In addition to giving my blog a nod, Carl Zimmer at The Loom wrote about how scientific discourse is changing in the internet era. It used to be that most scientific debate took place over the course of months (years?) on the pages of august journals or in the hallways at scientific conferences. Criticism, whether positive or nasty, tended to be visible to a select few specialists in the field, and rarely spilled over into the popular press.
Today that is changing. The internet permits a wider exchange of ideas, and is open to anyone who cares to log on and direct their browser thither. Scientists are increasingly looking to blogs as additional outlets for their ideas and comments. Consequently, the pace of scientific debate is speeding up tremendously, with positive and negative repercussions.
Case in point. Yesterday a paper by Liu and Ochman was published online by PNAS. I wrote about it later that evening, highlighting it as additional evidence against the concept of Irreducible Complexity proposed by creationists. Later Nick Matzke of the National Center for Science Education blogged about it at the Panda's Thumb and TR Gregory wrote about it for Genomicron (where Larry Moran of the Sandwalk added his two cents in the comments). All this (and Zimmer's comments) happened within 24 hrs of the paper being released.
I find this discourse thrilling and am happy to be part of the burgeoning movement of scientists to the blogosphere. Moreover, it is fantastic that the general public has an opportunity to observe scientific debate. Facts in textbooks aren't simply placed there by fiat, but are the result of plenty of give and take on the part of working scientists. However, it is important to remember that this new debate is open to all, not just a few close colleagues, and hence, it is especially important to maintain a civil tone. I think Matzke could have chosen his words better in titling his piece, but I commend him on making his comments known. Nothing illustrates the validity of the scientific process like the free exchange of ideas.
The ideal model for this type of discourse is, as Zimmer pointed out, PLoS ONE. I, for one, love the idea of an open-access, freely annotatable journal, and I hope to see it drive pay-journals to a much deserved extinction. True, it is a bit quiet over there now, but I suspect, once scientists get used to the idea, it will be buzzing with activity soon enough.
Notes: The photo was obtained from Joe Felsenstein's website. It depicts the speakers at the International Union of Biological Sciences Symposium on Genetics of Population Structure in Pavia, Italy, in 1953. Their identities are as follows.
Back row: Mather, da Cunha, Haldane, Dobzhansky, Waddington, Epling, Carson, Robertson, Falconer
Middle row (crouching): Ford, Wallace, ?, (large gap) Lerner, Cordeiro(?)
Bottom row (sitting on ground): Mayr, Levine, Buzzati-Traverso, Fisher, Clausen, Pavan
The unidentified one may be Renzo Scossiroli. I have a complete list somewhere and will post it when I find it.