Science Blogging – what it can be

Publishing hypotheses and data on a blogFrom quite early on in my blogging endeavor, I was interested in exploring science blogging, what it is, what it can do, and what it can become. So, check out some of my earliest thoughts on this here and here.
Then, over about a month (from April 17, 2006 to May 17, 2006) I wrote a gazillion posts on this topic, and many science bloggers chimed in in the comments or on their own blogs. The repost of all of them together is under the fold. Check the originals (and comments) here:
April 17, 2006: Publishing hypotheses and data on a blog – is it going to happen on science blogs?
April 20, 2006: Blogs as cited references in scientific papers
April 20, 2006: More on publishing data on blogs
April 23, 2006: Even more on science online publishing
April 25, 2006: And even more on science online publishing
April 30, 2006: Social networking for scientists
May 05, 2006: Science Blogging
May 11, 2006: Free online science publishing
May 17, 2006: Publish in Open Access Journals if you want to get cited!
And I have never fogotten it – check out this, this and this. So, let’s start this topic all over again!

Science Blogging
This article from The Scientists provoked a number of science bloggers to write about the role of blogging in science, the role of scientists in the blogosphere, and the pros and cons of blogging for one’s scientific career. See, fo example posts by GrrlScientist of Living The Scientific Life, Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles and Derek Lowe of In The Pipeline.
They, rightly, emphasize the role of science blogs in popularizing science, demonstrating to lay people that science is fun, and, of course, fighting against all kinds of pseudoscientific ideas.
I have, before, tried to take a longer look into a farther future, and looked more at the role blogs will have in the way scientists communicate with each other and how that may affect publishing, as well as equalize the playing field, to some extent, between scientists working in various countries around the world, be it in the First, Second or Third World. Check it out here.
Publishing hypotheses and data on a blog – is it going to happen on science blogs?
What is a science blog?
I guess there are as many definitions as there are science blogs, but in general, I see science blogs defined (by other bloggers) in two ways: by topic-matter and by authority of the author.
Thus, a science blogs is one that always, often, or at least sometimes covers science as a topic. Or, a science blog is one written by a person with some expertise in science, e.g., a practicing scientist, a student, or perhaps a science journalist.
You can sample the diversity of science blogs if you check out these linkfests: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, so you can make up your own mind about the definition.
So, I’ve been reading science blogs for quite a while now. How do they differ from other blogs? What, if anything is missing? Are there any trends that may predict the future of science blogging?
I was going to make a lot of links to a lot of blogs to provide the examples, but this post will never get finished if I tried to do that. Instead, I’ll link to a few blogs where particularly relevant, provide some examples from my own blogging because it is easy for me to find around here, and for the rest, following the links in the linkfests just above will have to do.
So, what kinds of posts are found on science blogs? Let’s see, very roughly in increased degrees of “professionalism”, or “expertise”:
Universal Fun Bloginess
Most science bloggers do stuff that all bloggers do. For instance, there may be an occasional personal post, a post about one’s kids, a joke, some poetry, a cartoon, perhaps some memes, shout-outs to carnivals, Top 10 lists, and some online quizzes, often with commentary on the quizzing method. A ‘Merry Christmas’ post may be less frequent than in the rest of the blogosphere, though. Anyway, move on, nothing particularly sciency-interesting here.
