Bad Article on Genetics Blogging

Nature Reviews Genetics has published a terrible review of genetics blogging. And it’s not just because they don’t link to yours truly. The author links to Alex and Paul Zed, which means she knows about the ScienceBlogs empire network. I guess she didn’t poke around long enough to find evolgen or Gene Expression. Maybe she saw them and wasn’t sure if they were genetics blogs; it’s not like the names give them away.

The article sucks for the most part because it’s an exercise in shoddy research. The author attributes Mendel’s Garden to Hsien-Hsien Lei. Hsien hosted the second edition, but the carnival was Paul’s idea (I take full credit for the name, however).

After linking to a few blogs (how bloggy of her), the author writes:

Based on this survey, most genetics blogs tend to discuss general topics sparked off by recent scientific publications or general press coverage. But another potential application of blogging springs to mind. Benefits of such rapid exchanges of information are clear to anyone who has struggled with experiments that don’t work for no apparent reason, or with problematic data analysis.

Based on a “survey” of one blog carnival and four blogs (one of which is the blog of sister journal Nature Genetics, Free Association) the author is ready to make sweeping conclusions about genetics blogging? This makes Nature’s study of science blogs look rigorous by comparison.

We can say all we want about how blogs will provide the lubricant to accelerate scientific research, but I’d rather hear it from someone who knows something about blogging. The problem is that not enough people are reading blogs, not enough people are commenting on blogs, and not enough people are blogging. We need to overcome the threshold of resistance (reach some critical mass) before blogs make an impact on the research process. Right now, most seriously scientific blog entries are reviews of recent literature (the one thing the author gets right). If you try to, say, put in a request for some background literature on a topic, you may get zero replies.

And, yes, I realize that I have not done my part to turn blogging into more than a collection of review articles and links to funny cartoons. I promised to present some original research on evolgen, got started, and then stopped before I presented any data. I’m hoping to put something together over the weekend so that my little project can continue.


  1. #1 Tara C. Smith
    August 18, 2006

    Jesus, that *is* terrible. Was that written in 5 minutes? Why didn’t she take the time to possibly *talk* to bloggers?

  2. #2 coturnix
    August 18, 2006

    Send a link to this post to the author. Perhaps edit it first to include at the bottom of the post a longer list of genetics bloggers.

  3. #3 JP
    August 18, 2006

    The problem is that not enough people are reading blogs, not enough people are commenting on blogs, and not enough people are blogging. We need to overcome the threshold of resistance (reach some critical mass)

    exactly. i see hints of this on certain sites, but a link in nature reviews would have gotten the name out to a lot of people whose comments I’d be interested in having. too bad.

  4. #4 Rosie Redfield
    August 19, 2006

    Stimulated by a posting by Pedro Baltrao a couple of weeks ago, which I found via Tangled Bank #59, I’ve started blogging about my lab’s research at http://rrresearch.blogspot.com. Very few other scientists seem to be doing this – might this be because it has almost zero public interest?

  5. #5 Attila Chordash
    August 19, 2006

    Blogs concerning science can cover at least 3 things, which are parts of everyday scientific work:
    – reviewing scientific literature – many blogs do that
    – original research – well, god luck for that, it could work
    – research in progress – competition problems
    – publishing scientific ideas, tricks – competition problems

    In experimental science, where time gap is an important determinant, the last 2 options are more problematic.

    Another working possibilities are popularizing science and philosophizing science or just considering science in a larger frame.

  6. #6 Hsien-Hsien Lei
    August 19, 2006

    I’m sorry for having been given the credit for Mendel’s Garden and equally sorry that my own blog didn’t get linked! 😛 Expect an email from me, Magdalena Skipper.

  7. #7 Hsien-Hsien Lei
    August 19, 2006

    Whoa. I just figured out Magdalena Skipper is the Chief Editor at Nature Reviews Genetics. Somehow I think a summer intern might have written this piece for her….

  8. #8 Paul Decelles
    August 21, 2006

    I received a gracious apology from Magdalena Skipper this morning. Thanks again Hsien! And Rich for helping with Mendel’s Garden and the great post on blogging and genetics.

  9. #9 Pedro Beltrao
    August 27, 2006

    I would be interested in ideas on how to increase the number of scientists blogging. Blogging takes time and blogging data and ideas is still seen as dangerous.
    I think that there are advantages:
    – Paper reviews and conference blogging can help us keep track of science.
    – Blogging current research might help us establish collaborations more quickly and decrease the number of scoops in science.
    – Having an electronic version of lab books should also help with lab management and dealing with fraud.

    Still, there is some barrier to start even if it takes 5 minutes to get a blog up. It takes some time and curiosity to look around other blogs and to fit into a network, a community of bloggers.
    What could we do to get more people to blog ?

    Put our blog address in conference slides ?
    Write letters to journals signed by large group of bloggers ?
    Make a science blogging conference ?

    any other naive crazy idea ? 🙂

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