Interview Uncategorized

Jingmai O’Connor interview: if you have valid criticisms, publish them!

Jingmai O’Connor, a 32-year old professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been recently harshly criticised for her opinions on scientific blogging, which were published as a Q&A for Current Biology. Such interviews are generally reserved for outstanding and successful scientists, who are seen as role models and influencers.

O’Connor’s last reply, to a question of academic commenting via blogs and social media, produced a Twitterstorm of indignation. Many on Twitter were debating: did O’Connor really accuse all blogging scientists of being incapable of proper academic publishing? Did she really mean to say, as Lenny Teytelman summarized it, “Good scientists publish. shitty ones blog”? Is doing both mutually exclusive?

A lot of scientists on Twitter declared that they were perfectly capable of both blogging and publishing a lot of papers.

Or was O’Connor’s criticism directed against the so called post-publication peer review (PPPR), which often happens through scientists’ personal blogs as well on social media sites like PubMed Commons and PubPeer? Basically, did she actually say and mean, what Current Biology now quotes her with?

I have contacted O’Connor with a request for a quick email interview. It looks like though she does not think much of blogging scientists, her main issue is indeed with PPPR and criticism of published papers, especially when done by those outside of academia. O’Connor does indeed have some strong opinions there.

These are my questions and O’Connor’s unedited replies. I think they largely speak for themselves, and I wonder how common her views are among the academic elite.

me                              Jingmai Kathleen O’Connor, Ph.d.

  1. Who were you interviewed by for Current Biology? What kind of feedback did your receive for your last reply during the interview? Were there any further discussions on this topic?

It was a self-interview; a list of questions was provided and I chose which ones I wanted to respond to (including the social media question). A few questions were posed to me specifically by the Editor of Current Biology (Florian Maderspacher) regarding my youth and living abroad. I chose the social media question because this is an issue I feel strongly about – the internet is a great tool, certainly makes research so much easier! But just like all good things, it is abused and there is a downside to our digital age. I really feel people are becoming increasingly dehumanized by the fact that there are no repercussions for an individual’s actions on the internet. And for all these bloggers who have claimed that there are no negative effects on culture, well that’s just clearly incorrect.

  1. What was your criticism directed against? Blogging as such or blogging as critical post-publication peer review (PPPR) of published papers? Did you have any specific cases in mind with your criticism?

I am not against blogs entirely although I do kind of look down on scientists who spend a lot of time writing blogs and don’t understand who has the time to read them… (this whole twitterstorm was brought to my attention this morning and I wasted half a day with this nonsense!) I met Carl Zimmer [science journalist with New York Times and author of popular science books, -LS], the author of the Loom, in Beijing and I admire his work. If you are a scientist blogging for fun, well I think if you’re like, “hey, look at my new paper”, and you explain it in lay-man terms and maybe even add some thoughts you (hopefully admit) couldn’t get into the published manuscript, that’s great. So yes, my problem lies primarily in the PPPR. First off, most of the comments are not from peers (although they’d like to think they are in some cases). Second, if you have valid criticisms, publish them. I don’t see why that’s such a big deal. Aren’t we all forced into this stupid world of publication rates and H-indices and what not? Is it that people are lazy and don’t want to go through the work of [getting a degree and] publishing a paper? 

As a scientist, I feel the most important trait is the ability to admit when you are wrong. And reading some of the responses I realized that yes, my opinion is indeed shaped by bad experiences with obnoxious bloggers who often tear apart my work and do their own “correct” illustrations of the specimen (without of course having seen the specimen). Or *shudder* sloppy blogs. So, no need to point fingers, but yes there is one blogger in particular who annoys me but that’s only because he was my first run-in with backseat driving science bloggers (back when I was a PhD student). After that I really stopped caring or paying attention, helped by the fact I’m insanely busy. So I know there are others I just don’t spend any time making myself acquainted with it. But recently in order to justify my opinion towards blogs I read a blog by this author on the validity of a new taxon I published (or lack thereof in this person’s opinion) and none of the comments were useful to me, like say something I would consider in the future or actual mistakes I made. This person is just flat-out wrong, uneducated, and obviously needs to get a life. Get a PhD and come at me bro!

