Nature: Don't worry, be bloggy

2 minute read

This week’s Nature has a surprising editorial about the value of scientific blogging:

[R]esearchers would do well to blog more than they do. The experience of journals such as Cell and PLoS ONE, which allow people to comment on papers online, suggests that researchers are very reluctant to engage in such forums. But the blogosphere tends to be less inhibited, and technical discussions there seem likely to increase. Moreover, there are societal debates that have much to gain from the uncensored voices of researchers. A good blogging website consumes much of the spare time of the one or several fully committed scientists that write and moderate it. But it can make a difference to the quality and integrity of public discussion.

That’s not the surprising part. Nature was one of the earliest publishers to recognize the value of science blogs, putting out a story and ranking of top blogs nearly three years ago.

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 But if you attract too much attention for unpublished results, your work will be old news.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.

(via Genetic Future)