Cute Animal Pictures
Friday Cat Blogging is an ubiquitious event on blogs. Science bloggers are, of course, animal lovers and pet-owners just as much as anyone and frequently post cute animal pictures. But, science bloggers are more likely to forgo the cats, and highlight some much cooler animals, like cephalopods on Pharyngula or Nudibranchs on Bouphonia.
Daily News and Events
If something newsworthy happens in the world, be it in science or politics or popular culture, science bloggers are as likely as anyone to chime in, linking to the media reporting and briefly commenting. Many science bloggers write a lot about politics, both as news-coverage and as more in-depth analysis.
Some science blogs are just plain fun. Some are snarky and raunchy all the time, like FrinkTank, appealing to an adult lay audience. Others are fun in a way that makes science appealing to a young lay audience, like Inkycircus, which is, for the most part, safe for work. Of course, if your work is not safe for FrinkTank, there is something wrong with your work.
Life in Lab and Field
Several science blogs, usually written by students and postdocs, detail the daily life in the laboratory or the field. YoungFemaleScientist, Disgruntled Julie and
Penn easily come to mind. Some of the posts (and occasional posts by other bloggers) are as good as anything on Others are more “professional”, e.g., the Gombe Chimpanzee Blog.
Book Reviews
These appear on science blogs quite often. I have written a few myself. Check, for instance, this one or this one.
Original Art
There are two outstanding examples I am aware of, Olduvai George and Rigor Vitae, of professional nature artists showcasing their art on their blogs, putting the subjects of their art in proper scientific context, and explaining the technical aspects of their work as well. There are also numerous photoblogs, with excellent amateur or professional science/nature photography on display in each post. Some of the best blogging nature art and photography regularly occurs on carnivals like I And The Bird and Circus of the Spineless.
Science in the News
This is often seen on science blogs – reporting on, perhaps with brief commentary – on new scientific findings as reported by the mainstream media. This is often accompanied by a critique of the way the research was portrayed by the journalist.
Science Journalism
Real analysis of the way media portray science is not easy and is thus not as common as just airing displeasure with a particular piece of reporting. But you should take a look at Matt Nisbett’s Framing Science for an example of good media analysis.
Politics of Science
Several science blogs are almost entirely dedicated to the analysis of the politics of science, both in terms of science policy and in terms of politization of science and politically-motivated attacks on science and scientists. Chris Mooney, after blogging about this for a couple of years, wrote a book on the subject. Ed Brayton is also one such blogger, as are many others.
Science And Religion
Most scientists wish this question was resolved decades ago and are sick and tired of beating the old horse again and again. But, some – actually A LOT of – science bloggers thrive on debunking Creationisms of various stripes, including the Intelligent Design Creationism, other religiously-motivated assaults on science, or even the non-rationality and absurdity of religion itself. Do I really have to type all those “a href”s again to link to Pharyngula here? See also Evolutionblog, Austringer and Red State Rabble.
Some science bloggers specialize, and many others occasionally indulge, in debunking pseudoscience, claims of paranormal, or urban myths. You can find the best of such posts collected every two weeks on the Skeptic’s Circle. Check out Archy for a good examples of a mix of science, politicsl and skeptical blogging.
Environmental Blogging
Nick Anthis of The Scientific Activist pointed me to an interesting article on envitonmental blogging, which argues that many environmental blogs write inaccurately about environmental science:

