Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Communications Social Networks The Media Science

How Blogs Are Changing the Scientific Discourse 136

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the get-ready-to-science dept.
quax writes "Mainstream media always follows the same kind of 'He said, she said' template, which is why even climate change deniers get their say, although they are a tiny minority. The leading scientific journals, on the other hand, are expensive and behind pay-walls. But it turns out there are places on the web where you can follow science up close and personal: The many personal blogs written by scientists — and the conversation there is changing the very nature of scientific debate. From the article: 'It's interesting to contemplate how corrosive the arguments between Bohr and Einstein may have turned out, if they would have been conducted via blogs rather than in person. But it's not all bad. In the olden days, science could easily be mistaken for a bloodless intellectual game, but nobody could read through the hundreds of comments on Scott's blog that day and come away with that impression.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Blogs Are Changing the Scientific Discourse

Comments Filter:
  • Climate change
    Home on the range
    Though it's buried in snow
    Vice suds, for a change
    Burma Shave
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @06:13AM (#46216177)

    While blogging might be good for long-established academics, younger academics might just be undermining their own careers by posting their thoughts on blogs. They can prove a distraction that slows one down from publishing, and if you post a novel thought or promising research direction on your blog, it might just be picked up by one of your fellows who beats you to publishing first.

    Considering that one's ideas, namely the publications arising from those ideas, are what one is judged on when getting grant funding and tenure, why give them away for free?

    • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @06:21AM (#46216193) Homepage Journal
      Legal blogs, http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/ [pjmedia.com], http://althouse.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com], http://althouse.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com], http://www.powerlineblog.com/ [powerlineblog.com] don't seem too bad for careers, in the main, though one of the PowerLine writers took a sabbatical due to a client. Maybe the legal blogs are closer to talk radio.

      In the olden days, science could easily be mistaken for a bloodless intellectual game

      By precisely what mature person with any shred of insight into human nature? It's kind of silly how the Church of Holy Progress has tried to co-opt scientists as some sort of secular priesthood. Get over it. Scientists are people, too. I'd expect Richard Feynman would have been a right blast of a blogger, if he yet lived.

      • The legal blogs are a bit different, but they're not without their own unique hazards...

        I mean, PJ's little blog (I'm sure the readers have heard of it [groklaw.net] ) got a metric ton of attention, and likely boosted Pamela's career nicely, but she had to put up with some rather vicious human beings trying to root her out (and force her to testify) during SCO v. IBM, and eventually shut down thanks to the NSA [techcrunch.com], and continued harassment from various corners.

        Agreed on Feynman, though... Me, I think that Albert Einstein wou

    • They can prove a distraction that slows one down from publishing,

      Note to self: stop browsing slashdot...

      and if you post a novel thought or promising research direction on your blog, it might just be picked up by one of your fellows who beats you to publishing first.

      Presumably a researcher would know if and when this was likely. And in my experience, what happens most of the time when two people are working on similar things is that the researchers can collude to publish simultaneously so neither one is upstaged. I think it's more likely that blabbing about what you're doing to a competitor will help AVOID being scooped than causing it. I've found this to be the case in my short career. My thesis adviser said in her 25 years s

    • by danudwary (201586)

      While I don't blog, anything that gets an academic writing and shaping their thoughts can be a good thing. And in the modern grant-writing process, it's absolutely better to get your ideas out there - it helps you to plant your flag, and it gets people thinking about your ideas. If your blog has followers, you get immediate feedback and critical analysis. And suddenly, you're recognized as the expert in that area.

      Like it or not, at least in the US system, your grant application is not reviewed solely on its

    • by godrik (1287354)

      I am a young researcher (got hired this year on a tenure track position). I must say I do not blog because of lack of time, more than because of not wanting my ideas to be stolen. Likely if I blogged, I blogged on news or on published papers. That could help the visibility of my work, which is what is most important to me now. I no longer care about paper count. Now I care about visibility.

    • by Bengie (1121981)

      if you post a novel thought or promising research direction on your blog, it might just be picked up by one of your fellows who beats you to publishing first.

      Sounds like a great way to get blacklisted from nearly every research journal and university, assuming they don't give adequate credit.

      • Depends - if you rip off something from a well-established scientist, the idea was posted clearly (and completely), and then he/she complains loudly, then sure.

