The current issue of The Economist contains a short article about how weblogs are beginning to change the way science is being communicate:
Earlier this month Seed Media Group...launched the latest version of Research Blogging, a website which acts as a hub for scientists to discuss peer-reviewed science...The new portal provides users with tools to label blog posts about particular pieces of research, which are then aggregated, indexed and made available online.
...According to Adam Bly, Seed's founder, internet-aided interdisciplinarity and globalisation, coupled with a generational shift, portend a great revolution. His optimism stems in large part from the fact that the new technologies are no mere newfangled gimmicks, but spring from a desire for timely peer review.
However, what Dr. Bly calls Science 2.0 has drawbacks. Jennifer Rohn, a biologist at University College London and a prolific blogger, says there is a risk that rivals will see how your work unfolds and pip you to the post in being first to publish. Blogging is all well and good for tenured staff but lower down in the academic hierarchy it is still publish or perish, she laments.
The author goes on to say that science blogging has yet to achieve any amount of respectability in the scientific establishment. In this respect, there's mention of the Senior Science Blogging Challenge which was announced at last month's blogging conference, and whose aim is to get tenured scientists to start blogging.
The article incorrectly states that "their musings will be published in the Open Laboratory, a printed compilation of the best science writing on blogs." In fact, the contents of the book will be selected by Jennifer Rohn, Bora Zivkovic and a panel of 12 judges, and the senior scientist's blog will not automatically be included. (Bora has just posted the entries submitted so far for inclusion in the book.)
On a related note, the open access journal PLoS Biology contains a new paper called Advancing Science through Conversations: Bridging the Gap between Blogs and the Academy, by Shelley Batts, Nick Anthis and Tara Smith:
Because many science bloggers are practicing scientists or experts in their field, they can provide a unique educational bridge between academia and the public and distill important experimental findings into an accessible, interactive format. Yet academic institutions have been slow to appreciate blogs as valuable mediums for facilitating scholarly discussion, illustrated by the lack of institutional blogs or blogs by established academics. It is true that few quality-control or vetting mechanisms exist to help readers evaluate a blog, which typically earns its reputation based on the blogger's credentials and reader feedback. Yet both academic institutions and blogs aim to engage and educate the public and advance scientific knowledge and discussion. By combining the credibility of institutions--trusted gate-keepers for scientific truth--with the immediacy and networking infrastructure of blogs, we believe that these shared goals can be better served with benefits to both partners.
In my opinion, Jennifer is correct that blogging carries a danger of having other hijack your work. A while back I contacted Shelley Batts (of Of Two Minds) as I was totally amazed at her research. Although she was happy to discuss my questions in private, she did mention that she would never blog about it and I completely understood that.
Blogging about your research is the scientific equivalent of music or movie piracy, except that the writer runs the risk of losing out.
Of course this doesn't hold once your research has been accepted and published. In that case, scientists may blog away to their heart's content. If you think about it, it could turn out to be somewhat profitable or a means of gaining publicity. A lot of books refer to a companion website that promises extra information, extra chapters and so forth. It could work that way with science too. Although I doubt that academic papers would ever become that commercial, some means could be devised so that when interesting new research is published, people may be forwarded to the author's blog where extra anecdotes, details and some such are promised.