Discipline-specific Blogospheres

Here is a thread on the nature of blogosphere academic activity, and its relationship to open-source publishing. The question at hand is how to facilitate the growth and development of "big" and/or "hard" scientific research questions using blogs rather than traditional publishing venues. Blogging has been instrumental in the spread of ideas, and in transnational movements such as the Arab Spring [1]. 
Ideally, the intentional development and cultivation of a science blogosphere (version 2.0) would not only speed up intellectual development, but also result in democratizing the process of getting intellectual productivity out into the world. Clearly, blogs have the potential to be highly influential. We can take lessons from blogs in other areas [2] However, academic blogging is unique in its requirements and engagement with the broader community. What follows are a few examples of this.

In [3], a few key points are made for developing a "Science Blogosphere 2.0". This post makes the argument that blogs have the potential to be a good platform for advancing scientific debates (rather than merely accomplishing scientific outreach). Despite what this post claims, we have indeed seen this within Evolutionary Biology at least four times in the past: the Arsenic life paper [4a], the kin selection paper [4b], the ENCODE paper [4c], and the "Die, Selfish Gene, Die" article [4d]. However, these examples focus on the critique (mostly negative, post publication peer review) aspect of science blogging. 

Another (and just as critical) function of the science blogosphere is to foster collaboration and a dialectical back-and-forth [5]. Drawing parallels with the conventional life cycle of a publication, this would correspond with the brainstorming and editorial stages (perhaps well before submission). Mathematicians have attempted to use blogs for massive collaboration in solving hard problems, but with mixed results [6]. The examples given in [4d] provided lessons for the author of the original author, who addressed these issues in a subsequent post [7].

In economics, blogging is beginning to have a real impact on the development of theory and consensus, but is part of a larger trend away from formal, peer-reviewed papers towards shorter working papers [8]. One lesson we can learn from the economics blogosphere is the relative roles of popularity and influence of certain blogs. Onalytica has analyzed 200 economics blogs, and has ranked them according to these two criteria [9].

While the most popular blogs in Onalytica's analysis tend to also be the most influential, there are ways in which these metrics could act to shape future interactions and allow interested parties to more effectively discover where the action is (so to speak). And what I am calling Science Blogosphere 2.0 might become a much more prominent part of science in the future.


[1] Digital Influence Report. Technorati Media (2013).

[2] Top Image: Map of the Arabic blogosphere: Etling, B.   Mapping the Arabic Blogoshere: politics, culture, and dissent. New Media and Society, December (2010).

[3] Calhoun, A.J.   Why is there no Neuroscience blogosphere? Neuroecology blog, October 14 (2013).

[4] Find out more using these search terms:

[4a] Google "arsenic life paper blogosphere", circa 2011.

[4b] Google "kin selection paper blogosphere", circa 2010.

[4c] Google "ENCODE paper blogosphere", circa 2012.

[4d] Google "die selfish gene, die blogosphere", circa 2013.

[5] Neylon, C.   Github for Science? Shouldn't we perhaps build TCP/IP first? Science in the Open blog, February 22 (2012).

[6] Is massively collaborative mathematics possible? Gowers' Weblog, January 27 (2009).

[7] Dobbs, D.   My TL, DR version of "Die, Selfish Gene, Die". David Dobbs Neuron Culture, December 5 (2013).

[8] Krugman, P.   The Facebooking of Economics. The Conscience of a Liberal blog, December 17 (2013). 

[9] Moldovan, A.   Top 200 Influential Economic Blogs: August 2013. July 31 (2013).

Citation Use in Peer-reviewed Manuscripts

How do academic paper writers tend to use citations? Do they even read them before citing them [1]? Perhaps they use a single citation in many different ways [2]. Or perhaps there is a specific rate of misuse, which is something Robert Kurzban (editor of Evolution and Human Behavior) is trying to characterize and curtail borrowing methods from the legal community [3]. 

Recently, I was motivated to investigate how articles are cited within papers and contribute to this area of inquiry. In other words, how do authors use the references they cite? To do this, I chose 10 recent articles at random from major journals [4]. These articles represented several different fields of science (e.g. Neuroscience, Computational Science, Cell and Evolutionary Biology). I then constructed seven measures: two indices (citation and self-citation) and five categories of membership (factual information, method, interpretation, exemplar, and experimental summary) [5].

The findings were somewhat consistent with Kurzban in that the citations are mostly used correctly. However, different references tend to be used in different ways, and this tends to be consistent across papers from different fields and types (e.g. mathematical analysis, hypothesis-driven, and review). While references are occasionally cites multiple times, this is not a major problem. In addition, the rate of self-citation is fairly low (under 20% of all references), which means that the papers sampled do not rely only on the methods or interpretation of the authors.

[1] perhaps they are TL:DR (e.g. the Twitterization of academic writing), or perhaps they are used for different purposes.

[2] Dunsworth, H.   You keep citing our paper. I don't think it means what you think it means. Mermaid's Tale blog, May 2 (2013).

