In 2007, Bora Zivkovic estimated the number of science blogs at 1,000 – 1,200. Now, over a year later, I suspect that figure is outdated. We have over 450 blogs registered for ResearchBlogging.org, but only half of the blogs at scienceblogs.com are registered. Nature Network, with its hundred or so blogs, is not represented at all because their blogging software isn’t compatible with our system. Scientific Blogging, larger than the Nature Network, barely has a presence here. There are whole disciplines, like economics, history, and mathematics, with large numbers of bloggers, but which don’t typically fit into our “peer-review” requirement. And then there are science blogs written in non-English languages. If I had to venture a guess today, I’d put the number between 3,000 and 10,000 science blogs worldwide.
In their article published today in PLoS Biology, Shelley Batts, Nicholas Anthis, and Tara Smith discuss the current impact of science blogging. They point to examples of science bloggers leading to corrections in the peer-reviewed literature, to researchers from institutions like Stanford and Oxford keeping in touch with their colleagues via blogs, and bloggers providing science information in language that laypeople can understand.
But how will bloggers and readers be able to distinguish scientific fact from fiction? Batts and her colleagues place a lot of the burden for that on ResearchBlogging.org:
To be included on the site, a blog must demonstrate to the site’s organizers via a submitted form that it regularly produces posts that would meet the criteria for use of the icon. Once included, it’s then up to the blogger to decide which posts meet a set of detailed guidelines for use of the icon. Dave Munger, the initiative’s cofounder and president, describes the project as largely self-regulating. Readers are encouraged to report abuses of the icon, which may lead to the permanent removal of a blog. This happened in the case of an anti-evolution blog that had coopted the system, attempting to use the icon while posting non-peer-reviewed “studies” about creationism. A reader reported the abuse, and after a review by the moderators, the blog was denied future use of ResearchBlogging.org. This system illustrates that with a bit of technical savvy, a few guidelines, and an involved readership, the self-regulating style of the blogosphere can be harnessed in new ways that could prove useful for institutional science outreach.
As Batts et al. point out, the goal of scientific accuracy can only be met with the participation of readers. While the administrators of ResearchBlogging.org are on the lookout for abuses, we aren’t experts in every field, and we rely on reader input to locate posts that violate our guidelines. If you spot a post that you believe doesn’t accurately and thoughtfully report on peer-reviewed research, please use the “flag post” button to report it. Administrators can easily see all the posts that have been flagged, then make a decision on how to proceed.
Shelley A. Batts, Nicholas J. Anthis, Tara C. Smith (2008). Advancing Science through Conversations: Bridging the Gap between Blogs and the Academy PLoS Biology, 6 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060240