Re: Why Publish bird observations? Re: [Birding-Aus] afo

To: Ross Macfarlane <>
Subject: Re: Why Publish bird observations? Re: [Birding-Aus] afo
From: Chris Sanderson <>
Date: Thu, 4 Mar 2010 14:42:55 +1000
Hi Ross,

I think you miss Stephen's point.  If you, as a scientist, want to quote
someone else's work in a scientific paper, or use it as evidence as an
expert witness in a trial, or any number of things that require scientific
credibility, then the information you use MUST be from a peer reviewed
source.  Wingspan, while a great magazine, is not peer reviewed.  They do a
great job of getting facts right, but it's just not the same thing.  In
scientific circles they call it grey literature - a useful source of
information to point you in a direction for academic research, but not
something you can cite/quote reliably.

You can argue the validity of this all you like, but the fact remains that
science as a whole is a field built on the research of others, stretching
back hundreds, even thousands of years to people like Aristotle and
Archimedes.  To attempt to build on the established body of work, and to
avoid repeating existing research (or worse, claiming credit for work that
has already been done before), scientists have to show they have reviewed
existing research and built on this rather than repeated.  The peer review
system exists as an independent set of checks and balances to ensure this
level of scientific integrity is upheld.  Without it, it would be very easy
for biased, poor quality science to be passed off as fact, and reduce the
credibility of the profession as a whole.

As you say, Stephen himself publishes work in grey literature like Wingspan
to help get the word out to everyone about interesting things.  If you
compare his Wingspan article to one in a peer reviewed journal on the same
topic, you would find the language of the two to be completely different,
and the peer reviewed version would be littered with citations from the
previous research that was built on by this new project.  Not the most
scintillating of reading, I'll admit, but easily verified by any scientist
who wants to check Stephen's sources to make sure he is scientifically

I think the AFO exists as a great mid-point between the two extremes, with
the ability for people not scientifically trained to submit important
information to the scientific community in a way in which it can be cited
and used for research.  The few extra hoops contributors need to jump
through to make this possible are surely worth it?


On Thu, Mar 4, 2010 at 2:07 PM, Ross Macfarlane

> I can't let this go unchallenged. Wingspan does publish articles on
> research and covservation projects. Maybe not as scholarly as Stephen would
> expect, but for example September 2009 (the most recent I could put to hand)
> had articles on Swift Parrots (by Chris Tzaros, Dean Ingwersen etc.), Sooty
> Owls (Rohan Bilney), Tasmanian Masked Owl, Grasswrens, Carnabys
> Black-cockatoos. There's even one on Eagles, by a certain Stephen Debus...

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