  1. What are your views on PPPR of published, peer-reviewed papers, done in blogs or comments on PubMed Commons or PubPeer? Is it appropriate to publicly criticise peer reviewed papers of others? Do you think there should be a place for PPPR at all?

If you put your research out there, of course you might get comments back. Hopefully constructive ones. And if you take the time to read them, maybe you’ll realize you didn’t think of something and correct your own research. It’s sometimes why we present our research before publishing it, to get ideas and criticisms from your peers, which can help you better formulate the ideas or conclusions you will ultimately publish. But honestly, who has the time to read comments on your blog? Research areas are fairly tight knit and if it were me I would contact the author directly via email with my suggestion or publish a paper of my own. What I oppose, are people who are not scientists sitting around in front of their computers acting like they are. Be an amateur scientist, great healthy hobby! But do not disrespect the hard work most scientists put in to become the careful, knowledgeable researchers they are.

4. What should junior or less influential scientists do if they have scientific concerns about a published paper, but are being dismissed by the authors or the relevant journal? The obviously cannot publish their criticisms then.

I’ve had this happen to me a lot. It’s just a flaw of the system. Nothing is perfect, I know we all know this but I cannot hammer it in enough! We hope people can be nonpartial but we’re human and some people have bigger egos than others and or are less aware of their ego and how it affects their attitude towards the work of others. There are checks in place, such as requesting preferred non-reviewers aka people you know will bash your paper (but for high impact journals this is like a heads up to send the paper to that person). The fact is a good editor should be able to tell when a reviewer is being partial, running their own agenda, etc. But the fact also is that many editors are working scientists (I edit manuscripts for Scientific Reports) and we’re all busy and mistakes happen (I’ve had some papers – in my mind – unfairly rejected for this reason even very recently).

5. Should a scientists reach a certain maturity (like, PhD degree or tenure) before becoming a peer and entitled to criticise publications of established scientists by private communications?

Absolutely not. A teacher always encourages their students to question them from the beginning – a good scientist has to think for themselves not just memorize facts and imitate. And a bright mind at any level is a bright mind. In fact, because there are not enough available reviewers for all the manuscripts submitted, graduate students commonly are asked to review papers (as peers).

6. Do you see any situation where such peer criticisms should be ever posted in public (because they could not be published in a journal, for whatever reason)?

I think you are welcome to do this if you want, complain online about your paper being rejected unfairly. Or in rare cases, yes you may be being stonewalled – a flaw of the system, a direct result of the fact it is comprised of human beings. But I think if something is really valid and important that it should be capable of being published in a peer review journal. No one can stonewall every journal. Might it be more parsimonious to think that this hypothesis might be incorrect rather than to think the whole scientific community is against them? If you have a valid idea, you must have proof. In this case, maybe by presenting their case online others will be interested, pursue this hypothesis, find proof, and tada, the internet has saved science! But sometimes people just cant accept being wrong – I often say the number one thing holding back science is the human Ego. Sometimes researchers just can’t accept what reviewers are telling them. I’ve had this happen with a high profile paper I reviewed; after getting rejected because of my comments they tried another high profile journal without making my changes; I got asked to review again and told the editor the situation. The authors eventually acquiesced and the paper was published but a month or two later in a small local journal they published the original ideas that could not make it through review in the high profile journal. But even in this case, they got their data published, they didn’t go and complain about the review on a blog.

7. What are your views on PPPR as a tool of spotting out problematic papers and data manipulations? E.g, STAP and Olivier Voinnet cases. What is the procedure you deem more appropriate?

