October 26, 2001

Fixing the Literature

Scientists have a responsibility to keep mistakes out of the literature, and to correct any that slip through. If you don't fix mistakes, people might spend a lot of time doing experiments that cannot possibly work. If you don't fix mistakes, people might build bridges that fall down.

Artists, on the other hand, have no responsibility to correct critics' mistakes. If a reviewer or a professor has poor taste or dim understanding, that's par for the course. You can't argue about taste.

This makes life here on the border of art and science especially tricky. In the last few weeks, I've bumped into at least two papers about hypertext issues, published in respectable Web journals, that appear to me to be simply unpublishable. One is methodologically unsound, resting upon an experiment that doesn't support its conclusions. The other is poorly researched, failing to take into account any of the four or five key papers on its subject.

What's our responsibility here?