[3] Kurzban, R.   SCOTUS and Pincites. Evolutionary Psychology Blog, November 14 (2013). For a follow-up, please see: Kurzban, R.   Citation Update. Evolutionary Psychology Blog, November 28 (2013).

[4] Dataset (n=10): 

1) Abstract Rule Neurons paper (Nature Communications, 2013).

2) Neurodynamics Cognitive Set Shifting paper (J Cognitive Neuroscience, 2012).

3) Optimal States Mean Fewer Reactions paper (Discrete Continuous Dynam Systems, 2012).

4) Optimization of "Golf Course"-like Landscapes paper (PLoS One, 2013).

5) Hidden Geometry of Contagions paper (Science, 2013).

6) Evolution of Molecular Error Rates paper (PNAS, 2011).

7) In vivo cardiac reprogramming in Zebrafish paper (Nature, 2013).

8) Human Cooperation paper (Trends in Cognitive Science, 2013).

9) Cause and Effect in Biology paper (Science, 2011).

10) Real-time Strategy for Game Training paper (PLoS One, 2013).

[5] Methods:

a) citation index: number of cites/number of references.

b) self-citation index: number of references by paper authors/number of total references.

c) factual information: when citation is preceded by a factual statement or statistic.

d) method: when citation is preceded by a reference to a method.

e) interpretation: when citation is preceded by an interpretive statement (e.g. "may contribute to", "can be").

f) exemplar: when a citation provides an example of an experiment or idea.

g) experimental summary: when a citation provides an extended example of an experiment.

Kerfuffles in the 'Sphere

"The blogosphere waits for, no, lives for, a kerfuffle. That’s simply the way they talk here"

A quote portmanteau from Star Trek IV dialogue [1] and an article [2] about the prevalence of “kerfuffles" in the blogosphere. Kerfuffles, usually resulting from a provocative initial post, are the lifeblood of the blogosphere.

When they take the form of nuanced critiques or scientific debates, blogosphere kerfuffles can be good. However, when they take the form of endless exchanges in the comments section (the so-called bottom-half of the web) [3], they serve as the equivalent of excessive profanity [4] that was such a notable component of late 20th century culture for our 23rd century visitors.

[1] Quotes from Star Trek IV. Wikiquote.

[2] Wolff, M.   Start a Kerfuffle. Newser, December 5 (2008).

[3] Manuel, R.   The top half of the web looks down on the rest. Wired UK, June (2013).

[4] Jay, T. and Janschewitz, K.  The Science of Swearing. APS Observer, 25(5), May/June (2012). 

Allegory vs. Picayunity (or, Thinking, tight and loose)

Do you want the truth, courtesy of the internet? A recent article on the crowdsourced Q-and-A site Quora [1] suggests that people do not necessarily want the truth. In this case, they want a variety of answers to synthesize a best-of-n (or consensus) answer from the responses to the thread. 

But perhaps there are other factors at play. Take a recent story by NBC News [2] on the certainty of falling prey to cybercrime at the Sochi Winter Olympics. This story was followed up by a rebuttal courtesy of an expert in cybersecurity [3]. Apparently, this is a case where the title of the original article is 100% provocative, as the details of the story and title are incorrect. 

However, the content of the original story is still plausible given that there are other stories on this very issue. Lesson: with the rise of social media, there has emerged a conflict between journalistic license (e.g. allegory in the service of a good story) and the literal imperatives of subject specialists.

[1] Hardy, Q.   Quora and the Search for Truth. NYTimes Bits blog, February 9 (2014).

[2] All visitors to Sochi Olympics Immediately Hacked. NBC News Video, February 5 (2014).

[3] Graham, R.   That NBC Story is 100% Fraudulent. Errata Security, February 6 (2014).

Doxxing Whilst Wearing the Fox's Socks

Doxxing: only on the internet. The practice of researching and publishing someone else's personal information (often for nefarious purposes). The recent Newsweek story on Satoshi Nakamoto [1] is an example.

A meme that has become a cultural practice (courtesy of Know Your Meme). A word (short for document tracing) that has spawned its own ethics [2]. Here is an Economist article [3], which explains what it is for those of us who are not regular users of Reddit. 

Pictures are from a Google Image search for "doxxing".

[1] McGrath Goodman, L.   The Face Behind Bitcoin. Newsweek, March 6 (2014).

[2] Boyd, D.   Truth, Lies, and "Doxxing": the real moral of the Gawker/Reddit story. Wired Opinion, October 29 (2012).

[3] What doxxing is, and why it matters. Economist, March 10 (2014).

Sealioning is often a bad thing. Sealions (who in this case are actually people) are pedantic, and use it as an argumentation strategy. If you meet a sealion, do not engage them right away, lest they hijack your post and waste your time. Apparently, the thin line between legitimate inquiry and Socratic harassment involves an unusual degree of persistence (and perhaps a set of whiskers). If a sealion gets under your skin, please consult your blog administrator immediately. They are awaiting your answer.

No comments:

Post a Comment