How to start a science blog (nice version)

You might have noticed the change in the URL for this site to http://www.landshape.org/enm. I have had to set up a site on web hoster and move the blog over as the old server couldn’t cope with the traffic. Here are some of my thoughts on blogs for others who might be interested in starting their own.

There are many reasons a scientist might start a blog:

  • Prepublication of work to enable review by others
  • Outreach to the general community
  • Dissemination of research notes
  • Provide a review of the literature
  • Advocate a position or idea
  • Facilitate project management
  • Make money

Of these the last is probably the most tricky, but I will say something about that too. After deciding to start a blog, the next question is how to do it. There are a range of possibilities available. Following are my notes on the experience.

Prepublication

The existing publication process is notoriously inefficient, with of 90% of manuscripts being rejected by major journals. Those that go to full review can spend up to a year before being rejected based on relatively cursory assessments. Weblogs on the other hand provide an almost instant and unlimited access to review by the general community, via the open comments on posts. The weblog technologies such as trackbacks that provide links to other commentaries provide tools for further integrating review from other places. Marshalling these review resources into a structured ‘prepublication’ stage could greatly reduce the number of ill-prepared manuscripts being submitted, and reduce editorial workload and costs. It would be particularly useful to certain people who experience difficulty getting published: postdoctoral researchers who are developing their writing skills, and controversial topics that generally meet resistance.

Outreach

Outreach is generally regarded as a supplementary activity with a separate budget, personnel and secondary role in research. The conversational nature of weblog comments which enables any person to clarify, grill, debate, or otherwise engage the principal investigators on their area of expertise gives outreach an entirely new relevancy. Rather than being a one-way, sometimes patronizing activity, the participants can share and refine their understanding together and exploit the feedback it in their own way. This process is open and available to readers for all time. (E.g. The Science Policy Weblog Prometheus provides daily news and commentary on science policy issues.)

Notebooks

Publication standard is usually a high hurdle, both in quality and in required content. Blogs provide an outlet for preliminary results and investigations that would not usually rise to the level of publications. This ‘Notebook’ usage allows people to share results, germinate ideas that might lead to full-blown research papers. (E.g. ClimateAudit)

Reviews

Most scientists complain about the difficulty of keeping up with the literature. Many existing weblogs serve the role of simply of reviewing the primary literature (e.g. Invasive Species) and thus benefit other researchers with similar interests. Even weblogs that appear to be composed of entirely automated data feeds without review or commentary (e.g. This week in computational astrophysics, and This week in astrofluids,) would serve and timesaving purpose for researchers in those topics.

Advocacy

Some of the most prominent blogs to date were set up for advocacy by particular groups (e.g. RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists). From one point of view, all weblogs are advocative to some degree, of a person, a group, organization or viewpoint. But this is their primary strength, creates their popularity and the business model that will sustain them as an entity. Unlike other distributed information sharing environments such as wiki’s, newsgroups, or listserves, in weblogs the primary benefits of the activity remain identified with the principals of the activity, the originators of posts. While this vanity factor is a problem to some, it motivates many to participate for free and so the allows the creation of a broad network of minimally funded topic-related scientific weblogs. Scientists creating weblogs on controversial topics with fear of damaging their credibility have the option of anonymity.

Project Management

Blogs are attracting considerable attention for project management (see Reforming Project Management) and as such are applicable to the management of scientific projects. As a timely knowledge management tool they could provide a nexus for the range of information categories, data, algorithms, results, opinions, comments, results, mistakes, agendas, compliments, concerns, etc. The challenge is to continue to extent the blog technologies to organize these different types of semantic links effectively.

Make Money

Well this is the most unlikely with scientific blogs. There are easy means of gaining revenue via the web and syndication schemes such as Google’s AdSense and Amazon are the most popular. Placing the adds into your pages could not be simpler. Go to the Adsense site and enter your details, configure your ad for size, style and color, and paste the html code produced into your web pages. For example, the code that follows produces the ad below.





Every click on the ad is recorded in your account at Google. The process is much the same for any add-ins like Amazon and numerous others. Making ad revenue is not easy however as it takes a lot of clicks to earn a cent and you need something special these days to defray the costs of even the web hosting, which is only about $10 per month. Also you should consider the negative side of advertising. So everybody – get clicking!

While Google’s adsense generally places relevant ads, they can sometime be embarrassing. For example, I persistently get “Celebrity Blogging” on this site. Unless you get a lot of traffic from people that are in the mood to buy, advertising can detract from the seriousness of your scientific blog and make it look tacky.

Technologies

Content Management Systems:

If we step back in time to origins of blogs can be found in Content Management Systems, supported by so-called thick clients such as zope. The CMS provide mechanisms to upload and share digital artifacts (documents, images, etc), together with user created metadata documentation, multilevel security and membership management, all in an attractive web accessible form. The Wiki is another form of CMS where all pages are potentially editable by readers. On the one hand blogs can be seen as simply another type of CMS, on the other we know that the form will drive the function, which is our interest here. The one I am familiar with is called WordPress (“http://wordpress.org”) and is very flexible and powerful.

Trackback

Trackback was developed by Movabletype and explain it thus:

“In a nutshell, TrackBack was designed to provide a method of notification between websites: it is a method of person A saying to person B, “This is something you may be interested in.” To do that, person A sends a TrackBack ping to person B.�?

This relation allows such functions as listing all places where a manuscript has been commented on (see arXiv) or any purpose for Integrating comments from other weblogs about a topic in a single place.

DataFeeds

RSS is a format for syndicated or feeding items to other subscribed servers: news items, posts, the “recent changes” page of a Wiki, a changelog of CVS checkins, even the revision history of a book. Once information about each item is in RSS format, an RSS-aware program can check the feed for changes and react to the changes in an appropriate way. An aggregator automates the keeps up with all changes by checking their RSS feeds periodically and displaying new items from each of them.

Weblog availability

The first question is where to set up a blog. While there are many opportunities for setting up blogs, setting up your own server provide more opportunities to meet the needs of science, for standardization, quality control, assistance, promotion. It also provides science related functions not dealt with by current blogs: archival of the blog content, and the potential to links to more hard data such as datasets, algorithms and analysis.

Weblog policy development and review

The growing set of scientific blogs are being hosted and we hope soon there will be workshops of interest groups at conferrences. Here, the potential, issues, results and directions related to scientific blogs will be reviewed and managed by the general community.

I predict that new ways of doing science will emerge from the above processes, and their interaction will change conventional methods of publication, both with distributed data resources, and in the creation of new forms of efficient scientific publication. Here through close contact and negotiation with the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and the free public archive site arXiv others, the space between concept formation, and formal review and publication will be exploded and reformed.

Conclusions

The resources required will consist of your time, and implementation and extension of weblog, however fractional time contributions may be of enormous benefit to your other work.

The promise of blogs is to greatly increase the efficiency of science publication which is at an all time low in publication times, to greatly increase the understanding of subtle scientific issues in the general public, to provide improvements in the quality of research and involvement of many people in review and assessment of methods and logic of biological papers.

There remain significant computer science problems to continue to develop means of organizing and linking diverse sources of highly conceptual information in a manner that is simple and intuitive and will be adopted by the general blogging community. There are challenges in integrating this information with the hard data in databases and programs that provide more access to there to outsiders. These are human engineering and computer science problems.

The development, supply promotion and management of weblogs for biological sciences meet the above requirements exactly. In addition to improving uniformity and aggregation of independent weblogs, the network of weblogs will provide a nexus for integration of databases of data, images, and other digital resources.

The weblog is an outreach tool by its nature, permitting any person to hold conversations with top scientists of any duration on any topic they desire. The creation of weblogs provides opportunities for young researchers to promote and refine their work, while students can participate in ways that are not yet conceived.

My personal experience

What does ENM stand for?

