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This is the LabSpaces site blog. You will find news and site updates here or posts on press or other coverage of the LabSpaces community

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

There has been a lot of criticism again about why I post press releases on this website and what purpose they serve.  PalMD of WhiteCoatUnderground and ComradePhysio Prof have been very vocal about their contempt for this practice on my website.

Let me first start off by saying that I entirely see where PalMD and CPP are coming from, although I think it’s disingenuous to comment about my intentions without first reading my post about why I post press releases. I’m trying to develop a site where the public and experts can come to discuss science. I would love to have experts rate the releases so that visitors can be better informed on their veracity. The fact is that these press releases serve as the basis for many news stories and some terrible press releases are reported on as if they are gold standard science when they are utter shit. It’d be great if there was a place on the internet where people could drop by and see if the insane story they read or heard about was actually true and verified by experts in the field (Kinda like fact check for science). I see now that my website doesn’t make this explicitly clear and some visitors may view my posting of these releases as some form of positive validation.

I will be instituting many changes on the site over the next few weeks to better highlight the press releases as “Good science”, “Bad science”, or “Eh, maybe good.” All users will be able to vote on the quality of the release and I will institute a system for flagging users as experts and their votes will carry significantly more weight. In addition, the releases will be tagged in all places of the site with obvious “stickers” that show the article as good, bad, or questionable.

Although I would love to see all MD’s, PhD’s, engineers, etc write their own blog posts on these releases and provide indepth coverage, I don’t think this is possible. I know these people lead very busy lives (or have no real interest in blogging) and I hope that LabSpaces provides them a place to get their ideas out about good and bad science without having to go through the hassle of setting up and maintaining their own blog sites.

There have also been many negative comments about the site design floating around.  I’m all ears when it comes to design suggestions. The site is always a work in progress and I don’t think I’m by any means a great designer. I set up the blogger pages as an open canvas. The bloggers are allowed to style them however they see fit and I’m more than happy to help their design ideas come true.  As far as the design on the rest of the site, I’ll keep chipping away at it until we find something that we as a community are happy with.

Again, thanks everyone for the feedback that you have provided.  I appreciate the continued input.  Please post more site design suggestions or ideas on how to make the site better in the comments section below or in the forum.

A version of this post was also made on PalMD's blog

This post has been viewed: 785 time(s)


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Sounds like an excellent idea, and I hope that once it's sorted and running you get just as much public praise as you have criticism (valid or not).


Guest Comment

Could I suggest you add a ‘permanent’ subtitle to the press releases spelling out that it is a press release and your intent with presenting it? “We offer the press release below for commentary from those with appropriate expertise” so some such - whatever reflects your aims.

I think you should take the confusion from others as a sign that you are not making you intent clear. The reason I suggest a subtitle (rather than some other location for placing this commentary) is so that it more likely to be read by those in a rush. Footnotes or sidebars are liable to be missed.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Actually I plan on placing an Image sticker on the first line of each press release indicating whether I think it's good, bad, or questionable.  I think that will be much more informative.  Thanks for the suggestion.  I'll get this all straightened out in the next week or so.  Stay tuned!


Guest Comment

I plan on placing an Image sticker on the first line of each press release indicating whether I think it's good, bad, or questionable.

Don’t take this badly, I don't think this will quite do it. (At least not for me!) I think you need to explain the purpose of presenting them. I'm not saying the idea is bad — I think it’s an interesting approach — but I think you need to make it quite clear to someone who bumps into one of your press releases with no other knowledge just what is happening.

Another way of looking at it, is that it might be confused for “just another” rating system, that so many sites have, without clueing readers into that you are meaning more that just pasting up the PRs.

(Nice choice of comment editor, by the way. Wouldn't mind seeing this over our way!)

Kelly Oakes
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I can see why someone could be confused about the PRs, if they'd just stumbled across this site. Hopefully this new system you're devising will help with that. I think it will, if the image sticker makes it obvious that it means "good science" etc rather than just "I like this story", which I'm sure is something you've already thought about.