Well on this I am on the fence. Because yes, maybe some problems are caught, but on the other hand a scientist’s career can be ruined because his public image got tainted in some scandal in which the accuser is some amateur who thinks he is being clever but actually just doesn’t understand. And you know who else doesn’t understand? The administration. And next thing you know, you’re under review because of some jerk with a computer. These mistakes SHOULD be caught in the peer review process of publication and it is a shame on the journals that let such mistakes through, they are the ones to hold responsible. In any cross-section of humanity there is a population of liars and cheats, it’s unavoidable. But you can’t destroy the whole system (unless you have a better one to put in its place) because of a few flaws. Although the internet hordes love to swarm over every mistake like they found the cracker jack prize, we should not expect perfection. Perfection is something we slowly and painstakingly strive towards, but never reach. Although the scientific system of peer review publication is flawed, it is a better system than a free for all of ideas/comments/critiques from netizens of varying educational backgrounds.

8. Would you have any examples of scientists whose reputation was unjustly tainted by public misconduct accusations?

I don’t want to name names and not many in any case. But at this point I’m starting to worry I might become one… and that perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut because no matter what you say people have their own thoughts. And the fact is no one should care what my opinion is on blogs because I’m not a neuroethologist or whatever, just like people shouldn’t care what Kayne [the rapper Kayne West?, -LS] thinks about politics etc. But people do. People care HEAPS. And they get ALL worked up because a paleontologist they’ve never heard of thinks scientists should publish valid ideas in journals rather than blogs (which is not even a crazy notion!). I guess my point even from the beginning is some people should spend less time writing and caring about others and more time doing our own thing.

9. What are general attitudes to PPPR in your research field, also compared to US vs China?

I really don’t know. But Chinese netizens are harsh in general. Don’t know how what they say about science but probably not much since nearly all relevant material is published in English (as the scientific language).

10. Concluding thoughts?

You see, I am bothered by the 21st century disease of “my opinion on everything is valid and every one should respect it.” I think the idea that we are even entitled to any opinion is wrong. For example, entitled to be hateful and bigoted based on what you think despite what science etc tells us? This is the 21st century and we should not hide behind freedom of speech and we should take responsibility for our species as a whole and our global actions and utilize the knowledge we have at our hands to be better, not ignore environmental problems (I’m a crazy environmentalist) or preach intelligent design under the guise of “well that’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it.” So why should things that apparently didn’t make it through the scientific process to still be presented… because… its someone’s opinion and they are entitled to it despite peer review identifying problems worthy of rejection? I admit my opinion on things I know nothing about don’t matter (and maybe, no definitely, I should learn more to hold my tongue). And this is why I think social media is damaging, because its largely a lot of unchecked opinions, often hurtful, hateful, baseless, uneducated, etc. This is the point I made in the end of the article in CB. And now in light of the ensuing internet rage I have attempted to clarify my stance, aka I have stuck a few more opinions out there. When my whole point was that myself and others shouldn’t flagrantly do this….

Now that I’ve thoroughly crucified myself….

At the end of her email to me, Jingmai O’Connor attached this video.

For further reading, I recommend this Nature News experience report by four scientists who engaged in PPPR, including commenting on PubMed Commons:

31 comments on “Jingmai O’Connor interview: if you have valid criticisms, publish them!

  1. Let’s be honest, Prof. Jingmai O’Connor works for an institute in a country that is renowned for gaming the impact factor. This is how it works in China, for most scientists and institutes I have seen and experienced: you publish, you aim for a journal with an IF that can then be translated into real Yuan. For example, an equation like this might be applied:
    10000 Yuan X IF score

    Or, in some places, an automatic professorship if you score a paper in an IF > 10.0 journal.

    So, I have two questions for Prof. O’Connor:
    1) Do you prefer journals because you can’t make money off blogs?
    2) Did you, perchance, get your PhD, with a high IF journal publication?
    3) Can you, now that you are so transparent about the Chinese publishing mentality, please indicate the exact remuneration scheme at CAS where you work? If possible, please indicate remuneration for and below IF = 1 journals, local and international.

    Thank you.


    • Just a point of fact: O’Connor’s Ph.D. was from the University of Southern California, and her Bachelors from Occidental; her educational history was in the U.S., not in China and not within the context of Chinese academic culture.

