93% of information posted on the internet is wrong. Does that figure surprise you? Does it seem high? I made that up. In a couple of hours I will be at the American Society of Safety Engineers in Chicago on press pass covering the show for Facility Safety Management magazine. ASSE and the National Safety Council together drive more press coverage of worker safety than nearly everything else—not counting industrial disasters—combined.
Given that I am covering the show, I thought I would devote both this week’s blogs (this one and www.rockfordgreeneinternational.wordpress.com) to an exploration of how we as safety professionals get our information and the efficacy of those sources.
A web log (or “Blog” as some apparently dyslexic mouth breather contracted it) is an uncontrolled outlet for the incoherent blathering of someone motivated enough to write on a topic but often not talented enough to be published. Blogs vary greatly from the pre-teen who rants about her English teacher to respected experts and authors who use blogging to round out their literary or journalistic retinue and everywhere in between. Because blogs are typically free, easy to create, and unrestricted the information is often rough and frequently dubious. Because this information is typically the work of one person and does not pass through a gate-keeper who vets work, editing the pieces that make the cut and rejecting those that don’t. This process is referred to as a peer review. Blogs are not considered peer-reviewed and therefore researchers and other authors can’t cite the work as a source of truth.
This discipline doesn’t doesn’t extend to us bloggers…we can create, promote, and perpetuate ignorance on an unprecedented scale. The misinformation many bloggers spew ranges from insipid (and usually incorrect) trivia to the truly dangerous lies and fear mongering. At their best blogs, are the highest and purest form of the freedom of speech but at their worst blogs are irresponsible propagation of specious arguments and urban legends.
Forums are on-line discussions moderated (hopefully) by a small group of devoted volunteers who enforce civility, discussion topics, and generally keep the group in line. Except for Penthouse Forum, forums are not considered peer reviewed works and therefore cannot be cited as a source for academic works or research. Why? because forums are essentially just opinions that people support or refute. No third party does any fact-checking and the bulk of the discussion may not be supported by facts.
Newsletters are regular publications put out by non journalistic organizations. Newsletters (despite being positioned otherwise) are marketing tools. A newsletters is at its heart a tool for marketing something. (Some of you may be ready to scream because you edit a “newsletter” for your professional organization or Not For Profit and your not selling anything. I would challenge you that you are indeed selling something—like, for example, your organization’s reputation. Because of the promotional nature of newsletters (and just because a publication is called a newsletter on the masthead doesn’t make it a newsletter any more than The Wall Street Journal is an academic or scientific journal) they typically are not considered peer-reviewed publications even if they follow the same general vetting and editing process.
Magazines are peer reviewed publications. Most have a highly competitive publishing criteria, a vetting process, a strong system of editing and fact checking. Essentially this processes produces a written piece that—while credited to a single author—is the work of a team of publishing professionals. This fairly intricate system of checks and balances, magazines are considered credible sources of truth and can be cited as sources in other works.
Journals and Periodicals
Journals and periodicals typically are compendiums of research findings from individual authors or writing teams. In many cases these papers are presented at professional conferences and symposiums. The competition and acceptance criteria for these works are often fierce and rigorous, with authors submitting abstracts to a team that rejects most of the proposed abstracts. Those few that are accepted must produce a paper that is supported by research and cited sources. The paper is then again reviewed by the selection committee, which will often reject the initial draft and will continuing recommending edits until it is satisfied with the final result. At this point the authors are typically invited to present the paper to an audience of his or her colleagues. This process can be exceedingly long and onerous. I wrote the paper Creating Safety In Off-Shore Operations for Loss Prevention 2010 and was invited to present my paper in Brugges, Belgium. The review and vetting process took almost 3 years. Sadly I was unable to accept the invitation to speak owing to other commitments (it’s tough to plan the disruption associated with an international symposium three years in advance on a maybe.)
In Europe and in U.S. academic circles it is not uncommon to expect the speakers to pay to attend the conference at which they are presenting. In short very few proposed journal articles ever make it to publication in a journal and those that do represent the crème du la crème and are the closest thing we are likely to see as a source of truth on a given topic.
So if blogs are so bad why do I write, not one, but two? I like to fine-tune my writing and flesh out ideas that I generally get arguing with idiots in forums. Those of you who regularly read my blogs, share groups with me on LinkedIn and read my published work may have noticed a progression in my work. Typically I get an idea by participating in a LinkedIn discussion or answering a question in the LinkedIn section devoted to that. From there I generally get enough of an idea (typically a response to someone who only wants to shout me down) to flesh out into blog post. My blog posts tend to be longer than the publications for which I write will publish so I have to pare them down to a more manageable size—typically 1,000 words or less. From there I submit the article to an editor who cleans up the piece, renames it, puts art next to it, and stream lines it. I’d like to think that I work well in all these media but that is ultimately for you, the reader to judge.