        If you rip off something from some unknown and struggling post-doc, and used an incomplete or poorly-worded idea as your source, then it's safe to say that you're not going to be blackballed.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Who else will agree with everything they say, if not sock puppets?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You're soooo right, all the time! Please let me suck your massive cock, you gorgeous sciencey hunk!!

  • by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @06:24AM (#46216207)

    "climate change deniers"?

    Ah, where would we be if we couldn't put others down ... makes you feel good, huh?

    • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @06:33AM (#46216243) Homepage Journal
      Well, if you are arguing that climate is constant, then you're a CCD.
      Except that no one has ever argued constant climate.
      • Those unaware of Alinsky buy the self-serving change in terminology as being more accurate, not self-serving. Climate change is used because their predictions were beginning to fall apart and they knew they were. One can't argue that the climate is changing, so lie about those who disagree with your rationale and agenda. It's a standard political attack.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Well, if you are arguing that climate is constant, then you're a CCD. Except that no one has ever argued constant climate.

        If you use the term "denier", then you're not helping science, you're helping politics.

        I believe the point is that the term "deniers" carries the connotations of "holocaust deniers". At the very least, it's a term to marginalize the opposing side's viewpoint. Using the term "deniers" to any opinion/viewpoint these days is usually done to discredit the group (whatever it may be).

        It's a tactic to insert bias and bias isn't science, it's politics.

        Try it in another context (one where you're the skeptic)

        • "Denier" is a reasonable term for somebody who simply denies something. One extreme case I saw recently was a categorical statement that the only honest climate scientists were the ones called "deniers". I'd include people who demand access to the data without acknowledging that the data is largely publicly available, or claim that the consensus is based on groupthink (something very rare in science). People who make flat-out false statements count.

          It's reasonable to ask questions like "Why has there b

        • If you use the term "denier", then you're not helping science, you're helping politics.

          What have deniers got to do with science? Of course it's about politics.

    • You're right, we should be more respectful to people who disagree with pretty much every scientific study on the matter yet somehow have the ear of most people in government. There's nothing shameful going on there.

      (/s) Calling them names is a damn sight kinder than what they deserve.
      • by JWW (79176)

        Calling them names is a damn sight kinder than what they deserve.

        What then do they deserve? Fines, banishment, prison, gulag?

        Seriously calling them names it the most deniers should face. In the US they have free speech rights. They get to say what their opinion is. Opinion is heavily protected speech.

        You of course have the same rights which makes the name calling, while not nice, something you are fully allowed to do.

        I so much want the concept of "I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it" to actually mean something in this countr

        • No, that's both sides. Actually, that's all political sides in this country. Actually, that's all political sides in any country ever. Actually, that's just human nature.

          Anyway, sure, they have right to free speech, but they're not convincing the majority of politicians that climate change isn't happening through speech. I'd call it bribery, which they do not have a right to do.
        • by khelms (772692)
          Sure, people have the right to express their "opinions". My observation is that most of the "experts" speaking out against AGW are funded by the oil and gas industry. What their actual opinions are is unknown - they are being paid to muddy the water and create the appearance of controversy. The industry that stands to lose if we reduce carbon emissions is actively trying to block us from doing anything through these tactics. That being the case, they are putting all of civilization at risk of long-t
  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by X10 (186866) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @06:26AM (#46216217) Homepage

    This is an interesting discussion. On the one hand, more people can follow or even contribute to scientific debates when they're online, on blogs. Otoh, the amount of noise can become incredible, obscuring the debate for those who can't judge who's credible and who's not. What do we think of a world where it's not the best scientist who "wins", but the one who's most persuasive in online debates.

    • What's even more interesting is the spectrum of solutions to managing the signal-to-noise ratio, from no comments, to moderated, to the fabulous disaster that is /.'s moderation system.
      • [...] the fabulous disaster that is /.'s moderation system.

        Yet you're still here, posting away and participating 13+ years after you got your account, so you must find it to your liking. Therefore, you contradict yourself.

      • by X10 (186866)

        Couple more years we'll have AIs that do the moderating and shifting and managing for us.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        the fabulous disaster that is /.'s moderation system.

        Slashdot's moderation is a disaster?? Sorry, Smitty, but it only looks that way to you because nobody's modding up those calling climate change a liberal plot. Slashdot has, AFAIK, the best moderation system now on the internet (it used to be even better before they changed metamoderation).

