The latest issue of Nature carries an editorial encouraging scientists to blog about their research. It discusses how to relate to public discussion of unpublished results, and ends by saying:
”[…] there are societal debates that have much to gain from the uncensored voices of researchers. A good blogging website consumes much of the spare time of the one or several fully committed scientists that write and moderate it. But it can make a difference to the quality and integrity of public discussion.”
This is obviously something to keep in the desk drawer for any scientist who keeps a blog and who may run into a discussion with colleagues or department heads about whether it is valuable to spend time on writing about science in this format.
However, good science blogs have been around for years. The reason why this endorsement comes now is probably the joint impact of the blogosphere and preprint servers. In mathematics and physics, it is very common to upload manuscripts to arxiv.org before they are submitted to peer-reviewed journals. Nature has started a similar preprint server for the biological and medical sciences. These preprints may be discussed by the authors on their own blogs, or by other readers in the scientific community. In the past, the same kinds of discussions would occur only in the physically limited space of conferences or through personal contacts. Now, discussions about new science can be carried out before the eyes of the world, with links directly to the findings so that everyone can make their own interpretation. The monopoly of the scientific journals is evaporating. Nature appears to have realised now that this is a development they cannot hinder, and therefore they reluctantly accept it. Seen from this perspective, the editorial represents a walk-over victory for open science!