Wednesday, May 2, 2007

open kimono

I've been having a bit of a crisis concerning the "to blog, or not to blog" question in the context of my currently academic career. Of the three junior faculty members I've spoken with on the subject (aside from my supervisor who is less junior..) they all unanimously agree that:

  1. Blogging about a good idea before it is published is a waste of time because:

    • someone will steal it and claim it as their own

    • you won't get any credit for it anyway until you republish it in a proper (peer-reviewed) journal

    • the whole peer-review cycle is actually an extremely useful mechanism for improving the content of published work and it is just plain wrong (and arrogant) to skip it.

    • blogging is more about self-promotion than about the distribution of ideas

Well you know what.. I'm just going to do it anyway and see what happens!

I think these ideas are flawed by the misconception that anyone wants or thinks that blogs will replace peer-reviewed journals in science. To me they are a natural way to collate and communicate my thoughts as they happen - which is a completely different purpose than sharing the results of an experiment (thought or otherwise) with my peers. If someone "steals" one of my ideas, they will still have to go through the pain of actually conducting the experiment or building the model before they can publish anything on it anyway. In the meantime, the other 99% of the people that actually bother to read what I write will likely have helped me come to a better understanding of it - quickly pushing me back ahead of those terrifying intellectual thieves feared to be lurking on the other side of the Google one way mirror, just waiting to scoop a flowering idea (career..) out of the ground before it starts.

So here you go - This presentation describes (in not very much detail) what I am currently up to in the areas of open social systems designed to grow the semantic web (knowledge gardening) and automatic ontology evaluation.


Morgan Langille said...

Power to the bloggers!

In all seriousness does stealing of ideas really happen that often? Worst case I can think of is that someone else is working on a similar idea and after seeing your blog they push to publish it first.

Benjamin Good said...

Alright "Morgan",

I've shown you mine, now you show me yours ;)... Where is your idea stream ?

There are certainly scenarios where an idea could get stolen to the detriment of its altruistic creator/distributor. No shortage of this in older communication mediums either - thats why we have the whole patent system I suppose.

I think the key to the whole thing is in improving the way credit gets assigned in academia.. If the current system pushes people in the direction of hiding their ideas rather than sharing them openly, clearly something is wrong.

Luke Closs said...

Your peers all seem to be caught in the Web 1.0 mindset. (Just kidding, but they don't seem to give credit/understand to the new networked age). On the 5 points:

I think you should worry more about nobody reading your ideas (obscurity) before you worry about people stealing your ideas.

By blogging, you're laying claim to the ideas. So if someone rips the idea off, you have a post in time that talks about the idea.

By blogging an idea, how/why does that immediately mean it can't go through formal peer review?

The last point seems like a pretty broad, sweeping statement. It is easy to find examples for self-promotion blogs, and for idea distribution blogs.

Perhaps you should ask the opposite question: What do we miss by not blogging ideas early?

Anonymous said...

I'd see it (well, considering science blogs) more as a publicly accessible way of communication.

Regarding the first three points: I actually did experiment with it on the reasoning scenarios for bio-ontologies, because they're so hard to extract and I was hoping that a little feedback for gathering info could be beneficial. With the shorter, informal and more easily accessible version (, yes, it did cross my mind somebody might "steal" the basic categorisation - but, afaik, that did not happen. On the contrary, in the end I did get the odd comment (online and through email), the suggested (self-)reference by the commentator was useful and made it into the reference list in the final version (yes, peer-reviewed article accepted).

In logic-land, one counter-example is enough to prove the theory is wrong ;-) ... but seriously, I think Luke has a higher chance of being closer to the point.