        In the last year or two I've seen more bad moderations, but I've also seen many more obviously uneducated yahoos here who write like a third grader and make incredibly


        • Why do you consider it a "disaster"?"
          Mostly the way it supports vendettas. I suppose it's one of the oldest going, but I really think Disqus is an improvement. And the whole slider thing seems a triumph of over-engineering.
      • What's even more interesting is the spectrum of solutions to managing the signal-to-noise ratio, from no comments, to moderated, to the fabulous disaster that is /.'s moderation system.

        /.'s moderation system is the worst form of moderation, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

        • As above, I do think that Disqus is a rounder wheel. Oh, and then there is this asinine timeout before submitting multiple comments. And the 25 comment limit if I've been mod-bombed lately.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @10:17AM (#46217107)

      This is an interesting discussion. On the one hand, more people can follow or even contribute to scientific debates when they're online, on blogs. Otoh, the amount of noise can become incredible, obscuring the debate for those who can't judge who's credible and who's not. What do we think of a world where it's not the best scientist who "wins", but the one who's most persuasive in online debates.

      Your point is well-intended and I sympathize, but speaking as a [reasonably successful] tenured professor in a scientific discipline at a major research university, I would point out this is how science has always been. It's never actually been about who the "best scientist" is--that's very subjective--it's always been about who is most persuasive or popular. This was Kuhn's point, as well as that of other philosophers of science such as Quine or Feyerabend (who all came from very different perspectives).

      There's always been this myth that science rises above psychology, sociology, and human nature, but nothing is further from the truth. I think some scientists aspire to that, but it's unattainable--something that some helpfully recognize but others unfortunately don't. The latter cloak themselves in vacuous arguments about "objectivity" and what's "more scientific" but it's meaningless and distracts from substantive arguments over important issues.

      Science has always been most like the music industry--there's only a modest correlation between quality, popularity, and success. Many of the best scientists are overlooked or forgotten; many never receive funding; others are grossly wrong but are popular because they capture the zeitgeist of a certain era; and still others are financially successful and well-known and do good work. You have to sort of be willing to sacrifice yourself at the altar of science to survive, which is an ironic position to be in. To give one perhaps oversimplified example: why does everyone know about Darwin, but not Wallace?

      Blogs and whatnot are complicating all of this by reinforcing the noise, as you say, but they are also focusing attention on issues such as the worth of peer review and formal publication. They're also giving outlet to some who might not otherwise have voices. But the fundamental phenomena are nothing new. In this regard, the question is: would you rather have infighting and manipulation with or without the communication afforded by the internet?

      • by quax (19371)

        Very insightful comment. May I asked what field of science you're in?

    • That's why we need a good moderation system for blogs.

      That and, _ON_ those blogs we need good discussion boards.

      • by JWW (79176)

        And also on those blogs we need a comments system that is functional and usable.

        FUCK BETA!

  • Grrr. If you can't (won't?) state your opponent's point of view accurately, then why would you ever expect to have a decent conversation?

    • Why play your silly game of semantics? You deny the best well-established scientific knowledge on the earth's climate. Why does it matter if you think it's controlled by the mind of a rainbow-farting unicorn on the moon, has been static since 6000 years ago, or is capable of any kind of change with the magical exception of being affected by hundreds of years of humans pumping fossil-sourced CO2 into the atmosphere?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's not his game of semantics. It's yours. His whole point is he doesn't deny climate change, yet he is labeled that way on purpose to marginalize his argument. You are marginalizing him again by saying a bunch of creationist facade words, which he never said he believes that way.

        What we say is wrong, and has been proven, that the foremost report on fossil fuels causing climate change has been proven completely made up. If you have completely figured out a model for earth's atmosphere that you can predict

        • Let's say for the sake of argument that all IPCC reports to the UN consist of a bunch of crazy garbage. What would that change? It would be like arguing that a car doesn't really work because the dealer's brochure is full of bullshit. The models still work. Anthropogenic change lines up. Maybe that was wrong in one of the reports. Doesn't change anything.