“We suggest the following responses, which are potentially applicable to all scientific disciplines. Environmental scientists should actively engage in blogging to increase the presence of informed opinions in the blogosphere. Research supervisors should encourage students to blog while providing training in science communication and dissemination. Senior scientists should set
up their own high-profile weblogs to help allay fears that blogging is somewhat disreputable. Blogging should be part of a portfolio of public engagement activities, even to the extent of including blogging as part of a researcher’s job specification. Examples of excellent, informative sites can readily be found (table S2), but more are needed.”

Of course, many environmental bloggers are not scientists, but activists or lay-people. There are also many more bloggers who touch on environmental topics, at least occasionally, than on science. Still, the article is of interest (and suprisingly positive about bloging) to all science bloggers.
Nature Writing
Related to Environmental Blogging, as well as Blogging form the Field, is good nature writing. You’ll find good examples of this on carnivals like I And The Bird. My favourites:Creek Running North and Sahotra Sarkar.
Blog Carnivals
A year ago, hosting a blog carnival was pretty easy and straightforward. Today, hosting a topical, specialized carnival requires expertise in the subject. I have recently hosted a number of carnivals and, more and more I have to do something akin to peer-review – checking with my blogging friends if a particular entry is suitable or not.
Hosting Tangled Bank, Grand Rounds and Carnival of the Green is becoming more and more like this. Entries get refused by editors (does everyone every week get a rant from RepSchmuel?) much more frequently as the carnivals are becoming more popular and more bloggers like to use them as the opportunity to get themselves better known.
I am hosting Skeptic’s Circle in ten days, and the very first entry I got I had had to send to “peer review” (and in the end had to reject). Are specialized blog carnivals becoming more like scientific journals?
Yet, if you look at science-related carnivals the entries are nothing like what shows up on Philosopher’s Carnival, History Carnival or Carnivalesque. Those posts are mini-dissertations! Carnival of Bad History also appears to be moving away from its original Skeptic’s Circle-like template and more into the History Carnival territory. I bet hosts of those carnivals really feel like Journal Editors.
Group Blogs and Blogfarms
Having several experts in one place is an excellent idea. For debunking Creationists, one goes to Panda’s Thumb, for physics to Cosmic Variance and for climate science to Real Climate. For a mix of a little bit of everything, go to SEED’s Scienceblogs. Being part of such a team is a great way to blog and be noticed.
Science Education
This is an area where some science bloggers touch on Edublogging. I keep a separate blog for just this topic. See the latestCarnival of Education and a recent Teaching Carnival for some good examples of good SciEduBlogging.
Biomedical Science
There is quite a lot of overlap between Sciblogging and Medblogging. Orac of Respectful Insolence, Abel PharmBoy of Terra Sigillata and Tara of Aetiology are good examples of blogs that successfully wed science and medicine.
Science News
Birds In The News is an excellent example of a regularly occuring science-news round-up. It serves as a mini-science-magazine in itself, with loyal readers coming back for more every week. It covers quite a lot of news on various aspects of science (and politics) touching birds in some way or another, always accompanied by commentary by an expert blogger – an avian biologist. Others may not do this as regularly, but when they are excited by a new paper, they will go into great detail explaining the paper to the lay audience.
It is especially cool, when the blogger explaining the paper is the author of the paper him/herself. For instance, Martin Brazeau wrote a blog post about his own paper in Nature on the early evolution of the tetrapod ear. Likewise, Ricardo Azevedo wrote about his own paper in Nature on the evolution of sex and later provided some more background information on how the paper came about. Although, I am not sure if he ever wrote about another paper of his on Ontogenetic Depth, but the rundown by PZ Myers (that is where the link is going to) is an excellent example of the genre in this category.
Placing Science News Into Context
This is much harder to do, but some bloggers are excellent at doing this – using recent papers to teach the audience about a broader area of scientific research. I have tried to do this several times, with mixed results (some are listed here).
Science Reviews and Tutorials
I do not see this nearly as much as I think it should be out there: writing blog posts that explain the basics to the lay audience. Nothing brand-new or cuttin edge, just textbook stuff, but explained in a lively bloggy language. I have written a whole series of those but this post by David Ng is probably the best example to be emulated in the future.
