Thursday, April 05, 2007

The state of the Science Blogosphere - In reply to Bora

Bora wrote a post on science blogging were he argues that blog carnivals seam to be slowly morphing into blog journals including some aspects of the editorial and review processes that go on in science journals. The response was growing a bit long so I post it on the blog instead.

When we started Bio::Blogs, some 10 months ago, I though one day the submissions could grow to a rate were it would be reasonable to create a limit. Once a limit is established selection quicks in and the carnival would slowly morph into a journal. Even without the selection, there is already some sort of review process since people tend to send links to things that were either already popular within the blog or something they found interesting in other blogs.

Unfortunately the size of the bioinformatics blogosphere is not growing significantly. Several new blogs have appeared but other bloggers have stopped posting. I am not sure if this is true for most science related blogs or just the particular case of bioinformatics. Postgenomic keeps track of the number of active blogs and blog posts, and at least there, it looks like were are holding steady at around 400 science blogs active per week since November last year (see picture below).

The blogs tracked by Postgenomic have to be submitted or picked up by Stew so there are surely many more science blogs that are not being tracked in this service. In fact Technorati lists around 20 000 blogs tagged as science. Given that it is in the best interest of the bloggers to tag their blogs very broadly to attract a wider audience, Technorati surely includes many blogs that are not really science related. This number is also inflated by duplicated blogs of people that moved from one blogging platform to another and blogs that have been created but are not active. So the real number of active science blogs is somewhere between 400 and 20000.
If you have a science blog (or know of a science blog) that is not tracked by Postgenomic, submit it by email (instructions on the site).

Also, even if there are some great quality posts, very few people are posting new data (that I know of). There is almost no open science going on. There are great examples but so far with limited impact. As Bora states:

"Scientists, as a whole, are very reluctant to write novel ideas, hypotheses or data on blogs, and are very slow to test the waters of Open, Source Publishing. Most of what one finds on science blogs is commentary on other peoples' ideas, hypotheses and data found in journals and mass media."

Nevertheless, judging by a recent story in The Scientist and an article in Nature Jobs, science blogs are now taken more seriously. Blogging is finally getting perceived just has a means of communication (for the best and the worst) and no longer something that the MySpace kids do.

What will take other people to join in blogging and publishing their science openly? I think examples will drive it. The success of OpenWetWare is a tremendously good example. Soon I hope to see some papers getting published by open science projects like Usefulchem. If community projects running in similar models as open source development are truly a more efficient way to produce knowledge then examples of successful projects will be the best way to get other people to participate.

Going back to the blog carnivals. I would suggest two concrete changes: 1) stop calling them blog carnivals, call them blog journals instead; 2) have a PDF version for offline reading.
Both things bring the carnival closer to the model of publishing we are used to seeing. There has been a PDF version of Bio::Blogs (inspired by the 1st Science Anthology) for the last two editions and they are being downloaded significantly. The PDF for the April edition has been downloaded around 40 times (in 5 days). Not bad for a such a specific field. There is a bit of a hassle to get the permissions every month but it is worth while.

I don't think in any way that blog journals should replace traditional science publishing. They serve a place in a less formal layer of science communication. They also bring some order and quality control to the very chaotic and fast flow nature of blogs.

Further reading by other bloggers:
Idea for Discussion: An Academic Blog Review
Science Blogging, Blog Carnivals and Secondary Publishing