      Her stint as a professional in China began as a postdoc at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology & Paleoanthropology.


    • For the love of all that is good in this world, could we at least TRY not to be racist when discussing the opinions of our colleagues? Jingmai is voicing *her* opinion, and it’s really rude to ask her to speak for all Chinese scientists.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Prof O’Connor is an American citizen, born and raised in America. Just because she is of mixed Chinese descent and works in China, doesn’t mean all… Oh I don’t know the word… chinks are all the same everywhere and anyone with an apparently “oriental” and “exotic” name must be Chinese who therefore must answer for a country of over a billion people. Or is that what one learns in the weekly meetings of the KKK, I wonder?


  2. I think this link provides useful context for understanding Jingmai’s comments (which I certainly don’t agree with): I encourage everyone to read a few posts here to get some otherwise conspicuously absent __context__ of Jingmai’s apparent dislike for scientific blogging.

    It’s very harsh to call someone “flat-out wrong, uneducated, and obviously needs to get a life”, particularly when that person has a Bachelor’s degree in Earth and Space Sciences from the University of Washington.
    I wonder if Jingmai would call me that if I blogged some comments about her papers? Usually good scientists explain _why_ other people are “wrong” before they assert that they are wrong, whether in a blog or in a published paper.

    Above all else, descriptive palaeontology involves a lot of interpretation. It should be entirely unsurprising that different people have different interpretations of poorly preserved fossil remains. Disagreements in interpretation are part and parcel of the discipline. What is sad is the lack of civility and the idea that anyone without a PhD isn’t worth listening to (“Get a PhD and come at me bro”).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As a (non-PhD) scientist, a former high school teacher, and a sometimes-blogger, I can appreciate some of the smoothing over she does here – blogging to recapitulate your research in an accessible way, not isolating peer status to a certain level of academic “maturity”, to name two. I can understand her frustration. Harsh? Maybe, but trying to put myself in her shoes, I get it. Hell, I’d be upset if my words were minced and reformed into “shitty scientists blog”…whether I was a fan of blogging or not.


  4. Mickey Mortimer

    O’Connor wrote in her email reply to you- “But recently in order to justify my opinion towards blogs I read a blog by this author on the validity of a new taxon I published (or lack thereof in this person’s opinion) and none of the comments were useful to me, like say something I would consider in the future or actual mistakes I made. This person is just flat-out wrong, uneducated, and obviously needs to get a life. Get a PhD and come at me bro!”

    That person is me. I was ready to put O’Connor’s ugly response behind me, and indeed the original author of that thread has since deleted it because “it was grossly offensive and inappropriate.” But since my ‘inaccuracy, under-education and lack of a life’ is apparently getting media coverage and because of the irony and hypocrisy in O’Connor’s final reply to you (“I think the idea that we are even entitled to any opinion is wrong. For example, entitled to be hateful and bigoted based on what you think despite what science etc tells us? This is the 21st century and we should not hide behind freedom of speech”), I present the full context here. You can read my post in question at , where I propose O’Connor’s new taxon Chiappeavis is actually a specimen of the previously named bird Pengornis. That was linked to on Facebook in the original thread that generated the current “Twitterstorm” as an example of a potentially good blog, and this was O’Connor’s response. It damns itself so much that any further comment by myself is unnecessary. Enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Mickey, many thanks for commenting here. This is indeed most worrisome. I have emailed Prof O’Connor requesting her to authenticate that Facebook post.
      This is Prof O’Connor’s reply:
      “yea, I lost my temper but the post was deleted (I was going to delete the comments myself, definitely drunk Facebooking is a bad idea, but the owner of the thread beat me to it). This disgruntled person obviously saved it before it was deleted. I’m sorry I was unprofessional (sort of? don’t care that much because it’s not really a professional situation – it’s Facebook…) but maybe that’s why we should publish in journals – you cannot be unprofessional and mean comments would never get through. [content removed, -LS] I’m just going to ignore it all from now and go back to publishing on average 10 dope papers a year”.

