Thursday, February 7, 2013

Scientific communication: blogging and publishing?

Fletcher Halliday, blogging at BioDiverse Perspectives, wrote:
"My original intent in writing this post was to compare the 5 most-cited papers on biodiversity to the 5 most blogged-about papers on biodiversity to address the differences between what we value as researchers versus what we value as general science communicators."

What struck me throughout this post was this, maybe implicit, need to distinguish between blogging and publications. I always approach a publication as a communication of ideas. Depending on the research and journal, these ideas can be very specific or more general, and hopefully I will tailor my writing to these different audiences. And blogging is just another communication channel, with its own specific type of writing associated with it.

However,  I also think that the similarity between blogging and publishing goes deeper than the intent. Jeremy Fox (I know, he just keeps putting ideas in my head) compares blogging basically to conference meetings. While I agree with the usefulness of this analogy, I think blogging goes deeper than that. Isn't our ancient publication system a prototype of blogging, with references serving the double role of url links and comments/replys? Our old system is surely slower, but both systems even use the same philosophy to measure "importance": pageranks for blogging and #references/citation index for papers (and more sophisticated methods such as this paper, mentioned in a different context here).

Jeremy Fox and commenters to the Fletcher Halliday's post also point out that the biggest difference between blogging and publications is the peer-review system. But this is "just" a difference in quality control, and not in intent. And this quality control system works reasonably well, I think. While I recently mentioned to some glowing reviews, I will now balance the scales with a recent anonymous review of a manuscript we submitted:
"Beside these major problems, this MS suffers from a weak editing effort as suggested by the numerous errors found (e.g., several errors in the literature cited in text and the reference list, poor quality of figures without any explicit legends, redundancy in the method, result and discussion sections). I warmly recommend the authors to thoroughly revise their MS accordingly.
To summarize, I suggest the authors to deeply reconsider the general framework of their study by clarifying its novelty and scope, to increase their pedagogical effort, to remove the meta-analysis, and to be more careful while editing their MS."
Auch. Auw. "Warmly". And we probably all get more of these critical than glowing reviews. But s/he made a lot of valid points that will greatly improve this manuscript. So a publication is just a blog post where the commenters have some real power. Interestingly, there are some academic publishing experiments that blur this difference between blogging and publishing even further (see for instance this interview with the president of Frontiers).

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