Transitions is a blog designed as a repository of posts useful for teaching, and DarkSyde’s Science Fridays on DailyKos are often in this format.
At a more advanced level, a blog post can be a good summary of literature. See Mixing Memory for many good examples of this.
Philosophy and Sociology of Science
There are a number of excellent blogs written by philosophers of science. Let me just highlight Adventures in Ethics and Science, hpb etc., Evolving Thoughts, Philosophy of Biology and What is it like to be a blog?. However, many science bloggers sometimes dig deep into philosophy, or at least dabble in it.
History of Science
Where, oh, where are the historians of science!?!? We laymen sometimes try our hand at it, but having a professional around as a shining example would be great. Can we persuade a science historian to start blogging?
Using a blog as a teaching tool
This is an area where natural scientists appear to be lagging behind social scientists. It is pretty easy to find a teaching blog of, for instance, a sociologist. But as far as natural science goes – and please tell me if I am wrong – I could only find PZ Myers’ blogs for his courses in Neurobiology, Human Physiology and Genetics. I am thinking of using one next month, when my next class begins (Life Science for adults).
If you are interested in using online technologies (blogging, podcasting, vlogging, etc) in the classroom, your obligation is to peruse David Warlick’s website, blog, podcast and book.
Using a blog as a scientific tool
Have you seen Casual Fridays on Cognitive Daily? Every Friday, Dave and Greta give their readers a test or a questionnaire (usually limited to the first 250 responders). Next Friday, they post the analysis with pretty graphs, possible explanations, some background literature summary, etc. What a nifty way to do pilot studies!
Blogging Scientific Hypotheses
I have not really seen a science blogger post an original hypothesis. Social scientists constantly post drafts of their papers, sometimes just sketches of idea, on their blogs, encourage commetning and discussion, and end up publishing the final refined version in journals. I do nto see natural scientists do the same. Why? Is social science unscoopable, in the sense that similar works, written by different people in different styles and with different emphasis still count as distinct pieces of work, while in natural science a simultaneous discovery of something by two people is still counted as a single piece of work (though the two papers are often published together in the same journal, or simultanously in two journals, the way two versions of the Human Genome were published simultaneously one in Science one in Nature)?
Every Discussion section in every paper contains seeds of hypotheses. Review papers are full of opinions that can be reworded as hypotheses. Talks and posters at conferences often involve publicizing one’s hypothesis. There is even a journal called “Medical Hypotheses” which publishes data-free papers specifying hypotheses that people are interested in testing in the future. So why not on a blog?
I have often written opinions in my science posts that can be reformulated as hypotheses (e.g., this, this, this and this). More recently, I openly started stating hypotheses in the proper form of hypotheses (e.g., this, this and this).
What does publishing a hypothesis mean? I guess there are two possibilities:
A) “This is my hypothesis and I am staking the territory here. I intend to test this hypothesis in the near future and you BETTER NOT try to scoop me!”
B) “This is my hypothesis, but I have no intention to follow it up with actual research. However, I’d love to see it tested. Please someone test it! And if you do, you will have to cite me in the list of references as your source for this hypothesis”
And yes, a blog post can be cited in the List Of References of a science paper.
I have quite openly stated the B) version applies to everything I posted so far. Do I have the guts to write an A) type instead of keeping mum, actually doing the work and publishing it in a real paper first?
Have you ever seen a hypotesis on a science blog? Please let me know if you have. It will be very interesting to know.
Blogging Data
I have not seen anyone post unpublished data on a blog. That is, except me, (see this and this). Why is it so? Fear of being scooped?
But, putting data on a blog is a fast way of getting the data out with a date/time stamp on it. It is a way to scoop the competition. Once the data are published in a real Journal, you can refer back to your blog post and, by doing that, establish your primacy.
On the other hand, not seeing anyone else blog data, I am taking very small and careful first steps so far. I am not getting anywhere near my Dissertation stuff. That has to be defended and published before I mention it on the blog. The data I posted so far are from studies that nobody involved in is likely to follow up any time soon. It is not good enough or big enough data-set for the real publication yet, but I felt (and the students who did it with me agree) that the world should see it anyway, and hopefully replicate and follow up on. In a sense, these unpublished data serve as bloggable hypotheses with some data serving as pilot studies.
Bill Hooker wrote:

“Bora helps to usher in a new era of scientific publishing. I’m serious.”

and in a comment to one of my posts writes:

“I particularly like the idea of blog post as scientific publication. I have been saying for some time that if we could get the competition down to a reasonable level in science, lab blogs (lablogs?) would be an obvious way to keep in touch with what’s happening at relevant benches around the world. If ever I make PI, I plan to keep a lablog and use it to reach out to potential collaborators.”

I’d like to see more bloggers post hypotheses and pilot (unpublished, negative or unpublishable) data. When is it going to happen?
Not even PZ Myers, who is master of every category listed here except the last two (which explains why he is the best and most popular science blogger), publishes hypotheses and data. Some people are specialists – they are really good at one or two of the above categories. Others are generalists, doing a little bit of everything. Each approach is equally valid and good. PZ does everything well. I keep trying, but I post as much good stuff in two years as he does in a month!
More than a year ago I wrote a starry-eyed vision of the future of science blogging, but, are we going in that direction at all? Shall we meet at a Science BloggerCon to hash this out?
Update: Ahistoricality and Terra Sigilata have posted responses to this post.
Also, I forgot to include blogs by editors of science magazines, e.g., Scientific American, or such unique blogs as Confessions of a Science Librarian.
In the comments, Ralph Luker points out some blogs by historians of science, some of which are excellent blogs, but none is what I was thinking of when I wrote that category, something more akin to serious essays often seen on other history and philosophy blogs.
Update 2: More responses, from Aetiology and Open Reading Frame.
Also: Confessions of a Science Librarian and The Greenbelt
Even more: Scientific Activist and Pharyngula.
Update 4: Cyberspace Rendezvous chimes in and Rigor Vitae thinks I need Ritalin. Also, I have more here and here.
And there is more: The discussion about science blogging continues on Terra Sigillata, Archy, Neurofuture, Nanopolitan, Jenna’s MySpace blog, Ahistoricality, Genesalive, The Heart of Gold, A Geeky Girl Reads and Scientific Assessment. Comments are welcome everywhere.
Also on Public Rambling, Semciencia and Siris.
And another one on Open Reading Frame
Blogs as cited references in scientific papers
Now that I am deeply steeped into science blogging etc., I have discovered some others writing on the topic.
This and this post are in French, which I have forgotten 20+ years ago, so I’d appreciate a quick, rough translation.
Then, this person is trying to make code for WordPress to automatically form correct citations for each blog post. What do you think?
Update: Thanks to Alejandro of Reality Conditions for providing two more examples: here and here.
Update 2: Apparently, there is now a scientific citation plug-in for WordPress. I hope all the other platforms adopt it as well.
Update 3: Open Reading Frame continues the discussion.
Update 4: Bill Hooker is on a roll. He is pointing to additional posts on the topic, including one by Pedro and one by Alf. Those introduce some idea on the ways to save, timestamp and cite blogposts as references, including the Postgenomic aggregator and the WebCite which “is an archiving system for webreferences”.
More on publishing data on blogs
In another follow-up to this post on publishing hypotheses and data on blogs, in the comments on this post on Open Reading Frame, Jean-Claude Bradley writes:

When my colleagues learn that we try to publish everything we can onto blogs and wikis as soon as possible, the first question is usually about the fear of being scooped. I think that it is sort of like talking about work not yet published in a journal at a conference. If you are going to talk about it make sure that you make lots of noise so it will be hard to ignore. And I think in the blog world the analog of this is repeated discussion at many levels of research (raw experimental data, short-range analsis and discussion of those experiments in a larger context). Search engines tend to reward this kind of activity and make you hard to ignore. In our research, for example, a Google search today for “antimalaria compounds” pulls up our site as the first hit.
I look forward to the rest of your discussion on the subject.

Jean-Claude and colleagues write their lab notebook, almost daily, covering all the successess and mishaps on Useful Chemistry and Useful Chemistry Experiments 1. It is all highly visible. Try scooping that if you can!
Even more on science online publishing
Continuing with the topic about publishing hypotheses and data on a blog, publishing data on blogs and blogs as cited references in scientific papers, here are some more interesting dvelopments and links (check out the three links above as they have a number of recent updates with links to the discussion around various blogs) on open access content, searches of academic literature and the future of online science publishing.
As for using blogs in research, Economists are doing it.
Via If:book I saw that Google Scholar now has additional search options, i.e., by date and not just by relevance. You can get more details here.
Pasta&Vinegar has an interesting excerpt from an essay by Bruce Sterling that looks into the future of science publishing in a similar way that I did a long time ago.
And even more on science online publishing
I am quite glad that my post on publishing hypotheses and data on blogs has received so much attention around the science and medical blogs.
For instance, Peter Frishauf, founder of Mescape and big promoter of Medical Wikipedia stopped by Terra Sigillata and left a comment, which prompted Abel PharmBoy to write another post on that topic.
Today, Orac chimed in with a very throughtful post on the pros and cons of the Medical Wikipedia, with some excellent comments by his readers.
Sandra Porter of Discovering Biology In A Digital World reminded me that she has actually blogged her ongoing research several times, most importantly her series:
Hunting for huntingtin, Part I
Hunting for huntingtin, Part II
Hunting for huntingtin, Part III
Hunting for huntingtin, Part IV
Hunting for huntingtin, part V: BLASTing on forward
As well as:
Anti-freeze for winter weather
Thinking like a programmer, searching like a fool
Now, inspired by the whole discussion, RPM of Evolgen decided to publish, on his blog, some of his old data on aldolase, never published before and likely never to be published in the future in a peer-reviewed journal. Why not let people be aware of the results? The first installment is here.
Any more?
Update: Chad Orzel gives a perspective from physics in Science Blogging or Blogging Science?
Social networking for scientists
Does anyone have experience with Connotea yet? It does look interesting in light of our recent discussions on science Web 2.0, citing blog-posts as academic references etc.
Science Blogging
Stephanie Schorow wrote a really nice article about science blogging for Science & Theology News: If Einstein were a blogger…

At first glance, the wild, wooly world of blogs and the sober, serious world of science shouldn’t mix. After all, blogs — or personal Web logs — are all about opinions and attitude, with logic playing second fiddle to outrage.
Turns out, however, that science and attitude combine quite well. The growing number of science blogs – very loosely defined as blogs about scientific topics or blogs written by scientists — are not only adding to the national debate on issues like intelligent design and global warming, but these e-diaries also explain complicated information and concepts to lay readers.

Read the rest. I wonder if she has read this and the rest of that conversation?
Note that almost all of the blogs mentioned, bloggers interviewed, and blogs listed on the sidebar, are from the SEED ScienceBlogs. These days, if you are not on SEED, you are left behind in the dust of science blogging! That is the epicenter of the SciBlogging movement. So, don’t forget hundreds of other scienceblogs (391 so far on that list!) that exist out there.
Hat-tip: Aetiology, ….on SEED, of course…
Free online science publishing
From today’s Guardian (why not an US paper?):
US senators propose to make scientific research freely available:

American legislators have proposed that scientific research paid for by US taxpayers should be freely available online to everyone. Analysts described the move as a “potential banana skin” for established scientific publishers such as Reed Elsevier, Springer and Informa.
The Federal Research Public Access Act – introduced by senators John Cornyn, a Texan Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat – would require all federal departments and agencies that invest $100m (£54m) or more in research to demand that articles be put online within six months of publication in a subscription journal.

That is exactly as it should be. Of course, the publishers are squirming:

But the Association of American Publishers warned that the law would jeopardise the integrity of the scientific publishing process. Association member Brian Crawford warned it “would create unnecessary costs for taxpayers, place an unwarranted burden on research investigators, and expropriate the value-added investments made by scientific publishers, many of them not-for-profit associations who depend on publishing income to support pursuit of their scholarly missions”.

You know, when the cars became ubiquitous, many horse breeders, dealers and trainers lost their jobs. They then got employed by car dealerships, factories and garages. It is time for the science publishing behemots to go the way of the Dodo as well.
Update: There is an excellent discussion by Nick Anthis and his readers over on Scientific Activist. Go take a look at the post as well as the comment section.
Publish in Open Access Journals if you want to get cited!
Everybody felt it must be true, but there were no hard data on it. That is, until now. The new issue of PloS – Biology just published a study that demonstrates that papers published in Open Access journals get cited more than papers hidden behind the subscription walls (or worse – not available online at all).
Read the editorial introduction: Open Access Increases Citation Rate
Read the study: Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles
And you may also want to read another interesting, related, long study they cite: NEW JOURNAL PUBLISHING MODELS: AN INTERNATIONAL SURVEY OF SENIOR RESEARCHERS (pdf)

7 responses to “Science Blogging – what it can be

  1. Check out Rosie Redfield’s blog, if you haven’t already. Real science in real-time. Way cool.

  2. I did, I thought it was linked in one of the latest posts.

  3. Ah, it probably was. Memory’s the first thing to go when you get old…

  4. Turns out the I cited that 1 Aug 2005 David Secko article in The Scientist as my original impetus for starting Terra Sigillata, as indicated in my first post at the old site.

  5. At least one forthcoming paper (on microbial species concepts) started life on my blog and then became a real talk and paper. Others are in progress (I leave it to readers to guess which ones)…

  6. Well, social scientists and liberal arts folks have done this for a while now. It appears that putting novel ideas up on blogs is much easier than putting up novel testable hypotheses and data.

  7. ResearchCrossroads ( is trying to bring this same level of transparency to publicly funded research, but it taking the approach from the grant perspective as opposed to the literature …. who’s receiving funding for what research ….