Maybe it'd be nice to have a little key somewhere to further explain what each sticker means and how the process works... (i'm imagining some sort of traffic light system in my head, with red meaning "stop reading - this is rubbish" and green as "good science - carry on!", but i'm just getting a little carried away now...)

biochem belle
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David Kroll ran a thoughtful commentary on press releases last week (which btw, had nothing to do with LabSpaces). The thing is, it's not often about good science vs. bad science. It's often more about good science that's been sensationalized to garner more attention. The science is placed well-behind context that overextend the conclusions and applications of the work. In this regard, having good, bad, and meh labels might not be sufficient. How would you classify good science that's over-hyped or placed in the wrong context? I do think there should be some sort of system in place to flag bad/unvalidated work, but there are subtleties that also need to be considered.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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The idea is:

"Good" would be science that is high quality and not overhyped - Coded Green

"Bad" would be science that is low quality ex: small sample sizes, or not based on peer review - Coded Red

"Questionable" would be science that is good but the text of the release over states the findings - Coded Yellow

We may be able to add subcategories to the ratings and allow rating along with the clicking of a checkboxed subcategory to say why the rater has given an article a particularly high or low rating.

I'll post some mock up ideas in a few days to see what you all think.  It should be very obvious how I initially feel about the press release.  I'm planning on a ResearchBlogging esque Badge at the top of each release.  Good will be a green circle with a thumbs up in it, Bad will be a red circle with an angry bull in it, and Questionable will be an indifferent smiley face making a "shrug" gesture.  Below each I'll have a short amount of text explaining the rating and encouraging people to discuss the story and rating below.

@Grant, the editor is TinyMCE.  It was kind of a pain in the ass to get to work, but I do think it's nice.  It doesn't work on smart phones though so we have to do some browser detection and revert back to my old basic system for them :(  Let me know if you want to stick it in over at your site and I might be able to help.

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I think that a tagline on the PR pages like Grant brings up is a great idea, in addition to the rating. I think that it is important to be explicity that press releases DO NOT necessarily correctly present the science objectively. This may seem obvious to me (a scientist), but I think that it should be more clearly indicated if the goal is to engage  non-scientists in the discussion.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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@Gerty, Totally agree.

Dr. O
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Obviously way behind the times on what's going on here...I think this is a great idea too, Brian, just got there a little late on the blogger forum. ;)

Thomas Joseph
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I'd suggest an "Accurate", "Inaccurate", "Meh" rating for the actual press release itself.


Guest Comment

I suggest that there is zero role for posting press releases.  None of the arguments for doing so that have been given hold water.

They are basically (unpaid?) advertisements.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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We're just going to have to agree to disagree on this.

Guest Comment

Certainly that is probably where we will end up, but just consider:


Press releases are written by institutions to promote.  They are not designed to educate, but to draw eyes to screen/paper.  They are inherently biased---by design.


The only non-deceptive way to present them is with a big "THIS IS AN AD" tag on them.  The best use of press releases is as a starting point for a larger article on a topic.

Thomas Joseph
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Well, we could certainly do the following:

1. Post the press release, stating that this is a press release and is not scientific in nature.

2. At the bottom of the release, link to the peer-reviewed manuscript.

Publishing press releases is not problematic IMO because if the point is to generate interest in science, these releases may certainly do so, since their point is "to promote". What we need to do is take that promotion and instead of directing it towards the institutions, direct it towards the science. It'd be more work to track down the peer-reviewed articles (sometimes), but if we cut down on the volume of press releases, we could get it down to a manageable half dozen or so. That might foster more discussion as well because it'll eliminate a bunch of noise, and the bloggers here may be more apt to take on a press-release and then blog on it using research blogging.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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I think you're being a little overdramatic. They're not all that bad and the ones that are can easily be picked out and will be labeled by me as either "questionable" or "bad" depending on the severity of the hyperbole.  There are many aspects of the press releases that could be discussed from the science to the way the science is presented.  We already have examples of good discussions that have resulted from the press releases, so I think they certainly have value as starting points.

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Is it possible to have a tagline/label of 'Press Release' that links to the post, why I post press releases?

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Once I get the rating system in place I'll ahve a apge that explains everything :)  It's a busy week in lab though!

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