The following quote from the Final Fantasy seems to sum it all up at this point.

Empty Notorious Monster quests (ENM quests) are events that pit your skills against ferocious opponents in various battlefields. These battlefields can only be entered with a key item obtained by completing a quest given by a certain NPC.

ENM battlefields differ from regular battlefields in the following way :

  • An orb is not required to enter an ENM quest battlefield.
  • No experience will be lost when KO’d within these battlefields.
  • Characters succeeding in an ENM battle will be rewarded with large amounts of experience, as well as unique items.
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0 thoughts on “How to start a science blog (nice version)

  1. Congratulations on getting so much traffic and attention!

    My comments are:

    1. You’ll find that places like RealClimate are rich sources of hypotheses to rigorously test (and falsify).

    2. Steve McIntyre can’t do everything, so join in the fun and attempt replication of some of these multiproxy studies.

    3. For us non-statisticians (including apparently, Michael Mann) provide some handy articles on key points such as R2, RE, persistence, autocorrelation, ARMA and IID that will help understanding of these issues.

    4. I think you’ll agree that proper expert review is essential to the scientific method. Journal peer review is creaking under the strain of a hail of rubbish. Weblogging can perhaps help point the way to proper review.

    5. Minor trivial point: could you increase the font size in your posts a couple of notches? It’s just little difficult to read…

    6. Can I ask how you added Google Adsense and Amazon affiliate programs to the weblog?

  2. Congratulations on getting so much traffic and attention!

    My comments are:

    1. You’ll find that places like RealClimate are rich sources of hypotheses to rigorously test (and falsify).

    2. Steve McIntyre can’t do everything, so join in the fun and attempt replication of some of these multiproxy studies.

    3. For us non-statisticians (including apparently, Michael Mann) provide some handy articles on key points such as R2, RE, persistence, autocorrelation, ARMA and IID that will help understanding of these issues.

    4. I think you’ll agree that proper expert review is essential to the scientific method. Journal peer review is creaking under the strain of a hail of rubbish. Weblogging can perhaps help point the way to proper review.

    5. Minor trivial point: could you increase the font size in your posts a couple of notches? It’s just little difficult to read…

    6. Can I ask how you added Google Adsense and Amazon affiliate programs to the weblog?

  3. Hi John, Thanks for dropping by and having a look. Your suggestions for improvements are always appreciated. I have a small favor to ask – would you mind changing the blogroll on your site to the new URL?

    I have been flat out getting this site up and running, and now I am in Hawaii at an invasive species meeting this week. But I will be producing more results and tutorials soon – stuff on R as well.

    As to Adsense and Google, you just get the code to paste in to your web page from the web sites where you join the afilliate program. But don’t get your hopes up – I have not had a single click through yet!

    Part of my interest in blogs has been to start to address the problems of scientific publishing and I have a few ideas. One idea I had in the plane was that I use the blog to bring together writers and publishers with a promise like – “Get published in 24 hrs!”. A writer puts up a draft, people comment, there is a pool of newsletter publishers that are always looking for articles, presto! Then the blod could be used as a free source of pre-review for more formal journals. What do you think?

  4. Hi John, Thanks for dropping by and having a look. Your suggestions for improvements are always appreciated. I have a small favor to ask – would you mind changing the blogroll on your site to the new URL?

    I have been flat out getting this site up and running, and now I am in Hawaii at an invasive species meeting this week. But I will be producing more results and tutorials soon – stuff on R as well.

    As to Adsense and Google, you just get the code to paste in to your web page from the web sites where you join the afilliate program. But don’t get your hopes up – I have not had a single click through yet!

    Part of my interest in blogs has been to start to address the problems of scientific publishing and I have a few ideas. One idea I had in the plane was that I use the blog to bring together writers and publishers with a promise like – “Get published in 24 hrs!”. A writer puts up a draft, people comment, there is a pool of newsletter publishers that are always looking for articles, presto! Then the blod could be used as a free source of pre-review for more formal journals. What do you think?

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