Peer review at Scientific Reports, Part II

As we saw in Part I, one of the problems that Reviewer 1 had with my critique of a paper on Facilitated Communication was my skepticism about the existence of language disorders “that combine extant oral skills with pragmatics skills that only emerge during hunt-and-peck typing.” The reviewer said that I was implying that are no known disorders in which people can type things they can’t speak. (So much for my deaf friends and relatives, with whom–way back when–I used to correspond via TTY).

Reviewer 1 had just one other issue with my critique:

Much of the response appears fixated on message-passing experiments, which is a useful design, but cannot be seen as the only viable means of deriving useful information related to the question of autistic communicative agency. Jawal et al. (2020) point to a variety of reasons the results of prior message passing studies may not fully reflect the agency of all autistic individuals using spelling-based forms of communication. There are certainly points at which I feel Jaswal et al. could have done a better job of connecting the dots, but that alone hardly seems worth pointing out in an alternative publication.

Aside from the fact that message passing (e.g., asking the child a question that the facilitator doesn’t know the answer to) is the simplest, most direct way to test authorship (something that anyone who wants to can easily do at any time without any expensive machinery), “connecting the dots”, as I wrote, is only one of several problems with Jaswal’s article:

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What passes for peer review at Scientific Reports, Part I

I recently received two reviewer responses to a recent paper by Vikram Jaswal that purports to find support for a form of Facilitated Communication known as Spelling to Communicate:

Reviewer 1 takes this paragraph of mine:

Jaswal et al, moreover, fail to explain why the subjects were able to deliver the often lengthy responses to the open-ended questions reported in this study when pointing to letters on a letterboard via hunt-and-peck-style typing, but not when articulating words through speech (a much less time-consuming process). The authors state that “all but one participant was reported to be able to speak using short phrases or sentences” but “none could respond verbally to open-ended questions of the type they were asked in this study.” There is, however, no officially recognized language disorder that combines extant oral skills with pragmatic skills that only emerge during hunt and peck typing. 

And interprets it this way:

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Email AI

Everyday the junk mail in my inbox outnumbers the junk mail that goes straight to junk. But I figure that that’s the price I (we?) pay for email filters that err on the side of caution. Worse than getting all that email we don’t want to see is missing the email we care about.

One particular sort of email I care about these days are messages that give health updates for a relative of mine who is suffering from an idiopathic cancer (the kind that something like three people in the entire country have). She’s been on an experimental drug, and we’ve all been on tenterhooks wondering whether it will shrink the metastatic tumors that showed up in her lungs last February.

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The Brave New World of Twitter justice, Part II

As I learned in the aftermath of my suspension from Twitter (see below), Twitter leaves its decisions about account suspensions entirely up to its AI system. No human eyes appear to be involved at any stage of the process. If Twitter AI finds a phrase anywhere in a tweet that it associates with a violent threat, it will, automatically and permanently, suspend the “offending” account.

You might think that permanently suspending an account for an infraction that didn’t actually occur might itself be a violation: a violation, that is, of the Terms and Conditions for Twitter use. And surely, you might think, there’s legal recourse.

But Twitter has that covered:

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The Brave New World of Twitter justice

About two weeks ago, my Twitter account was suspended. The message arrived while I was in the middle of messaging one of my cronies about Facilitated Communication. When I clicked “send”, Twitter told me, “You are not permitted to perform this action. Learn more.” When I clicked on “Learn more”, Twitter told me, “Your account is suspended. Learn more.” When I clicked again, Twitter told me that the suspension was for “making violent threats.” “You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people,” Twitter explained.

My account is public, visible to my students and colleagues. Even if I were inclined to do so, it would be a really bad idea for me to make threats—let alone violent ones. I wasn’t, and hadn’t—as many of the supporters who subsequently came out in my defense kept telling @Twitter.

So what had triggered this suspension?

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