      My personal view: nobody should ever be spoken to like that. Never, under no conditions. Even after doing it while being drunk, one must apologise profusely. I read Mickey Mortimer’s blog, which is nothing but a scientific discourse which quality or professionalism I cannot evaluate. But: I did not see any single personally insulting sentence or even a rude word in it.
      Any apology from Prof O’Connor is obviously missing. I am deeply sorry our scientific elites take such attitude towards junior and amateur scientists and sincerely hope this case is not representative.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Mickey Mortimer

        I would have really rather just let it go, but since I’ve been identified by a commenter here, I don’t like baseless insults against me being online. Also, misinformation seems quick to spread based on Jon Tenn@nt’s tweet you linked to above, which links to J. Pardo’s tweet claiming the website “referred to by O’Connor is a blog with a personal vendetta by a nonprofessional who accuses her of fraud and uses personal attacks. Not scientific critique.” I have never accused O’Connor of fraud nor do I have a personal vendetta against her (though after her Facebook posts I’m not a fan…). Anyone can check my blog to see I criticize and praise a wide variety of authors. As for personal attacks, again anyone can read my blog and will never find anything remotely similar to what she wrote about me, so again there’s irony. If she’s daring enough to deny writing that comment, I have half a dozen professional witnesses who can verify she wrote the comment preceding that which I haven’t posted here but is comparable, at least one of whom can verify the comment I posted here because he’s the one who deleted the thread in the first place.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting Mickey, because this interview reeked from Jingmai’s ego, bias, and one-sidedness. She may have kept Mortimer anonymous due to professionalism, but I also believe she did it because revealing Mickey’s name would ruin her playing the victim in this situation. Mickey’s involvement is unknown to the people outside of the paleo-blogosphere, so she could easily get away without mentioning the real details of the problem. Sure, her original, previous comments on blogs were worrisome, but the real problem was Jingmai’s personal insults towards Mickey, which need to be addressed (whether drunken stupor or not). As already noted, she was going to delete them (or perhaps cover tracks?). But that still does not mean an apology is unwarranted. Then Jingmai victimizes her like she is in the wrong for possessing the screenshot of that vitriol, for which she was never given apologies for. Was she drunk during that email too? Because she still comes off as unforgiving for the words that had already left her keyboard.

      You can make an argument (as many have) that what Mortimer stated in the first paragraph of her blogpost was harsh, but nowhere near the harshness that deserves the response of what sounds to be an immature child who thinks too much of her self, as some others have also tried arguing. And to chock up disagreeing in science to vendettas? HAH! Yeah, then perhaps the likes of pro-splitters in paleontology must have a vendetta against the pro-lumpers (or vice-versa), because they disagree often. But never will you see any of them comment on blog posts of one another with such malevolence. That is called professionalism, something greatly lacking in Ms. Jingmai.

      Jingmai: “But recently in order to justify my opinion towards blogs I read a blog by this author on the validity of a new taxon I published (or lack thereof in this person’s opinion) and none of the comments were useful to me, like say something I would consider in the future or actual mistakes I made. This person is just flat-out wrong, uneducated, and obviously needs to get a life”

      Yeah, if that were true, she would have addressed the arguments and shown why the findings in the post were wrong. Instead she throws a temper-tantrum like some toddler who didn’t get their happy meal. There is that saying about how ad hominems and lack of argument shows a defeated person? It would make sense to dismiss a debate if Mortimer was a novice making mistakes and using trope arguments that have been dismissed multiple times before, but that isn’t the case. And Mortimer isn’t a novice. She has been a known, serious paleo-blogger for multiple years now, and Jingmai just dismissed her like she was an average Youtube commenter.

      Jingmai: “Because yes, maybe some problems are caught, but on the other hand a scientist’s career can be ruined because his public image got tainted in some scandal in which the accuser is some amateur who thinks he is being clever but actually just doesn’t understand.”

