I Got a Problem, Don’t Know What to do About It

Help and feedback request! This past weekend I encountered an interesting situation where I discovered that a study I had used to help make a point in several posts over the years has come under some scrutiny (full story at the bottom of the post). I have often blogged about meta-science, but this whole incident got me thinking about meta-blogging, and what the responsibility of someone like me is when you find out a study you’ve leaned on may not be as good as you thought it was. I’ve been poking around the internet for a few days, and I really can’t find much guidance on this.

I decided to put together a couple quick poll questions to gauge people’s feelings on this. Given that I tend to have some incredibly savvy readers, I would also love to hear more lengthy opinions either in the comments or sent to me directly.  The polls will stay open for a month, and I plan on doing a write up of the results. The goal of these poll questions is to assess a starting point for error correction, as I completely acknowledge the specifics of a situation may change people’s views. If you have strong feelings about what would make you take error correction more or less seriously, please leave it in the comments!

Why I’m asking (aka the full story)

This past weekend I encountered a rather interesting situation that I’m looking for some feedback on. I was writing my post for week 6 of the Calling BS read-along, and remembered an interesting study that found that  people were more likely to find stories with “science pictures” or graphs credible than those that were just text. It’s a study I had talked about in one of my Intro to Internet Science posts  and I have used it in presentations to back up my point that graphs are something you should watch closely. Since the topic of the post was data visualization and the study seemed relevant, I included it in the intro to my write up.

The post had only been up for a few hours when I got a message from someone tipping me off that the lab the study was from was under some scrutiny for some questionable data/research practices. They thought I might want to review the evidence and consider removing the reference to the study from my post. While the study I used doesn’t appear to be one of the ones being reviewed at the moment, I did find the allegations against the lab concerning. Since the post didn’t really change without the citation, I edited the post to remove the citation and replaced it with a note alerting people the paragraph had been modified. I put a full explanation at the bottom of the post that included the links to a summary of the issue and the research lab’s response.

I didn’t stop thinking about it though. There’s not much I could have done about using the study originally….I started citing it almost a full year before concerns were raised, and the “visuals influence perception” point seemed reasonable. I’ll admit I missed the story about the concerns with the research group, but even if I’d seen it I don’t know if I would have remembered that they were the ones who had done that study. Now that I know though, I’ve been mulling over what the best course of action is in situations like this. As someone who at least aspires to blog about truth and accuracy, I’ve always felt that I should watch my own blogging habits pretty carefully. I didn’t really question removing the reference, as I’ve always tried to update/modify things when people raise concerns. I also don’t modify posts after they’ve been published without noting that I’ve done so, other than fixing small typos. I feel good about what I did with that part.

What troubled me more was the question of “how far back to I go?” As I mentioned, I know I’ve cited that study previously. I know of at least one post where I used it, and there may be more. Given that my Intro to Internet Science series is occasionally assigned by high school teachers, I feel I have some obligation to go a little retro on this.


Current hypothesis (aka my gut reaction)

My gut reaction here is that I should probably start keeping an updates/corrections/times I was wrong page just to discuss these issues. While I think notations should be made in the posts themselves, some of them warrant their own discussion. If I’m going to blog about where others go wrong, having a dedicated place to discuss where I go wrong seems pretty fair.  I also would likely put some links to my “from the archives” columns to have a repository for posts that have more updates versions. Not only would this give people somewhere easy to look for updates, give some transparency to my own process and weaknesses, but it would also probably give me a better overview of where I tend to get tripped up and help me improve. If I get really crazy I might even start doing root cause analysis investigations in to my own missteps. Thoughts on this or examples of others doing this would be appreciated.