Friday, April 20, 2007

Blogs and academia

As I mentioned earlier, one of the most interesting talks at Web2.0 was given by Stowe Boyd. Since then, I've started digging into his writing a bit more to see what he is all about. In this post, he responds to Andrew Keen and everyone else that says that blogging and other participatory media are actually damaging our society more than they are helping. I wanted to post the link, because I think he (Stowe) makes a lot of good points and because I've had similar debates with close friends now beginning their careers in academia as young professors (Dr. Greg and Dr. Anil). (Stowe isn't writing about academia specifically, but I think most of his arguments are applicable).

Both Greg and Anil (who I thoroughly respect), always caution against really believing in things like Wikipedia and Greg is particularly critical of scientific blogs.

In a recent email conversation, Greg said
[Greg]
For the academic world, I'm not too hot on blogs. I guess my "blog" is my list of papers on my webpage. Want to know what I've been up to? Well, there it is, peer-reviewed and written with care, editing and revising (well, most of the time). Blogs are much better than most online content, in that they are not anonymous (my big problem with wikis).
[/Greg]
[Ben]
Umm.. for now, blogs can certainly be anonymous and/or collaborative if you want - and lots of wikis are just as 'signed' as a blog.
[/Ben]
[Greg]
There is too much information out there, and I have a lot of faith in peer-review, so I'm not convinced how useful they are for disseminating information.
[/Greg]
[Ben]
I don't think there is too much information out there - its mostly a bit of a mess at the moment, but organization is the second problem to solve, not the first. When the comments are signed by identifiable 'peers', they seem to me to act as an excellent form of 'peer review'. There are lots of other benefits of blogs aside from disseminating information. Perhaps they are better for moving ideas around rather than 'results'. I see a lot of value in the conversations that they enable and store for posterity - and I think the idea of thinking openly in a public information space is the best way to generate the good new ideas that science requires.
[/Ben]
[Greg]
An advantage is the ability to post random, less developed thoughts, or comments on papers. But again, these already appear in editorials, review papers, and tech reports. It's not that I necessarily trust what's written in peer-reviewed papers, but looking at those papers accepted into a high-quality journal/conference provides a useful filter on all the information that's out there.
[/Greg]
[Ben]
Sure, I think the concept of professional publications acting as "filters" is a good one, but I also think that this concept of filter has to be extended and thought of at a very personal level. A journal or even a set of journals is not likely to capture and present all of the documents coming into the web that I would like to see with maximum precision and recall. The additional 'filters' (or 'streams' if you flip it around) that I apply to the web now include things like RSS feeds of all sorts - blogs, bookmarking services, news etc. These other forms are just as useful as my subscriptions to peer-reviewed journals, they just serve slightly different functions.
[/Ben]
[Greg]
The academic world is already "free" enough, anyone could publish, the real problem is organizing it and sorting through all the crap, which is what your work is all about, right?
[/Greg]
[Ben]
Sure is! But that is a long story...

See also Pedro Beltrão's blog post and associated comments about an article that I published that he, as well as another commenter, liked but thought should have been published only as a blog..

1 comments:

Pedro Beltrão said...

I think that blogs can should provide a layer of less formal scientific communication. This layer can help increase the rate of research by focusing the competition on smaller contributions. It should also decrease the waste of resources (scooping problems) by opening up the research agendas.Here are my main arguments for it.