Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Is it becoming dangerous to NOT blog?

It wasn't so long ago that the big discussion about scientists blogging was whether or not it would hurt your career. Granted, some the examples used involved personal content that would have been problematic on any platform. Still, many scientists chose to blog anonymously, even for the most uncontroversial scientific musings.

Recently I have noticed a change in the tone. The question doesn't seem to be "Is blogging bad?" anymore but rather "Is blogging a waste of time?". Often this involves the rather ironic situation of naysayers using a blog to express their opinion that blogging is a waste of time. There are many examples of this but a particularly controversial discussion took place on Nature Network recently.

And then yesterday I came across a particularly good example of why blogging is not a waste of effort. I was checking my Sitemeter referring links and found a few from Nature Chemistry. Unfortunately the article is toll access but I was able to get my hands on a copy. It was Michelle Francl's article about the history of the periodic table and all the creative ways that people have used to demonstrate order in the elements.

Michelle used my blog post about Andrew Lang's 3D representation of the periodic table in Second Life as a reference for this type of table. This is a very short (4 sentence) post but it has the key elements of a good reference - answers to who? what? and where?. That is enough information to visit the exhibit and contact the creator for a copy.

Now Andy and I are witing this up as part of a larger article on chemistry in Second Life (see draft here). If that article had been completed and published, it is likely that Michelle would have used that as a primary reference. But it can take a really long time for the journal publication process to reach completion. If I had not blogged this I am sure Michelle could have adapted her article and found another similar reference.

The point is that mainstream scholarship (Nature Chemistry is certainly an example of that) is able and willing to use Web2.0 references when these are the most appropriate.

There are very few examples of mindblowingly original ideas. People working in related areas tend to come up with similar ideas. In a world where any of your competitors can blog their ideas as soon as they think of them, hoarding ideas might be the more dangerous choice.

It doesn't matter what you think about the professional status of blogs. It doesn't matter most scientists don't blog. The only thing that matters is that at least one of your competitors is willing to blog their research and that the traditional journals in your field are willing to accept blog posts (and other Web2.0 publication formats) as valid references.

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