Saturday, May 19, 2007

Science blogging...

There has been quite a dust-up over the Liu and Ochman PNAS manuscript on flagellum (which I wrote about here). The paper has engendered vigorous debate, some of it quite personal. Naturally one hopes that civility of discourse could be maintained, but it's the internet, the medium that gave us the need for the term, flame war. It's good that there is a debate around the Liu and Ochman paper; that's how science progresses. For my part, I posted about it because I hoped to spread the word, particularly since it seemed to disabuse an old creationist chestnut (which it may or may not). I'm no expert in the subject matter so I am done with it; let the experts have at it. I've moved on looking for other interesting things...

That, my friends, is the reason why I began blogging, and why I read blogs. Since I started blogging, I feel more in touch with the literature and more in tune with what is happening in science. It has been a strongly positive learning experience. For example, I just read a great post over at This Week in Evolution. Quite thought provoking. I remember reading the title of the paper in question the week it came out and thinking, Interesting, I should read this. I saved the PDF on my hard drive, but I forgot to have another look. Before I began blogging, that paper may have languished in my hard drive for months, if not forever. Not this time. Ford Denison's post has inspired me to read it at once.

Hopefully more scientists will join the blogosphere, and communities of us will form, highlighting important ideas, criticizing others, and generally, synergystically, spreading the best memes far and wide. No longer shall great ideas slowly filter forth from the august pages of obscure journals via academicians in ivory towers. The internet communication provides access and speed, and has brought us over the cusp of a cultural revolution.


  1. I agree completely -- I think blogging can be a great tool for scientific discussion. However, if more scientists are going to become involved, I suspect that the name calling will have to be restrained. We're not talking about aggressive debate, we're talking about several very offensive personal insults in this recent example.

  2. Yes the personal attacks are unfortunate. I was concerned about the original "canine qualities" term, but that pales in comparison to recent comments. These insults were clearly over the line. I wouldn't take it personally, though. Of all the people who commented, much less those who read the Panda's Thumb posts, only two or three were engaging in personal attacks. Plenty of people are willing to be civil, but its usually the cranks that get all the attention.

  3. I also agree that the internet has the potential to change the way we do science. I would like to see more use of forum software. This is my latest foray into the medium. It was announced to about 100 people 3 days ago. Time will tell if it takes off but I figure I'll post as much as I can. Succeed or not, I'm bound to learn a great deal.

    Another thing I'd like to get involved in is some kind of virtual jounal club. Again using forum software maybe.

  4. Quite right, but I don't know what the tolerance is for personal insults among most scientists who would be interested in participating in serious discussion. I can accept that Panda's Thumb is home to a wide range of commenters, a minority (I hope) of whom are offensive. It may be unfortunate that Nick chose to post his scientific comments there, because it means that anyone seeking a serious discussion would also have to deal with the undesirable aspect. All the more reason to have blogs run by scientists which conform to some manner of scholarship. I remain optimistic that a market exists for blogs like ours.

  5. I agree. Blogging is giving me an extra incentive to read interesting papers I might not find time for otherwise. On the other hand, as the number of good science blogs increases, will reading them become as overwhelming as reading the original literature is already?

    On civility: there are some good reasons to allow anonymity on the web, but it does have negative aspects. I thought this paper ("On the social costs of cheap pseudonyms") was interesting: