Adventures in Ethics and Science

I’m blogging from the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This morning, I was part of a session (along with Bora Zivkovic and Jean-Claude Bradley) entitled “Opening Science to All: Implications of Blogs and Wikis for Social and Scholarly Scientific Communication”. I thought I’d make a few brief comments about the session while my impressions are still fresh, but I reserve the right to say more later.

First off, for an 8:30 AM session, I was pretty impressed with the turnout. There were probably about 55 people in the room at the very start, with a few more filtering in after the session was under way. Yay information scientists! Not about to fall prey to accusations of being late risers.

Bora started off the session with a a taxonomy of the blogging done by scientists. He gave a nice description of the various ways that blogging scientists harness blogs to communicate with students, with other scientists, and with the public, and illustrated these with screenshots of actual blog posts (for which I am hopeful that he will post the URLs somewhere). He also gave a nice explanation of the ways that PLoS is creating a mode of communication that falls somewhere between the blogoshere and the traditional peer reviewed scientific literature.

Jean-Claude followed this with a discussion of how he has been using blogs and wikis to do “Open Notebook” science, bringing transparency to the project of selecting a research problem, tackling it experimentally, and sharing information at each stage of the project. I found myself most fascinated by his discussion of why wikis are a necessary complement to blogs for pieces of this project (from organizing the knowledge being built to tracking changes and using third-party time-stamps to support priority claims).

My presentation dealt with the ways that I see traditional channels of scientific communications not working as well as might be hoped, either from the point of view of building scientific knowledge or of building a strong scientific community. I considered the ways that blogs address some shortcomings (like the long timescale involved in getting results published in the peer reviewed journals, the relatively limited “discussion” among author and peer reviewers leading up to such publication, the danger that the publications come to be seen as endpoints rather than contributions to a continuing conversation, etc.), and also the challenges inherent in dealing with communication via blogs (without formal peer review how can this information be any good, how does this fit into the ways universities “keep score”, etc.). Of course, regular readers of the blog will know that I have deep concerns about the ways such score keeping shapes the practice of science. Also, to my mind communication about what it’s like to be a scientist — working in a particular field, or a particular kind of environment, or at a particular stage — can do as much for individual scientists and the scientific community they belong to as communicating about experimental techniques and results.

There were a number of great questions from the audience, which I’ll post about after I’ve given them more thought. Attempts were made to record the talks. Assuming those attempts were successful, I’ll post links when they go live.


  1. #1 CogSciLibrarian
    October 23, 2007

    I loved your session this morning, and just blogged it. Funny to think you were both presenting *and* blogging!!

    thanks for a great session.