Monthly Archives: October 2008

Can We Advance Science Through The Use of Blogs?

The question i’m asking here is whether a blog can advance science, not just by communicating science, but by actually contributing to a modification of scientific knowledge. In some senses, if we are to accept the wisdom of Thomas Kuhn, who proposes that science advances through revolutions rather than incremental changes, then perhaps blogs could offer an appropriate medium for advancing science. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly articles in blogs can be produced at a rapid rate. If we compare these with journals then we can see that there is considerable flexibility afforded to the author in avoiding the restrictions imposed by editorial style, peer review and the cultural environment that all constrain the ‘successful’ articles. In effect, we are talking about self-publishing. This however is also a criticism that can be levelled against blog articles. Peer-reviewed science journals can offer the necessary censoring of articles that are unlikely to relate to reality by using the expertise of the peer-review panel and with careful consideration. Additionally, the competitive process could be argued to lead to a higher quality of articles than without such a process although this in itself is open to debate. For instance, cultural constraints may mean that successful articles are those which resonate with cultural wisdom which may be nothing more than fashion.

Secondly blogs are a medium for communication which previously were predominantly only possible through paper publishing, which is relatively costly and less accessible (depending on the distribution channels). The reader can successfully argue that prior to blogs, there were other means of communicating with an audience using the internet or computers including the production of websites or specialised software programs. However these required more technical expertise, necessitating either outsourcing or time spent specialising in developing information technology skills, both of which require investment of resources.  In effect, the blog allows the scientist or those with an interest in science to communicate with an audience with minimal investment of additional resources.

Thirdly, the blog offers an almost real-time interactive experience with the audience through the use of comments. This has been one of the highlights of using blogs offering the tantalising possibility that collaboration can lead to an evolution of ideas or models. This is dependent however on the level of exposure of the blog articles together with the decision of the reader to contribute. However, a criticism here is that sophisticated models require the reader to have some level of expertise before being able to meaningfully contribute. Nevertheless, it could also be argued that if the articles are clearly written and in effect  communicated, then the reader should be able to meaningfully contribute without needing this special level of expertise.

Fourthly by utilising the blogosphere, scientists can tap into a global network of relevant expertise. Provided these experts are motivated to interact with each other and constructively criticise each others ‘blog models’ then a very fluid medium for scientific evolution is possible which would complement other scientific media. A criticism of this however is the issue of intellectual property. If a scientist publishes their theory online, then they have little protection against the use of their ideas by others. Blog articles can be modified and thus if someone publishes the same theory in a paper publication which is archived then the latter publication’s validity is easier to prove. For blogging science to proceed under these circumstances there would need to be an archiving mechanism for selected blog articles so that the scientists ‘intellectual property’ can be protected.

Fifthly the blog can use a number of media – audio, video, text and graphics to communicate ideas fluidly and effectively. This brings the possibility of science becoming more like a conversation than the sometimes space-constrained, formal, passive and unnatural form of communication that can sometimes be seen in journal articles. Indeed, the way in which blogs could revolutionise science is to produce video (video blog) representations of models explained by the author and  responded to by interested readers again in video format. This would produce a ‘distributed conversation’ which if used correctly could advance models more quickly.

I will test this hypothesis by developing a ‘blog model’. In this case it will be the model of the insular cortex regulating the intensity of emotional experiences through the use of GABA receptors. By exploring the possibilities afforded by the blog medium, I will test the efficacy of the ‘blog model’ by attempting to produce a realistic model of insular cortex function in relation to emotional experience.

Disclaimer

The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Blog Review: All in the Mind

‘All in the Mind’ is a blog by Natasha Mitchell who is a science journalist. The blog which started in October 2007 covers neuroscience issues and is aimed towards a general audience. The blog popularises neuroscience and this is accomplished through the clarity of writing together with an audio series featured on ABC radio. In this article there is a discussion of a number of situations in which one group of people have committed acts of injustice against another group. The story of Romeo Dallaire’s despair at the genocide in Rwanda which he felt helpless to prevent is compelling and Mitchell references a film ‘Shake hands with the devil’ which covers this in more detail. Such issues in which the lives of many people are impacted should surely feature highly in the priorities of the scientific research community. The issue of negative drug studies not being published is covered here although regulatory changes should address this. Mitchell has very put an image of her own brain up here for readers to see! Here is a discussion of Doug McGill’s thoughts on ethics in journalism and here is a video interview with Clive Thompson of Wired magazine about blogging. Here is a transcript of an interview with Patrick Wall who with Ron Melzack developed the Gate Control Theory of Pain whilst this article features Goodna, one of the oldest asylums in Australia with links to an audio show on this.  What struck me when reading this blog was the highly specialised nature of science journalism and the tremendous good work that is done by this group in communicating a technically demanding subject.

Disclaimer

The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

Book Review: Perspectives on the Henderson Hospital

The featured book is ‘Perspectives on Henderson Hospital. 2nd Edition’ edited by Fiona Warren and Bridget Dolan. Henderson Hospital is a therapeutic community that the authors write was established in 1947 originally for veterans of the second world war. Since this book was published  in 2001, there has been some suggestion that the Henderson Hospital might close leading to an online petition. However this webpage about the Henderson Hospital is worded in the present tense and outlines available services noting that the residential facility is closed.

The book itself is a collection of papers about the Henderson Hospital with a foreward by the editors Fiona Warren and Bridget Dolan. In the chapter, effectively a paper from the International Journal of Therapeutic Communities the author J Whiteley discusses the history and development of the Henderson. A number of staff from the Henderson have gone on to direct units elsewhere, introducing elements of this model of care.

The model in which residents and staff both have a say in the running of the unit is markedly different from what would be thought of as the usual inpatient psychiatric models and is described here (potential resident recruits have been interviewed for admission)

‘After the formal group interview, there is a closed discussion, by staff and residents, of the candidates. This culminates in a democratic vote, by residents and staff, for and against admission of each candidate’

There are a number of chapters which examine boundary issues. Brief excerpts of actual cases illustrate how the community responds when a person tests the boundaries and how in turn this impacts on the person who has crossed the boundaries. What is interesting in this chapters is the concepts of the community being therapeutic and the need to avoid it becoming ‘stale’ and thereby untherapeutic. Such conceptualisations allow a different perspective on how therapy is possible.

From the various studies within the book, the therepeutic community appears to be suited to the treatment of people diagnosed with personality disorders and this is also reflected in the composition of residents in the community in some of the mentioned studies. There are various studies which look at outcome measures both in the short term (1 year) and medium term, looking at correlations with length of stay, symptoms of borderline personality and cost-effectiveness of treatment.

The Henderson Hospital has become synonymous with the term ‘therapeutic community’ which in turn invites the question of ‘why do we do the things we do, in the way that we do’. This book offers the reader both historical and ever-fresh contemporary perspectives on practice.

References

Perspectives on Henderson Hospital. Edited by Fiona Warren and Bridget Dolan. 2001. Henderson Hospital.

Disclaimer

The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.