Over at NeuroDojo, Zen Faulkes makes an interesting observation: in public, scientists seem to be harder on bad papers than bad talks. This seems right to me, and not just because papers, but not talks, get criticized in peer review. It’s not uncommon for papers to receive public post-publication criticism, whether in formal comments to journals or on blogs. But it seems like this never happens with talks. I’ve never seen a blog post criticizing a named speaker for giving a bad talk. And in my admittedly-limited experience, I’ve never seen anyone who was live-tweeting a talk do anything other than summarize or compliment the talk.
Indeed, in an old post on predictors of talk quality, I told commenters not to name anyone who gives a bad talk. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I did that, as I have no problem with naming the authors of papers I’m criticizing.
I emphasize that I’m talking about public criticism here. In private conversation, I don’t find people to be any more hesitant to criticize speakers and talks than they are to criticize papers and authors.
Maybe it’s that we care more about bad papers contaminating the peer reviewed literature, but just find it mildly annoying to have to sit through a bad talk? Or maybe criticism of a bad talk inevitably seems like personal criticism of the speaker, while criticizing a bad paper seems more like criticism of the science rather than the author? (You see Dr. Joe Poortalk standing in front of you, mumbling into the floor or showing you horribly-designed slides or whatever, whereas the author of the paper you’re criticizing may be someone you’ve never seen.) Or is it something else? I’m not sure.
What do you think? Are we really more publicly critical of published papers than we are of talks? If so, why do you think that is? And what, if anything, could or should be done about it?