reddit and 4chan, looking at posts between mid-2005 and mid-March 2021. We found that when posters included links to e-prints to bolster their arguments, they sometimes misinterpreted the research or read just the abstracts without understanding the researchers’ methodologies. They missed flaws in how the research was done or whether it was pseudoscience masquerading as serious scholarship.

All in all, science is about the production and dissemination of knowledge. There will always be risks, even in the peer review process. Most of the e-prints out there are not entirely invalid. Ultimately, it’s been a big boon to science despite its downsides. Moving forward, we as scientists should think about how we’re not just communicating with other scientists but with general audiences as well.

Read More:
[Binghamton] – Researchers look at how ’e-prints’ add to — or detract from — online discussions

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