Jeremy Fox, ecologist and blogger extraordinaire at Dynamic Ecology, has just made available a new publication called: “Can blogging change how ecologists share ideas? In economics, it already has” for Ideas in Ecology and Evolution. He has shared the pre-print version (where else) on his blog, and you can check it out here: http://dynamicecology.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/4457-8353-1-ce-1.pdf
He makes a number of good points. Here is my admittedly biased take:
-“Increasing numbers of ecologists read blogs.” Absolutely true, but I would add the caveat that they are overwhelmingly young researchers or graduate students. So it makes sense to gear the content towards them, and one should make no assumptions about who is (or is not) reading.
-“Blogs are fast-moving.” Sure, but to a fault. I often find myself suffering from foot-in-mouth disease, and putting opinions on the internet that is instantly and permanently preserved may one day come back to bite me (hopefully this premonition is not one of them). For someone who is well-established, like Jeremy Fox, this is probably not as big of an issue, but junior ecologists, take heed.
-“Blogs are a good venue for discussion and debate.”
-“Blogs are not only open access, able to be read by anyone, they’re also free to authors.” Hands down the number one point in favor of blogs. The only issue is that they’re not citable or peer-reviewed, meaning that even if they provide good content (which is questionable), one still has to go to the peer-reviewed literature to back up those statements, which can negate this benefit in the first place.
-“Blogs can be a venue for the exchange of serious, rigorous ideas.” Probably the best one I can think of, since he makes the point that comments in PLoS ONE occur on <20% of publications. However, as any YouTube viewer can attest, just because the forum is there doesn’t mean the right people are listening.
-“Blogs can cover topics not suitable for peer-reviewed papers in ecology journals,” Hands down the second best point in favor of blogs (and forums, and any other online community). Gone are the days of ANOVAs, now is the time is complicated-as-shit statistics. Most papers I read assume some level of familiarity with the methods, which is a poor assumption in most cases (at least for me), so off I go to the Wikipedia to figure things out. Not only that, but blogs provide excellent tutorials for the implementation of techniques that are not well enough described in the paper to be easily repeatable (and special kudos to authors who make code, etc. available on their websites and blogs). These easy-to-digest explanations clearly are eschewed in print (although they probably shouldn’t be) and so they end up deposited on the internet.
In the end, blogs replace the discourse that traditionally occurred at meetings and conferences, but instead of happening once a year, they are available 24/7. This is both a blessing and a curse: as Jeremy Fox points out, feedback is instantaneous and voluminous. However, this also means that feedback is instantaneous and voluminous. Dr. Fox also operates from the viewpoint of having established a thoughtful and wildly successful blog. As the market begins to saturate (hey, that’s me!), perhaps as the result of this paper or through the efforts of social media-ites like Jarrett Byrnes, will blogs be able to maintain this stream of services?
I think he sums it up best when he says, “blogging isn’t, and can’t be, a replacement for the peer-reviewed literature, but it can be a hugely valuable component.” Just like anything, blogging needs to be taken with a grain of salt and steps need to be taken to ensure the validity and rigor of the content, which is pretty much good advice for anyone doing anything.