      Ummm… If your name gets tainted, it isn’t because of criticism towards your papers from a blog. It is because of the way you reacted to that criticism. I didn’t lose an ounce of respect for you when I read Mickey’s blog post on Chiappeavis, but after your comments towards Mickey and your stubbornness to admit your mistake and apologize… Yeah, best to say you are definitely not someone I would want to have a drink with. And can we acknowledge that she is trying to twist the story to her favor in this interview?

      What disappoints me the most is the silence (and some cases of support) among professional paleontologists towards the scenario, and specifically towards Jingmai’s vehement behavior. This silence and support is how egos and terrible actions persist, until you get your community being roasted in a scandal on The Guardian. Paleontologists, please take responsibility for the “professionals” in your field, and take actions to prevent and punish those who attempt to change the landscape of the community to an ugly place. If not for the well-being of the science, do it to prevent unwanted attention from the media.


      This is probably longer than it should be, but I’ve said my piece.


  5. Tony Thulborn

    “If you have valid criticisms, publish them!”
    Oh yes. In an ideal world, perhaps. In the real world you will often be denied the opportunity to publish valid and important criticism because the gate-keepers (editors, reviewers) don’t like your criticism or, in some cases, don’t even understand your criticism. (And, if I may forestall the smartarse critic, their failure to understand doesn’t necessarily betray your failure to explain matters with the utmost clarity.) Your criticism might be supported by incontrovertible evidence and (for the benefit of boneheads) explained in words of one letter, but if others don’t want to hear it, they will refuse to hear it. Even if you do keep trying and eventually succeed in publishing your criticism, it will do you no good, for its existence will be (polite cough) ‘overlooked’, even by those who’ve been unfortunate enough to meet you in person and have a copy stapled to their shirt-front. And even if its existence should be admitted, it will be deemed inconsequential, not worth mentioning – for reasons that are never explained or, worse, for reasons that are spurious… which will take you all the way back to square one.
    In those frustrating circumstances, blogging is an alternative means to disseminate your valid and significant criticism. Or, more accurately, blogging might have served in that useful role, as the samizdat edition of science, had it not been high-jacked by a horde of wannabes, ersatz sages and would-be giant-killers. All I can say here is that there are blogs and there are ‘blogs’: the public might be unable to spot the difference, but professional scientists should be capable of doing so. The unfortunate fact is that some professional scientists really are unable to spot the difference (education ain’t what it used to be) and some just don’t want to look in that direction anyway: it might be too disconcerting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Johannes M. Dijkstra

    It probably goes without saying that my comments did not concern this Facebook ranting, of which I had no knowledge. My comment coincidentally got placed under it.


  7. Prof. O’Connor should be stripped of her PhD and Prof. position. That has got to be the biggest collection of vulgarities collected into one single comment. If the Chinese Academy of Sciences allows her to stay on their pay-roll and faculty, with that sort of public attack on Mortimer, I would be most surprised. Has anyone contacted CAS and the Chinese authorities. Even though the IF is gamed in China, one thing I do know from my personal and professional experience with China: they will not tolerate such public behavior, i.e., zero tolerance. Her bad language, deleted or not, brings a bad name to Chinese academia and to the CAS. If nobody has suggested it yet, allow me to: call for the loss of her professorship and/or PhD. As for my comment, which some seem to have misinterpreted, the IF is gamed in China as indeed it is in many countries, correct. However, Prof. O’Connor is now in a faculty position in China, and thus the focus of the criticism is China.

    And for those who seem to be supporting the gaming of the IF as if it is something normal, and acceptable, well, it’s NOT! That is precisely why today there is a meeting at UC Davis, to examine the issue of gamed metrics:


    • Simon Dixon

      What?! Who gave you all the pitchforks and flaming brands? Are there enough to go round for everyone?

      Can you just consider for a minute that you are calling for someone to lose their job, qualification(s) and livelihood because they posted something abusive on facebook?!

