ASIS&T 2007: Opening Science to All: Implications of Blogs and Wikis for Social and Scholarly Scientific Communication

Bora Zivkovic

What are sci/tech bloggers doing?
Fun stuff… Changing policy. Scientists are not humorless automatons. A way for “fun” to appear within scientific literature. Science and art, history of science. Blogging from the field — talking about field research.
Serious stuff… Snippets of research too “small” to be published, but valuable. Sometimes hypotheses and data — open notebook science (in a later talk). Blog carnivals — ad hoc popular journalism. One editor collects posts sent in by others, posts link list in a single place. Editorship rotates among group.
Popular magazine editors; some have blogs. Serious publishers do, too.
Blogs are starting to be locus of open access publishing and review — reviewers don’t comment on quality of paper, per se; rather, on value of information being added — is it worth publishing? Trackbacks can allow one to see who else in the community is commenting on a paper. Scientists who are bloggers write comments in a few lines: short, blunt. Non-blogging scientists write paragraphs with references; very polite and subtle. A clash of cultures.
Impact of open discussion on research will be immense.

UsefulChem: An Open Notebook Science Project
Jean-Claude Bradley

Jean-Claude coined phrase “Open Notebook Science”.
Speaker runs a chem lab at Drexel; manages student researchers. Talk is about how they share their research.


There is a continuum from closed to open in how science is reported:

  1. Closed research: Model is the traditional lab notebook — unpublished, fundamentally personal. Failed experiments are never seen by anyone.
  2. Traditional journal article: Mostly open; but you need a subscription to journal. Not as convenient.
  3. Open Access Journal: Available to anyone online. Some journals require authors to pay to be published.
  4. Open Notebook Science: full transparency. Everything that’s done is recorded and available.

Where is science headed? we are between human-human communications and human-computer communication. Research is moving in direction where computers start to manage research — plan experiments. It will be a self-organizing redundant projects. Critical factor: being able to read and write (publish) with zero cost. Publication of all aspects of the scientific process: open notebook science. Total transparency.
If machines “do” science, how do they know what’s important? Ask humans. In other words, search texts for things like “next steps”, “what’s next” and answer those questions.
Malaria is a good venue for this: big problem, no big money for drug companies.
Started out blogging things… Moved to wiki because wikis are better at organizing things. Wiki enabled broad discussion. The successes, and importantly the failures. Also, blogs don’t have record of changes. Wiki enables the history to be preserved. Result is UsefulChem.
Things are indexed in Google, time-stamped, findable. History of editing is available to all.
How do people find experiments? Free tool, site meter, shows how people are finding the wiki. Some via RSS, some via searches (mostly Google). Molecules are tagged in wiki using InChI. Google handles these pretty well — so a good tool for researchers to use. And of course, raw data are available for every experiment.
They are still using a blog, but using it do point to things in the wiki, define problems. Blog is targeted toward other chemists, not public.
Open Science lets you connect with people at other institutions and collaborate — you find each other in the course of your individual research. Interestingly, mailing list is still tool for intra-group collaboration than either wiki or blog. Also using Second Life to hold meetings.


Q: How do you achieve institutional buy-in for open science? Many scientists/researchers/academics are not good at sharing
A: Need to find people who share the vision and lead by example. Growth of open notebook science is going to be slow. Impact will be big, though, over time.
Q: How easily are graphics handled in wiki software?
A: There’s a free Java viewer for images — to do “zooming”, etc. — so there’s no burden on user. It’s just there, part of the open source movement.

Social and Scientific Implications of Science Blogging
Janet Stemwedel

Interested in philosophy of science and ethics of science. Blogs at Adventures in Ethics and Science.


