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twoday.net AGB

On science blogs (cont.)

Isn't blogging great - you can leave semi-random thoughts on the web, get responses and realize that the idea was much better than you initially assumed. After my post on why scientific communication feels static to me, a number of ideas came to my mind as soon as I went cycling that afternoon. Some of them survive to this day. In between, science blogs were exclaimed as the next big thing (the The Scientist article is no longer available to the general public... see?).

My claim still is: Blogging (and other "new" forms of communication over the internet) won't change the way we communicate in the natural sciences. The apparant flaws like the one-dimensional author list, anonymous, unpaid and uncredited peer review and the impact factor craze won't just go away using this "technology".

Would anything be better, if we build a system that would allow everybody to publish without initial peer review on some website/blog and other scientists would transparently comment on it? Citations could be followed easily and trackbacks or similar system would notify us of work in the field.

Much of the system is in place - Pubmed, the Digital Object Identifier, Faculty of 1000 (while not being as comprehensive as one might hope) are there. The conservative nature of sciences will prevent sudden changes, which might be a good thing: As archaic as the Science Citation Index sometimes appears, would you want to replace it with a spamable Google? And what about the information that is stored in paper journals only?

While people spend a considerable amount of time figuring out which journal to publish in to receive the credits they hope for, would anything be better if we replace it with an open system that would make it much harder to be critical? Most contemporary scientists state that they read to little already - we certainly do not want to increase the number of publications without ensuring their quality before they appear.

On the other hand, the internet has already changed the way our communication occurs - PLoS would not have worked without the internet which could reach a large number of scientist quickly. Email and news groups are there without us taking notice and I fail to see a pressing need for blogs to replace anything. I should not forget to add that there seems to be a considerable difference between the mathematics and physics in respect to the biological natural sciences, the prior already publishing much more independently and free on web sites and conferences.

There will be more science blogs - blogs that are used to communicate between scientists rather than communication of scientists with the general public as it happens on esteemed sites like Respectful Insolence or Bad Astronomy. However, they will focus on subjects around the sciences rather than replacing the traditional ways of publishing experimental results or breakthrough findings which undoubtedly will undergo other changes. It's exciting times - I wonder when the first big shots will start their blogs. Only then we'll see a major influx of blogs into the scientific communication anyway.
typekey:stewpot78 - 2005-08-10 21:58

Have to agree...

... with your thinking in that I don't believe that blogs will be instrumental in overhauling the current system.

I quite like the idea of an open system where authors publish their own work and then reviewers link back it to from wherever (presumably there would be paid-for services a la Faculty of 1000 where you'd be assured that the reviewers weren't simply the author's cronies like in the bad old anonymous peer reviewed days). Wouldn't there always be a problem with, say, paragraphs that could be misinterpreted, or vital graphs missing etc.? The authors could go back and change the original paper to address criticisms but surely that then invalidates any previous reviews to a certain extent.

greg - 2005-08-12 06:13

The current system

You first need to distinguish between contributions of new knowledge (i.e. "The Paper") and the ongoing discussion around those contributions. Most scientists when referring to the "current system", in fact mean publishing papers. Traditional journal publications, along with the citation index, will remain the standard for scientific credibility/contribution. Where communication tools like weblogs will fit into this picture is at the start and end of of the traditional publication process: hypothesis formulation and the ongoing discussion of results.

For example you previously shared your thoughts (however brief) on analysis of genome duplication events via gene expression results. If this is interesting to me, or even tangentially interesting to me, I will collect this for future reference. Traditionally I will do this via reading reviews, or if you institute is luck enough, by reading Faculty of 1000 (both recommendation based). Now I can do this via the recommedations (opinions) that scientists publish on their weblogs.


Once I have a framework in my mind for the particular field, I will then move on to the primary literature, and continue my annotations (via my weblog ?). Finally resulting in a set of experiments or a project plan. Once executed and validated the work is then ready for publication (yeah, it really is that easy :)), in essence anyway...

Once the work is published, the ongoing discussion of the work can then be hashed out in comments, weblogs, mailing lists etc. either on the journal's website or authors websites (weblogs ?). Because this ongoing conversation will be out there (i.e. on the web) it can be indexed. So my final thought is that we won't do away with citation indexes, but add to them a buzz index. For example something like Technorati for scientists.

The result of this will be a more dynamic index of scientific ideas and their impact on the scientific community.

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