      This isn’t politics where its all about image and we get to try and demand people resign or are sacked at the drop of a hat. For the record I don’t support the way Prof O’Connor has conducted herself these past few days, and I think its not helpful to science to say the least. However, crucially, it is extremely unlikely she has in her professorial contract “be nice to people on the internet”. I’ve never seen a PhD granted with the caveat it can be taken away if you are mean to someone in the future. So I’m really not sure on what basis you are calling for her to be stripped of her legitimately earned qualifications and employment?

      She has every right to be a vulgar idiot. Do I agree with her? No, not at all. But to suddenly start calling arbitrarily for people to lose their jobs over this is exactly the sort of thing she is talking about in her comments that started this whole brouhaha. Your post couldn’t be a better vindication of her misguided position if she’d written it herself.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Mickey Mortimer

        I gotta agree with Simon here- “She has every right to be a vulgar idiot.” One nice aspect of free speech is that it lets us know who those people are. As for contacting “the Chinese authorities” over a Facebook comment? That’s just draconian. I can handle being insulted, especially in such an over-the-top and baseless fashion. But I didn’t want her to be able to spin things to try to play the victim and espouse so many values that she clearly lacks. So now the record’s out there.

        I should also say in response to Schneider’s original question regarding “how common her views are among the academic elite”, they’re not common at all in paleontology at least. Almost everyone I’ve spoken with both online and at conferences have been gracious, helpful and professional. We have a great and interactive community, this was just an unfortunate exception.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. The more we hear about JC and her correspondence with others, the more it seems like she’s suffocating on the rarefied air of an antique ivory-tower, and is deeply irritated by any kind of professional engagement with the public. One hopes that there are no palaeontology undergraduates are following any of these interviews, etc. If they have been, they’ll surely be considering switching into a field that has more inviting and civil researchers, where they wont have to deal with these kinds of insecure and irresponsible performances. The Current Biology editors, by airing JC’s simple-minded and unnecessarily critical comments, have done a disservice to the paleontologists who are working hard to mentor students into future scholars. She does not show much awareness beyond her own experience, which it seems she handled very poorly. One wonders if she has any teaching or mentoring responsibilities, and what kinds of comments she gives as feedback to her students?


  9. Tony Thulborn

    Mickey Mortimer? a.k.a. Michael Mortimer, contributor to the DML (Dinosaur Mailing List)?
    I might have guessed it. That explains a lot.

    Like O’Connor, I too have on occasion been the recipient of Mortimer’s unsolicited ‘criticism’ (i.e. page upon page of rancorous sneering). And, like O’Connor, I’ve been somewhat irritated to hear Mortimer telling the world at large that my published work is just rubbish, even ‘a lie’ (sic), when it was abundantly clear that his understanding of the subject ranked somewhere between rudimentary and non-existent. Unlike O’Connor, I managed to ignore the rain of insults and hold my tongue.

    O’Connor’s response to Mortimer is unpleasant in the extreme, but it is to some extent understandable as heat-of-the-moment reaction to extreme provocation. It is no less unpleasant that Mortimer should preserve a copy of that response and then seek to gain the upper hand by presenting it to the world at an opportune moment in the course of their squabble. Both parties need to be reminded (if they ever knew in the first place?) that real scientists don’t settle their differences by mud-slinging and character assassination.


    • Mickey Mortimer

      The one and the same. The post Thulborn refers to is here- . Sure I was snarky and sarcastic, and I harshly criticized your ideas. But I never attacked you as a person. Nothing personal Tony, but it just wasn’t a good paper. I do apologize for confusing you with Richard Thulborn though, who coincidentally wrote a paper on the same topic in 1975 and had another paper out which I criticized that same month.

      Any further response is ‘inside baseball’, but I stand by the criticisms I made there, and anyone familiar with dinosaurs will note that Thulborn’s ideas (polyphyletic dinosaurs, primitively quadrupedal sauropodomorphs and ornithischians, etc.) have not been accepted by the community in the intervening nine years, and indeed the consensus I was defending has become even stronger. Ask any professional specializing in dinosaurs (e.g. Holtz or Arbour above) if Thulborn’s ideas at the time were justified and if my criticisms were inaccurate and you’ll get a predictable answer.