Scientific communication is essential to scientific practice: to share results (with public, with each other), to articulate theories, to train new scientists.
Traditional channels of communication are peer-reviewed literature (this is how “score is kept”). Tenure, promotion, existence as a researcher all tied up in peer-reviewed process. Peer-reviewed literature is a back-and-forth between scientists over a long time scale. Research tends to be secretive until [eventually] published. Peer reviewers are necessarily your “competitors” — experts in your narrow field.
Also conferences — shorter timescale. Informal conversations and discussions. These tend to be ephemeral; thoughts vanish after being uttered, and those not at the conference don’t take part.
Press releases, popular publications, etc. — these tend to be one way, from scientist to public. Science journalists end up being gatekeepers.
Problem is the knowledge-building requires good communication. Only way to get to objective knowledge is by having many people comparing results and interpretations. Interdisciplinary tools and approaches are key. Challenge is avoid duplication and avoid already-discovered dead ends.
So what’s wrong with traditional channels of communication? Most communication comes at end of project, not in midst. Not much collaboration or input. What’s reported reflects author, reviewers, and journal editor. Not broad community. Vast amount of information is not reported, especially things that don’t work.
Blogs hold promise to improve this. Offer back-and-forth on short timescale. Less ephemeral. Potential to expand audience broadly across geography, disciplines, backgrounds. Blogs may be free of existing pitfalls of peer-review (inherent conservatism in process). Quality control is interesting; posts are viewed and commented on more broadly. Through discussions on blogs, we get a window into science as process, not result. This is important to scientists, as well as to public.
How does community of science function? Blogs can open up this community a bit to scientists. Scientists are loathe to discuss process by which they communicate. The community is opaque from the outside. (And from the inside.) Blogs can help expose this to those thinking of entering the field. You can have a virtual community in place of the real one that may not exist where a person is. Opportunity to change mode of community conversation.
Your audience becomes the audience of the willing. Do you blog as yourself or anonymously? If yourself, there’s risk; if anonymously, people don’t know who you are.
Can blogs shift the culture of science? Now, see things as competition for scarce resources. Blogs could help make mentoring be taken more seriously. Expand audience to the non-scientists. Ongoing discussions will review that science is a process, not a result.


Q: What are risks to intellectual property in open science?
A: Large — if you’re interested in a patent or IP, open science isn’t right for you.
Q: How will wikis change university?
A: When people who have tenure feel the current process does not work anymore. It will be slow and evolutionary.
Q: What is key research question that you think is important to investigate (in terms of how to use blogs/wikis to support science)?
A (Stemwedel): How do scientists learn to be good scientists? How is that changing?
A (Bradley): Study how science gets done through Open Notebooks — see how people change minds, react to data, etc. Interesting to see how other scientists “do” science.
A (Zivkovic): Blog is software, not way of thinking. What you do with it is what is important. Publication of paper is not end; it has a life after publication, and that life is now public and observable. A second stage of peer review.
Q: How do electronic lab notebooks (aimed to decrease “cheating” in science) interact with open science.
A (Bradley): Having a wiki enables me to mentor students, via wiki, several times a day. Also opens mentoring to anyone.
A (Stemwedel): Electronic notebooks are scary because disks can get destroyed — centralized online storage is safer in the long term.
Q: How do we view authority in “science 2.0”?
A (Zivkovic): Nothing new; authority is built over time. Some blogs will be “citable”. We will figure this out. Comments on Public Library of Science get DOIs — the comments are citable. Idea of “citable unit” will change.
A (Bradley): Blog posts can go to Nature Proceedings; no peer review, but editorial review. And there’s a DOI, too. Be sure to keep copyright if you want to do this.
A (Stemwedel): People are using authority of reviewer as a substitute for quality of reviewer.
Q: How do you know with whom to collaborate?
A (Bradley): I’ll work with anyone with something to contribute. Can’t rely on traditional authority; rely on actions.
A (Stemwedel): Interactions within scientific community, not narrow research. Blogging can be a powerful support tool for researchers.
A (Zivkovic): Open access science is critical to globalization of science. Helps reduce data privilege, especially outside developed world.

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