There’s an interesting article about Scientists who blog over at The Scientist. I know that the fear of being scooped keeps a lot of professional scientists from showing their cards to their peers before a manuscript is accepted or in press. In fact, I find my blog topics are very rarely about the day-to-day details of what we do in my lab. I’m sure this varies from field to field. (Actually we know this is true; the physics community has happily accepted the arXiv preprint model, while chemists and biologists have much more internalized fears of being scooped.) I would imagine that scientists in corporate settings have even more constraints on what they can reveal about their science in a blog.
Some of what my group does in lab is publicly viewable. The CVS tree for our simulation code is out there for anyone to look at, although they’d be taking their research careers into their own hands if they attempt to use a pre-release version of our code. So what’s the harm in revealing details in a blog? None, I suppose. If a research community all reads the same blogs, they’d be able to figure out attribution chains pretty quickly. Perhaps blogs will become a model for the way that scientific ideas are communicated in the future. There’s certainly a citation mechanism in place for blogging (Trackbacks are even a reverse citation mechanism.) The only mechanism that is truly lacking is anonymous peer review and editorial control. I can be sure that the papers in J. Phys. Chem. for example have passed through a reasonably rigorous peer review and editing process. Sometimes this breaks down and bad papers appear in the literature, but in general. peer review adds immense value to scientific communication. Blogs don’t really have this kind of review process other than as public airing of grievances by another blogger, and the only editorial control is by the reader’s interest (or by what google will digs up for a keyword search).
I also saw that article and spent some time going through the list. It is interesting how bio dominates. I also think it is important that we discuss the role of blogs in scientific research, as you have done in your post. The fear of being scooped is an issue but I think that blogs are indexed so quickly and efficiently now that someone publishing something that someone else put in their blog several months earlier would face a very embarrassing situation. I am now trying a hybrid approach – writing my article drafts with my students in an open wiki then submitting for peer review to publishers that accept pre-printed material. It will be interesting to see how that works and I look forward to reading some more about your ideas in your blog.
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