          Would making up a bunch of more detailed labels - anthropogenic climate change denier, total climate change denier, lunar unicornist climate change denier,

  • by deleveld (607488) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @07:07AM (#46216305)
    I don't agree with the premise. Yes we hear about the conflicts more than we used to because conflicts are what people tend to talk about. Modern media devotes attention to the disagreements, even when there are lots of agreements. There are serious considered discussions taking place, but you don't hear about them because modern media ignores them. I imagine that there are thousands of conversation every day but only 1% of them are vocal disagreements. Now fill all the blogs with that particular 1%. Many people would get the impression that its all disagreement and conflict. But that is simply not true in general. Blogs aren't changing scientific discourse. Blogs are pulling disagreements and conflicts on scientific topics into modern media.
    • by quax (19371)

      But isn't the fact that blogs open the dialog up, to include individuals outside the realm of academia, a decidedly new quality?

  • The difference with Bohr/Einstein was probably something to do with the fact that nobody's multi-billion dollar industry's reputation had potential to be damaged by the results.

    • by the gnat (153162)

      nobody's multi-billion dollar industry's reputation had potential to be damaged by the results.

      ...and nobody's religion based on the literal interpretation of ancient Middle Eastern texts.

      • by zsau (266209)

        Enough with this myth. The literal interpretation of the ancient Middle Eastern texts demonstrates that you can't take them literally and consistently at the same time because the Genesis chapter 1 contradicts Genesis chapter 2, and when linguistically competent "bible-believers" are pushed hard enough on this, they admit that they're belief is not based on the text, but on presuppositions about what the text says.

        (The specific contradiction is that in Genesis chapter 1, creation goes birds first (on day 5)

  • Figures (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I figured there would be a backhanded comment directed at people that don't believe the climate change mantra. First sentence in! Surprised they didn't use the old standard statement of "those that don't believe the FACT of climate change". Then to say it's a small group that doesn't believe in it? Ah yes. The old "this is how it is, but don't research it, because then we will have to shout you down, cause that's how science works!"

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by GameboyRMH (1153867)

      I, for one, will mock you deniers at every opportunity. You are a small minority, about 1/3 of Americans and nearly nonexistent elsewhere. As Max Planck pointed out, we can't change your opinions, only wait for you to die. In the meantime, the mocking will continue. Get used to it, deniers.

      Reminds me of a bio professor I had who would crack jokes at creationist theory in class whenever the opportunity came up. Haha, good times.

      The old "this is how it is, but don't research it, because then we will have to shout you down, cause that's how science works!"

      Your theories have been researched many times, even with dollars sourced only fro

      • I, for one, will mock you deniers at every opportunity. You are a small minority, about 1/3 of Americans and nearly nonexistent elsewhere. As Max Planck pointed out, we can't change your opinions, only wait for you to die. In the meantime, the mocking will continue. Get used to it, deniers.

        Reminds me of a bio professor I had who would crack jokes at creationist theory in class whenever the opportunity came up. Haha, good times.

        Way to prove his point, and doubly so.

        Care to shoot for the hat-trick and claim that he's a fundamentalist Christian?

        • GP didn't say anybody was a creationist. He merely exploited the parallel between evolution denialism and climate change denialism.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    that is why even climate change deniers get their say, although they are a tiny minority.

    Right off the top? Classy.

    True Believers are worse that vegans in their dampened ability to think straight through their dollops of misplaced, righteous outrage.

    Overly emotional thinkers trying to assuage their human guilt. -It's not a bad thing to feel guilt, but without the ability to think rationally, it gets pinned on irrational things.

    Proof of irrationality?

    Just count the number of posts questioning climate chang

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "And no, carbon emissions have nothing to do with why the weather is freaking out."

      Yup, this is climate denial: evidence you don't like is denied.

      Well done.

      PS IPCC was named what? And when?

      Gilbert Plass' paper in 1955 was named what?

      Frank Luntz said what to do to minimise the impact of Global Warming for his Oil Baron prez?

