On Researchblogging: Keeping High Standards

Science and activism are easily caught up in an ugly mix, especially in such an open space as the blogosphere. With the increasing attention for researchblogging.org, the people behind this initiative are now contemplating on how open it should be. I suggest a system for blog posts that is somewhat similar to a peer-reviewing process.

Presently, the site has clear guidelines on registering your blog with researchblogging.org, as well as guidelines on individual posts. These guidelines basically state that the blog posts that are aggregated to researchblogging.org should seriously discuss ‘real’ research that has appeared in peer-reviewed journals. However, it is easy for everyone to mix facts with fiction, while it is sometimes more difficult to disentangle those. It so happened that activism got in the way of posts on serious research (i.e. on the subject of intelligent design).

At present, dubious blogs can be excluded from the catalogue, after the blogger has had the opportunity to publicly defend him/herself. This has once led to serious discussion on the on the exclusion of this post. With the growing attention, the people behind researchblogging.org now basically ask their users permission to do this a bit more quicker in the future.

They suggest to exclude cases of violation of the guidelines on their own initiative, and only publicly discuss the borderline cases. Right now, they are working on the exclusion of two other blogs, and while according to them it is very clear that these blogs will be excluded, gathering evidence from experts in the field takes a lot of time.

I’d say: go ahead. As the organisers of a very well designed initiative you should be able to control who participates. Already you decide whether or not to approve blogs for aggregation, which does not happen publicly either. However, I would argue to do make public the blogs that you excluded, and still allow a blogger to defend. This makes your process less demanding, and still has some ‘checks and balances’.

Does this raise issues concerning the privacy of bloggers? Probably, but I think that most of us are mature enough to decide whether or not they want to make their identities public to start with. you can easily blog under a pseudonym. Once you’re blogging — especially about the work of other people — it seems quite reasonably that other people discuss you’re blog. So, should the people of researchblogging.org decide to exclude a blog from further participation, they should feel free to do so, as long a they publish the name of the blog on their along with short argumentation on why the blog was excluded. Should they want to, readers of researchblogging.org can comment the exclusion there.

In addition to this, I have argued elsewhere to install some sort of peer-reviewed-blogging-on-peer-reviewed-research (PRBRP, or some other more cooler abbreviation). Personally, I think some posts on researchblogging do not really discuss (the quality of) peer reviewed research, but tend to contain a story only remotely related to the research that is referred to.

Perhaps we could derive a somewhat stricter set of guidelines and gather a group of peer-reviewers. Those reviewers will not focus as much on the overall quality of the post, but mostly on the issue of whether or not it is focused primarily on discussing the research that it refers (journal papers, or possibly in the future also to books) and whether or not the work discussed is indeed peer-reviewed. Those qualifying blogs could, for instance, be indicated by a different logo, and a different ‘category’ on the researchblogging.org site. That way, visitors can select to see all posts, or only the peer-reviewed ones.

I don’t think a lot of effort would be involved to have posts peer-reviewed, given the infra-structure already present at researchblogigng.org. If the reviewers could have a slightly different type of account (similar to administrators), and once they login, they see their ‘daily share’ of posts to be reviewed. I don’t expect too much effort to be involved (it still isn’t a published journal, and it is not about how the post is written), so with a relatively small number of reviewers a large number of blog-posts can easily be reviewed.

If people like this idea, I’d be happy to assist in detailing it further. For now, I’d like to conclude by saying that I think that the people behind researchblogging.org are already doing a great job!

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