Sunday, 1 June 2008

Open Research

In response to what Paul just blogged about...

I'm curious how in the long run blogging about ongoing research will transform communication within the research community. I've already been curiously following blogs by some PhD students such as Mark or Yves who are very open about their ongoing work and ideas.

I don't think blogs can replace publishing papers at research conferences or journals. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see more and more references to blog posts in conference papers in the future.

Blogs would be the perfect communication platform for researchers if:

  1. there would be a guarantee that a blog post will be around for ever (i.e., that researchers in 20 years from now can go back and look at it)
  2. if it would not be possible to alter any information published on a blog (or at least to detect if something has been altered), this includes not being able to change the date when an idea or result was first published

It seems that one way to overcome both limitations would be to have authorities frequently crawl, store, and index blog posts related to research. Another option might be to have something like a "research mode" on popular blogging service providers such as if the blogger opts into this mode, then the researcher wont be able to ever change his blog posts (including deletion) and the blog posts will be indexed by search engines.

However, even as publishing preliminary research results on blogs becomes an accepted standard I wouldn't be surprised if some unfortunate researchers without ideas of their own consider an idea published on a blog to be not published at all and try to publish it at a conference with their own names on it without referencing the source. I'm sure though, that such attempts would ultimately fail as the blogging research community would point them out quickly.

I wouldn't be surprised if a few researchers starting to use blogs to communicate ongoing results will trigger a snowball effect. For example, if Paul starts blogging about ongoing research that someone else is currently working on, wouldn't that other researcher feel urged to publicly state that he or she is also working on the same topic? Otherwise, by the time this other person publishes results, everyone might think that those ideas were just copied from Paul's blog?

Looking at how research has developed over the past centuries, the direction we have consistently been heading in seems very obvious: more openness and getting results out faster. Research blogs seem like a very natural next step in the evolution of communication in the science community.

1 comment:

ben said...

I think the idea of a permanent record of the internet is interesting in general. I'm currently reading Larry Lessig's book Free Culture, in which the lack of a record of internet is discussed, though the focus of the book is more on cultural rather than research content.

One potential solution to this (perhaps you've heard of it) is The Internet Archive and their wayback machine which lets you see what a website (in their archive) looked like at a past moment time. For instance, here is some blog I found in their archive from March 2nd 2001. Since you can link directly to archived pages, this allows for you to link to something a bit more permanent than just linking directly to someone's website for a cite. This is of course far from a perfect solution, but it is a good starting point.