Today, Researchblogging.org has been thoroughly updated; a good moment to reflect on the initiative of researchblogging.org itself, my participation in it, and on the phenomenon of blogging on peer reviewed research itself.
Researchblogging.org is a non-profit initiative, and provides in a web-based gathering of posts from weblogs on science. Not all posts are gathered (‘aggregated’) though, only the ones that explicitly address research that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. In that, it distinguishes itself clearly from similar (collections of) scientists’ blogs, for everything else but the research itself is left out. This is achieved by having bloggers to administer their posts on the researchblogging.org website manually, after which some PHP-code is provided. This code is added to the blog-post, resulting in a bibliographic reference to the article that is discussed, as well as the aggregation of the article to the researchblogging database.
For me, this results in a very interesting collection of blog-posts, that are nicely categorised and stored in a searchable database accessible though the web. And this is where the new version of researchblogging.org becomes really interesting, because next to a visual update, new features have been added. Bloggers now can categorise their posts manually, making them easier to find by prospective readers.
More importantly, though, is the ability to ‘flag’ posts by readers. I find this very important, for not all posts are that great, to my opinion. That is, they are very nice to read at times, but without a strong focus on peer-reviewed research. An often encountered format is someone writing about a topic, and then adding a reference to an article loosely related to that topic to get it aggregated. In my opinion, posts on peer-reviewed research should explicitly discuss the findings and the quality of the research design. Sure, good journalism requires the author to add some context to the article, or even a little pun, but the thoroughness of the critical review should not be lost. So, I think it is a good development that readers can now more easily whether posts on researchblogging.org truly address peer-reviewed publications in a critical manner.
Personally, I have been writing for researchblogging.org for a few months now, which has resulted in a modest number of articles (find a selection here). Every time, I have found it a challenge to critically think about the research I like and to detail that on my blog. This way, I have found a new way to discuss the quality of work, and to bring to attention work that I appreciate to be especially valuable. Incidentally, these posts are among the best read on my blog, so apparently the effort pays of. I cannot remember writing about research I completely disliked, although once I wrote about a completely horrendous research design, and contrasted it with one I did like. It is more difficult to do justice to articles that have been written and researched very well, than to break down the ones that did a very bad job, so evidently I’m taking the more difficult approach.
Blogging on blogging on peer reviewed research
So, all in all, how serious should we all be about blogging on peer-reviewed research? No new findings will be found on blogs, or it should be on the web-sites of journals who pre-publish a high profile publication. New insight on existing articles may be found though, and I did so myself a couple of times. Academic mores being what they are, the really important new findings, insights, and perhaps criticism will not be written down on a blog, but send to a peer reviewed journal.
But then again, there will always be a minor, but inherently social aspect to science. From that perspective, reading blogs about science is an easy way to read about what is going on in the journals you don’t normally read, or even in disciplines other than your own. Personally, as a sociologist-to-be I very much love to read about evolutionary biology, the developments regarding CERN and the search for the Higgs-particle; all things I don’t read about in the ‘real’ journals. You’ll never know in what way some insight may come in handy in one of your own future projects.
I don’t think that science ‘needs’ a site like researchblogging.org, but I do feel that it is just another way for science to open up, both to other scientists, but also to non-scientists who are interested in cutting-edge knowledge. The registered blogs are (generally) open to all readers, unlike the actual journal articles that are reviewed. In that sense, it is a form of bringing science to the masses.
Accompanied by interpretation, that is, which might seem to be a problem for some. Researchblogging.org is not only open for readers, but also relatively open to those who want to participate. Are all blogs true representations of the body of knowledge accumulated in the annals of science journals? Of course not, but how far do we want to go in restricting bloggers’ access to Researchblogging.org? Or, in other words, how open should the system be?
On researchblogging.org there is quality control when you apply to join the initiative. Your blogs needs to be in existence for a while, and some posts should already be present. Also, there have been some discussions on the forum about the appropriateness of some posts. I already discussed my disliking a specific type of posts, but some sort of solution has already been implemented in the new version. Also, one of the conditions to participate on researchblogging.org is that your blog should accept comments from readers. In this way, readers can share opinions, and discuss interpretations and conclusions. So, this system is not as closed as peer-reviewed journals are, nor is the quality control as strict, but I think this is rather good: in this way we have an semi-organized way of discussion the quality, interpretations, and merits of articles published elsewhere.
I think that Researchblogging.org provides many with excellent means of sharing ones’ thoughts on scientifically published journal articles. The quality of the contributions is generally high, as is the degree of representation of various disciplines. For me, this helps me in finding out about interesting articles or even interesting (sub)disciplines I wouldn’t be aware of otherwise. I hope its’ popularity will only increase with the new version, as to be able to find even more interesting posts on interesting articles.
Do you blog about peer-reviewed research? Sign up, start writing, and I’ll read you there!