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Filling an editorial policy hole

Posted on 24 February 2023 by SkS-Team

"Mind the gap."

A short while ago we published a blog post discussing the rate of modernization of our energy supply with updated, superior replacements for fossil fuel combustion. Given the point of the piece it attracted a good deal of attention and careful scrutiny. That review process exposed a material error, now corrected. The sequence of events illustrates the virtues of "peer review" (peers here meaning similar range of general competencies) and especially how owning errors and transparently repairing them is the best way forward. 

More importantly, the experience exposed an editiorial policy hole. We're not going to let this insight go to waste. 

By way of background, our central editiorial policy has been extremely simple: before we publish a new rebuttal or other "just the facts" treatment, we practice an internal review process which is sometimes very arduous and energetic— similar in general features to reviews of academic publications but with the added challenge of everybody being crystal clear on who's saying what. 

Our review convention has worked well for us, for the purpose of creating climate myth rebuttals and other writing serving as a straight conduit for conveying "there's the best we know," sourced in peer reviewed academic literature. 

The Gap:

But we need a bit more policy. Why? Here's the gist:

  • Skeptical Science's main purpose is illumination of "here's the best we know" as reflected in academic research findings, by making densely technical reports digestible for a general readership. 
  • Given the broad scope of Skeptical Science's view of climate science and climate change, we may also serve a useful role by offering articles including synthesis, putting facts together to help people see and understand larger concepts, emerging progress or lack of it. This follows a general trajectory of improvement in the formal scientific community toward interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects.
  • Given the passion needed to contribute energy to our work, it is inhumane to expect Skeptical Science authors to  behave as though we have no thoughts or opinions or contributions of our own to offer. 
  • Perhaps most importantly, mixing commentary or opinion with straight delivery of scientific information to our readers— without distinguishing that we're in this mode— will inevitably cost us credibility, whether by error or by losing our usual neutral tone.

How to address these factors, in editorial policy? We need invent nothing new but only emulate what's known to work well elsewhere, farther down the scientific communications food chain where primary producers are found.

Policy outcome:

We'll henceforth be clearly indicating when a blog post is the equivalent of an academic journal's inclusion of commentary or synthesis articles. 

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Comments 1 to 1:

  1. Please consider using columns or borders to create categories for  content with different degrees of credibility.

    For example, direct (or indirect but accurate) quotes from research reports or letters published in peer-reviewed journals might have green borders. Likewise, quotes from annual reviews or treatises whose editors' prior research reports have been published in more than one peer-reviewed journal might also have green borders. 

    Quotes from government agencies of stable democracies might have black borders.

    Quotes from agencies of other governments or from journals, magazines and newspapers (or unpublished original research data and opinions from authors previously published in the same discipline) and research reports without peer review which the Skeptical Science moderator finds to be credible might have grey borders. 

    Unpublished observations of natural events and on-topic opinions from unknown commentators might have orange borders. 

    Typical non-authoritative but on-topic comment that is constructive in tone might have no border. 

    Material the moderator finds to be barely within the limits of what is fit to post might have a red border. 

    If creating these borders in the web site proves too difficult, different type styles, fonts and sizes might be used instead (with explanation).

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