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Acknowledging the Commentary

In an opinion column in The New York Times, contributor Jack Hitt says it's common these days to see a lot of commentary attached to almost any scientific article or paper "worth reading." Skeptics and critics dissect the work and challenge the authors' conclusions, while proponents of the work add their arguments to bolster the point, and bloggers weigh in. At the end of the day, all this commentary inevitably becomes part of the research record. Hitt asks, "Should this part of every contemporary article be curated and edited, almost like the piece itself? Should it have a name? Should it be formally linked to the original article or summarized at the top?" There is still a lot of authority that comes with being a scientist and publishing a peer-reviewed article, he says, "but such publications are going to be crowd-reviewed, crowd-corrected and, in many cases, crowd-improved. (And sometimes, crowd-overturned.)"

Some scientists are experimenting with crowd curation, in order to encourage wider collaboration on their work, Hitt says. But there has been pushback from other researchers who fear that "cranks" will now be able to have a say in their research. "Some may fear that recognizing the commentary of every article will turn every subject into an endless postmodern discussion. But actually, the opposite is true," he adds. "Recognizing the gloss allows us to pause in the seemingly unending back and forth of contemporary free speech and free inquiry to say, well, for now, this much is true."

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