Not apropos of anything, an ethics question flitted through my mind as I was reviewing a rather interesting paper for a journal, which shall remain nameless. As for all questions of such deep significance and importance, I would love to turn to my most valuable resource, the scientists and/or blogger tweeps with whom I communicate and/or interact and/or whom I follow on Twitter. I do see the social medium of Twitter to be a valuable tool for collaboration, and I hope there’d be someone there, who can answer my question – either in 140 characters on Twitter, or more at length, here in the comments.
The question is this: Would it be ethical to blog about a study for which I’ve been a peer-reviewer?
This situation would, of course, arise after the corresponding paper has been published, and is accessible from the publisher or via PubMed, i.e. it is already in its intended professional domain. My reason to blog about it would be:
(a) to highlight whatever salient points I think the study contributes to our overall body of knowledge in the field, and/or…
(b) to critique some particular aspect of it that I see as a shortcoming.
This is something I do for any research-blogging I undertake, for any paper that I take up to analyze and report on; for me this is an exercise in science communication. However, in this particular hypothetical context, there are several additional considerations:
- I shall have reviewed this paper thoroughly and made comments, as well as mental notes, which puts me in a position to comment knowledgeably on the finished product.
- However, the critiques I would want to discuss in the blog post: must they encompass all the critiques I had in the first place, and no more? If I find some lacuna that has not been addressed by the authors in the finished product, am I obliged to point it out, in the spirit of scientific debate, or shut up about it?
- I shall have primarily looked at an imperfect form of the manuscript, which may potentially color my perceptions about the quality of the finished product. To anthropomorphize, I have met the paper when it is in a weak, vulnerable condition. Does this bias actually exist, or am I imagining it up?
- Is it acceptable, or for that matter, am I ethically required, to disclose – in my blog post – the fact that I have been a reviewer of the study under discussion? Does it necessarily compromise the anonymity around the peer review process, if I do?
Perhaps I am engaging in needless omphaloskepsis, and over-thinking the whole thing. I don’t know of anyone who has had similar questions (possibly because people have much better things to do in life).
May I solicit your esteemed opinions for some guidance out of this quandary?