- Postado por Guilherme 15 Jul
Sep 18th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Illustration by Peter Schrank
Web 2.0 tools are beginning to change the shape of scientific debate
IN PRE-INTERNET times, peer-reviewed journals were the best way to disseminate research to a broad audience. Even today, editors and reviewers cherry-pick papers deemed the most revelatory and dispatch them to interested subscribers worldwide. The process is cumbersome and expensive, but it has allowed experts to keep track of the most prominent developments in their respective fields.
Peer-review possesses other merits, the foremost being the ability to filter out dross. But alacrity is not its strong suit. With luck a paper will be published several months after being submitted; many languish for over a year because of bans on multiple submissions. This hampers scientific progress, especially in nascent fields where new discoveries abound. When a paper does get published, the easiest way to debate it is to submit another paper, with all the tedium that entails.
Now change is afoot. Earlier this month Seed Media Group, a firm based in New York, launched the latest version of Research Blogging, a website which acts as a hub for scientists to discuss peer-reviewed science. Such discussions, the internet-era equivalent of the journal club, have hitherto been strewn across the web, making them hard to find, navigate and follow. The new portal provides users with tools to label blog posts about particular pieces of research, which are then aggregated, indexed and made available online.
Although Web 2.0, with its emphasis on user-generated content, has been derided as a commercial cul-de-sac, it may prove to be a path to speedier scientific advancement. According to Adam Bly, Seed’s founder, internet-aided interdisciplinarity and globalisation, coupled with a generational shift, portend a great revolution. His optimism stems in large part from the fact that the new technologies are no mere newfangled gimmicks, but spring from a desire for timely peer review.
However, what Dr Bly calls Science 2.0 has drawbacks. Jennifer Rohn, a biologist at University College London and a prolific blogger, says there is a risk that rivals will see how your work unfolds and pip you to the post in being first to publish. Blogging is all well and good for tenured staff but lower down in the academic hierarchy it is still publish or perish, she laments.
To help avoid such incidents Research Blogging allows users to tag blog posts with metadata, information about the post’s author and history. This enables priority of publication to be established, something else peer-reviewed journals have long touted as their virtue.
With the technology in place, scientists face a chicken-and-egg conundrum. In order that blogging can become a respected academic medium it needs to be recognised by the upper echelons of the scientific establishment. But leading scientists are unlikely to take it up until it achieves respectability. Efforts are under way to change this. Nature Network, an online science community linked toNature, a long-established science journal, has announced a competition to encourage blogging among tenured staff. The winner will be whoever gets the most senior faculty member to blog. Their musings will be published in the Open Laboratory, a printed compilation of the best science writing on blogs. As an added incentive, both blogger and persuader will get to visit the Science Foo camp, an annual boffins’ jamboree in Mountain View, California.
By itself this is unlikely to bring an overhaul of scientific publishing. Dr Bly points to a paradox: the internet was created for and by scientists, yet they have been slow to embrace its more useful features. Nevertheless, serious science-blogging is on the rise. The Seed state of science report, to be published later this autumn, found that 35% of researchers surveyed say they use blogs. This figure may seem underwhelming, but it was almost nought just a few years ago. Once the legion of science bloggers reaches a critical threshold, the poultry problem will look paltry.