      Liked by 2 people

      • David Marjanović

        even ‘a lie’ (sic)

        I think this particular accusation can be resolved: lots of colleagues don’t know what the term “unequivocal synapomorphy” means. If you are one of those, that would explain how you could write that six unequivocal ones are really just two or three in good conscience.

        The rest of that post stands, I’m afraid: when your paper was published, it was already outdated by several years, in some parts by 20 years.


  10. D Langston

    Comment specifically for Mr. Mortimer – Let me start by disclosing that I am not a scientist and hold a mere BSN. (The elitists may wish to stop reading now.) I occasionally read your site and other similar sites just because I enjoy the subject matter and the lively discussions. However, when I was pointed to O’Connor’s “comments” by another reader, I couldn’t stop my fingers from commenting.

    Perhaps you are not always correct in your analysis. I cannot judge that. Perhaps you are not a professor, or do not hold a PhD, or are not published in peer-reviewed journals, or whatever. What I, as a reader, can say about you is that you always (at least in everything I have read) express your findings in a civil tone, even if somewhat snide at times. I find your blog informative and useful and appreciate the effort you obviously make.

    An advanced degree does not make one intelligent. It justs makes one educated. And just because O’Connor knows a lot of “interesting” words, it does not mean she knows a lot. She may be an absolute genius in her field (though I doubt it), but no one should care how smart she is or thinks she is when she’s got a mouth like that. Blogs were created for discussion and dissemination of information. If someone cannot take criticism and defend a position with civil discussion, maybe that someone does not have a defensible argument to put forth?

    More to the point, thank YOU for not stooping to her level and for the interesting database and blog you maintain.


  11. Throughout history, top-notch scientists such as Einstein, Dirac, Higgs, Turing, etc, would never speak or write like O’Connor did. I’ve followed various scientists including (in no particular order) Andy Farke, Jon Tennant, John Hutchinson, Thomas Holtz, Steve Brusatte, Neil Shubin, etc, on Twitter, and they always use friendly language without arrogance. Even Eric Lander of Broad Institute, who is being lambasted for his article on Cell concerning the history of CRISPR, never reacted like O’Connor did. By the way, did Darwin have a PhD? Are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who for sure do not have any PhD, qualified to make comments on computer technologies?


  12. Pingback: Weekend reads: Scientist slams bloggers; men love their own work; public science broken? - Retraction Watch at Retraction Watch

  13. Pingback: Amateurs: Parts 1 and 2 | The Pterosaur Heresies

  14. Okay, at the risk of inviting trouble, I posted a question concerning the viability of using a blog as a publication back in 2011 – “A Question Related to Academic Publishing” ( In the lead up to the question I was asking, I noted that my co-author and I suggested in the early 1990s the rise of electronic journals (I will add a bibliography to that post later today). We did not forsee the possibility of publishing that has since evolved (especially the pay for publication process that I think has ruined the review process). So, is posting a blog a viable publication? I think that it would be better if the conversation took place on my blog rather than here. And if I feel that it is a little uncivil I will not approve the comments.

    In peace,
    Dr. Tony Mitchell (Ph. D. in Science Education, University of Iowa)


  15. Pingback: Jingmai O’Connor Values Peer Review and Palaeo PhDs and Demonstrates Their Uselessness | sciencepolice2010

  16. Pingback: How wood in rivers affects flood risk – revisted | The River Management Blog

  17. Pingback: Blatt is back: “open debate cornerstone of scientific process” – For Better Science

  18. Pingback: Fishy peer review at Science, by citizen scientist Ted Held – For Better Science

  19. Every person who publishes science must have the personal security, self-esteem and strength to receive technical criticism, without being affected. In the end there is the right of reply and the truth is what we are looking for, not to inflate our personal ego.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: