Nature Methods: It’s good to blog

Another editorial about science blogging today, this time in Nature Methods: Lines of communication:

The public likes science stories it can easily relate to, and we have to admit that most science, including that published in Nature Methods, is unlikely to get more than a snore from nonscientists. In contrast, science stories that have a human interest or other emotionally charged angle require the concerted efforts of both journalists and scientists to ensure that the public understands the story well enough to make an informed personal decision. A failure in this regard can lead to a crisis that is difficult to resolve.
A powerful aspect of blogs is their capacity to put a human face on science and related health issues by allowing scientists to discuss how these things affect them personally in a format in which regular readers feel as though they know the writer. Analysis of the MMR vaccine incident suggests that emotional arguments like a scientist talking about vaccinating his or her own children might be more powerful than the rational arguments that form the basis of normal scientific discourse. The public’s emotional response to genetically modified food in some countries might also have been very different if people could see numerous online blog entries from scientists discussing why they were not concerned about the scenarios being promulgated in the press. But can enough scientists be convinced of the potential benefits of blogging to make this a reality?
Conferences such as Science Blogging 2008: London, organized by Nature Network, and ScienceOnline’09 are exploring the role of blogging in science and trying to get more scientists involved. Nature Network just concluded their Science Blogging Challenge 2008–won by Russ B. Altman–where the goal was to get a senior scientist to start blogging. Altman’s colleague Steve Quake also just started blogging in a guest stint for the New York Times. One hopes that examples of prominent scientists blogging will convince others of the benefits. When a blog author is not a prominent scientist with a reputation to maintain, the quality of information on the blog can be a concern, but scienceblog tracking sites such as can help alleviate this problem.

w00t for the mention of ScienceOnline09! I wish they also mentioned as a means to track good science blogging (mention of carnivals would be too much to expect from a short article like this, I understand).

In the spirit of leading by example, Nature Methods will convert its online commenting site, Methagora, into a proper blog in preparation for later this year when commenting capabilities will be incorporated into published papers. Methagora will allow us to highlight and comment on papers that we feel are of interest to a larger readership and discuss the impact we see them having on science and hopefully society. We invite you, our readers–scientists and nonscientists alike–to share your thoughts and concerns, including your thoughts on this editorial. See you in the blogosphere!

I am happy to hear this. I guess the PLoS ONE example is emboldening others to start the experiment as well. This is a Good Thing. More journals allow the commenting on the papers, more ‘normal’ this will appear to scientist, more quickly it will become normal for scientists to use this. You remember when Nature tried this experiment a couple of years ago, then quit and proclaimed the experiment to be a failure after only six months? When they did that, I was, like, WTF? Who ever expected such a big shift in the entire scientific culture to happen in six months?! But give it another five years and it will start getting there. And remember that a scientific paper is not a blog post – do not expect a bunch of comments over the first 24 hours: they will slowly accumulate over the years and decades.
Finally, let me just notice that both Nature and Nature Methods published pro-blog editorials on the same day. And they also interviewed me this week for a topical issue on the state of science journalism/communication they are planning for a couple of weeks from now. I don’t think this is a coincidence – Nature group is cooking something and we’ll have to wait and see what that is.

4 responses to “Nature Methods: It’s good to blog

  1. Nature group is cooking something and we’ll have to wait and see what that is.

    It’s going to involve MT4. Perhaps they’re going to live-blog when it shows us how to cure AIDS.

  2. Mr. Zivkovic, a/k/a: ‘Coturnix,’
    I have been reading your digital musings and questioning for about a year now. Your fixed thoughts via this blog pique my interests and give comfort to this lay citizen of wonder.
    I don’t claim to understand all the code under the hood or a fraction of the delicate details of the research you report on here. However, I know that a “voice” I’ve come to know, causes me to Google, Delicious and Twine the subjects that excite my mind. Your passion is viral.
    Science “in the open” is perhaps the most critical work being done in this new reality of the social web. By showing us the germination of concepts and the applied Sciences of carefully managed research methodologies you create a relationship and sense of ownership to the complex idea- this allows us to understand better.
    I hear your voice, and hope that we continue this humanization of laboratory complexities. May the “work” never be boiled down to just bumper-sticker slogans to catch the eye of all. I agree though, that the work is too critical not to consider this: more “audience” = more accountability and wider distribution of thought.
    The great Todd Rundgren once said, “Never adjust your music to fit the audience, adjust the audience to your music.” The Science “song” will be heard and should be heard. This requires a consideration, at the very least, that an audience is here. We are questioning. We are wanting more- not less of your notes.
    I’m holding on to the belief that perhaps the “widest audience” isn’t the goal. A focused, passionate “deep audience” will carry forth the reports from the lab into their spheres. It is up to the writers, bloggers, twitter(ers), the Twiners of this space to express your “message” in the voice which resonates with their audience.
    Marc Canter is right to say that ‘… the future will be live and open and all software will be social.’
    I hope more Scientists follow through on theory – open = good.
    Thank you for letting me listen into your conversations. I’m picking up some nice tunes from your lab.
    Michael Sean Wright

  3. “And remember that a scientific paper is not a blog post – do not expect a bunch of comments over the first 24 hours: they will slowly accumulate over the years and decades.”
    Completely agreed. Comments will accumulate rather like citations, for that matter, and will be easier to follow as well, as they will be accumulated on the site of the original article.
    Nice comment from Mr. Wright!

  4. The previous Nature experiment on commenting was intended to see if it could supplement the normal review process in determining whether to publish a paper. Timely and substantial comments are needed to make this useful.
    Nature, followed by the other Nature-branded titles, will be implementing commenting capabilities on published papers soon.