Chris Rowan has already posted about the commentary in Nature Geoscience from Myles Allen, which includes this argument for comment-and-reply within journals, rather than discussion in the blogosphere:
We just need to remember the basic courtesies that our doctoral supervisors took for granted: criticism of peer-reviewed results belongs in the peer-reviewed literature.
Allen responded to Chris's post, and raised some interesting points about problems with blogging.
But the idea we should post our personal views on the internet and leave them there to be picked up and twisted who-knows-how, without subjecting them to any form of review before doing so, is a new one, and not good for science. I don't have a problem with blogging per se, if bloggers were to comply with the old-fashioned courtesy of checking with the authors that they have understood a paper correctly before criticizing it in public.
A little background to Allen's criticism, for people who don't have access to Nature Geoscience: he was a co-author of a paper discussed on RealClimate, and the discussion misinterpreted their work. Over a year later, the story came back again, and
two journalists picked up the story and, led on by what they had found in the blogosphere, accused us of distorting our results for the sake of publicity.
That sounds like an unpleasant experience.
Blogging is an odd activity. Like much conversation on the internet, it feels like talking to oneself. And the writer alone controls what is said: there is no other editor or reviewer. But the conversations are open to the entire world, and are accessible long after the conversations are past.
So what kind of responsibility do we have to get things right?
It's a tough question. You know, I teach about some of the papers that I blog about. And I teach undergraduates, which means that my explanations of methods and background are The Last Word about them. And I'm not perfect, not by any means. I've taught probably 150 students about fracture mechanics - and I'm a specialist in ductilely squashed rocks; everything I know about cracks comes from papers (and smashing things with a rock hammer). I probably miss important points in about half the things that I teach. Yet I don't e-mail the authors of papers, unless they are people I know, or unless an undergrad research student wants to work with their results. I'm not sure they would want me to e-mail them.
Should blogging be different from teaching undergraduates? If so, why? Because blogs can be read by anyone? (Hi, Mom!) Because there aren't many blogs about, say, structural geology, so I have a greater responsibility to act as a reliable authority? Because blog posts can be recalled more easily than comments made in a lecture to sleep-deprived undergrads?
Until this discussion, I had figured that published work was fair game for discussion in any forum, as long as the work was appropriately cited. It's ok to adapt methods, it's ok to use ideas to explain your own work, and it's ok to criticize - in class, in a discussion and reply, in another paper... or in a blog.
I'm not sure that the peer-review system ensures that published work is interpreted correctly (or as the authors would like). Reviews of new papers focus on the new work: are the methods appropriate? Do the conclusions follow from the results? A reviewer has the opportunity to correct an author, but most of the cited authors aren't reviewers. (Thank goodness. The review process requires a lot of unthanked volunteer work as it is.)
That's not Allen's point, though. Allen is talking, I believe, about the comments-and-replies. I don't know what goes on in that editorial process. Are there reviewers, besides the journal editor? And if there aren't, is a comment essentially reviewed by the original authors who are given the opportunity to respond? (This does make the process more fair to the original authors, who probably don't google their own names daily, looking for blog posts about their work.)
Do bloggers have a similar responsibility, to contact authors and let them comment?
And what happens when news reports and press releases have misleading headlines that are not supported by the journal articles? Are those appropriate blogging fodder?