Nature wants you to blog

The journal Nature, that is — in an editorial available here:

More researchers should engage with the blogosphere, including authors of papers in press.

Is blogging a part of science, journalism or public discourse? In fact it may be all of these …

John Hawks, via whom I got the link to the editorial, also has his own (very positive, of course) comments on some of the benefits of blogging (most of which I am going to quote below):

The surprising part is the editorial’s focus, which is on the role of blogging within the embargo system.

I think that one of the most worthwhile purposes for blogging is to throw out new ideas for comment. Personally, I find that the airing that blogs give to research is a valuable addition to peer review. I won’t say that blogs are superior to the peer review system, but I can say that many blog reactions to my work have been superior critiques to any peer review I got on the same papers.

It seems obvious that blogging about research results is not the same as publishing them in a journal. But if you attract too much attention for unpublished results, your work will be old news. Some journals actually like that — papers that have the benefit of lots of pre-press attention and critique are going to be superior papers. But a few of the highest-profile journals thrive on secrecy — their articles are selected to attract attention, which is maximized when it strikes suddenly.

At the same time, however, our cardinal rule has always been to promote scientific communication. We have therefore never sought to prevent scientists from presenting their work at conferences, or from depositing first drafts of submitted papers on preprint servers. So if Nature journalists or those from any other publication should hear results presented at a meeting, or find them on a preprint server, the findings are fair game for coverage — even if that coverage is ahead of the paper’s publication. This is not considered a breaking of Nature’s embargo. Nor is it a violation if scientists respond to journalists’ queries in ensuring that the facts are correct — so long as they don’t actively promote media coverage.

The blogosphere differs from mass media and specialized media in many respects, but the same considerations apply in disseminating new scientific results there. Authors of papers in press have the right to correct misrepresentations and to point to results that will appear in a paper. But a full discussion should await the paper’s publication.

Well, I think that’s a positive attitude. Science is better when it is more in the open. Plus, the communication of science is better when it’s in the open. I think the embargo system is a problem for science. Embargoes help to manage the news around large announcements. But over many weeks, this constant drumbeat of press releases deadens the senses. Covering the “new” is understandable in the news business. But in science, “new” things are usually small tweaks on old stories.

My own take on blogging academic or technical material is slightly different; of course, when you are blogging your research, reach, impact, how the journals are viewing your blogging activities, and what response you receive to your work through blogs are all important — which is what the editorial and Hawks’ post are all about. However, blogs are not only just another medium for communicating new research results; they are also public places where like minded people discuss things that interest them, and understand some of the hard-to-understand and not-so-hard-to-understand issues; they are the internet equivalents of the coffee shops, tea kiosks and corridors in and around universities and research centres where relaxed discussions happen in their own rambling manner, bonding people together in their diverse pursuits and allowing them to share values, information and joy of what they enjoy doing — in short, they are places for the making of the community of researchers which transcend geographical and such other physical barriers. They should also be the places where members who are not part of the community either by their training or by their profession can still drop by, eavesdrop on the discussions, even participate in the discussions once in a while and have a feel as to what makes the members of the community tick! So, to the question raised and answered by the editorial,

Is blogging a part of science, journalism or public discourse? In fact it may be all of these …

I will also add that blogs are also social spaces — spaces for bonding, information exchange and sharing of values, and, spaces for building a vibrant community.

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About Guru

I am an Assistant Professor in a Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science Department; I also pursue research in the broad area of computational materials science.
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3 Responses to Nature wants you to blog

  1. Hari Srinivas says:

    It’s a nice article about scientific/technical/academic blogging. In fact, blogosphere can be viewed as global corridor of scientific chit-chat. The immediate advantage that I see in my case is, now I am reading more articles which I would have never read in order to make my posts simpler. This improves my understanding and gives a broader view of my subject.. your personal take is as good as any other view.

  2. Abi says:

    An analogy for academic blogs that I really like is that of invisible college; Brad DeLong is the author of that piece.

    Nature Networks also ran a Science Blogging Challenge, and announced the winners recently.

    Nature has been doing a lot of things right; John Hawks mentions one of their news stories that mentioned science blogs, and did a top 10 (or some such) list. They also started Nature Networks. Now, if only they choose the open access option (at least for the stuff in the first half of each issue) …

    Snap. I’m awake, now!

  3. Guru says:

    Hari,

    Thanks!

    Abi, that Brad DeLong piece is great!

    I only hope that commercial journals wake up one day and have a google like model wherein papers published in them would be incidental to what they actually sell — say, advertisements specific to scientific community and generate enough revenue through them to make all their technical content public access! Or, should we ask Google to start a peer-reviewed papers repository? I wonder why they are not thinking along these lines already!

    Guru

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