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.

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