  • by beaker_72 (1845996) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @07:59AM (#46216463)
    The peer review system for scientific journals is broken. It was supposed to ensure that only valid research which takes a field forward would actually get published. Techniques such as blind and double blind reviewing were supposed to help in ensuring that there was no bias towards specific researchers such as those who were considered to be leaders in the field. However what happens in practice is usually a long way from that ideal, vested interests and group think often result in new, fresh ideas not being published (older academics pulling up the ladder) and mutual back scratching is very common. Reviewing is rarely blind let alone double blind and so all the abuses those are supposed to prevent can (and do) take place. New approaches to publishing ideas and possibly even research results should be encouraged. Blogs are also far from ideal, but if it helps get ideas out to a wider audience then they're a step in the right direction.
    • by hubie (108345) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @10:11AM (#46217053)
      You make good observations on the shortcomings of journal peer review, which of course varies considerably for the field and the journal. However, I don't see something like blogging to make a whole lot of difference regarding this issue. Scientists have been able to put up personal research websites for 20 years, and something like arXiv.org lets them get whole papers out, not to mention presenting at scientific conferences. Things like blogging can be effective in getting ideas out to the general population, but to get ideas out and vetted at the scientific level, you need topic experts to review the material and that brings you right back to some sort of peer review system.
    • by the gnat (153162)

      However what happens in practice is usually a long way from that ideal, vested interests and group think often result in new, fresh ideas not being published (older academics pulling up the ladder) and mutual back scratching is very common.

      I can't defend the current system, which is broken for more reasons than I can count, but it's important to keep in mind that we really do need some kind of community-enforced quality control. Outsiders tend to see this from a negative perspective: groupthink is suppress

      • I don't disagree with either hubie or the gnat that we need quality control in scientific publishing and that peer review, if correctly implemented would be the best way to go about this. My point (and I don't believe that either of you are disagreeing with me) is that it currently doesn't work. Based on that I think it isn't all that surprising that people look for alternative ways of getting their ideas out there. In an ideal world, peer review is definitely the best way to maintain the quality of public
  • Science articles are at best n-1 dimensional projections of n dimensional objects.
    • That isn't too bad if science turns out to be an n-dimensional projection of an infinite-dimensional object.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @09:04AM (#46216709) Journal

    ...one can then ALSO see the sorts of personal bias a scientist has.

    This also helps identify if they're peddling some sort of politically-motivated mendacity.

    • Which goes both ways, keep in mind.

      This is all under the continued larger political assumption the solution is to crush modern live via massive and detailed government intrusio. into energy, vastly increasing costs (with the attendant kickbacks, let us not forget that, which is what differentiates the west's powerful economy from more struggling ones).

      I keep saying don't bother -- we'll be objecyively better off in 100 years with tech of 100 years from now than with lower seas and tech of 70 years from now.

      • by the gnat (153162)

        history shows you can't have both apid advancement and massive government inyrusion.

        Sure you can. The economic (and human) costs may be severe in many cases, but there are numerous examples of rapid advancement being directly tied to government involvement. In the 20th century, we have the invention of digital computers, nuclear power, radar, jet engines, satellites, GPS, the Internet... of course these technologies were later extensively developed by private enterprise, to the benefit of everyone (especi

        • by argStyopa (232550)

          "... their genesis was in government programs."

          Is it significant that every one of your (very good) examples was specifically the direct result of MILITARY research?

  • How does the rise of science blogs impact the central idea of Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions [wikipedia.org]?
    • by bbsalem (2784853)

      It means that scientists have to deal with idiots who don't know the first thing about science. Everybody has an equal voice on a blog whether they deserve to or not. That is the nature of a blog, and people hate that because they have to deal with everybody on a pretty equal basis. People do not deserve such built-in equality and communication tools evolve to prioritize dealing with the different levels of statements people make, and should, and did once long before their were blogs. That is OK.

      People w

  • Lior didn't think much of two recent articles in Nature Biotechnology and attempted the traditional reply route, but the journal declined to publish it - so he blogged it:

    http://liorpachter.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/the-network-nonsense-of-albert-laszlo-barabasi/
    http://liorpachter.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/the-network-nonsense-of-manolis-kellis/

  • The blog is a terrible invention. It needs to be undone. The reason I say such as surprising thing is that blogs do not allow for nuance and flexibility is normal human discourse. Here on Slashdot we have the added tools to remedy much of the failings of blogs, even as dice.com wants to take them away in the interface now under beta. Many people don't realize why they hate the beta interface so much. I think it is because it is an intentional regression to the lack of features in most blogs for directing

  • Actually, if you read a few history of science books what you'll see is that a lot of what we call "the scientific method" came out of arguments just like this. If you look at organizations such as The Royal Society in London in the 1600s they started out as glorified debate clubs arguing the new ideas of the day. Do you want to convince others you are right and win the debate? Better show evidence. Even better, show evidence that they can replicate for themselves. From this came the notion of more form

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley

Working...