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David Segarra

Scientific editor of Global Talent and Recerca en Acció (Talència)

Scientists don’t blog

AUGUST 26TH, 2010

The use of so-called Web 2.0 tools is increasingly transforming the Internet into a space of collective creation. Blogs and wikis are perhaps the best known examples of a multitude of services that allow any and everyone to create and share content.

Potentially, such tools can have an impact on scientific research. But the current situation indicates that their potential is still far for being realized. A recent study entitled If you build it, Will They Come? How Researchers Perceive and Use Web 2.0 indicates that only 4% of academics regularly write blogs. And although 12% blog occasionally, 84% never do. The report was conducted by researchers at the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh who surveyed 1,308 researchers from the UK on behalf of The Research Information Network. It is one of the first studies on this subject, as recently pointed out in an editorial in Nature.

The figures on Web 2.0 use improved slightly when it came to leaving comments on the blogs of other researchers: only 2% did so frequently, but 21% do so occasionally, while a majority of 77% never do. Similarly, 81% of those surveyed never contribute to making wikis. And 78% have never added a single comment to articles published online.

How should these findings be interpreted? The study's authors prefer to see the glass half full and ensure that "low frequency use of 2.0  tools and services is reasonably extended througout the research community in the UK," admitting, however, that "frequent or intensive use is relatively rare."

The older they are, the more they blog

One of the most interesting findings of this study is that the “youth factor” does not count when using blogs, wikis and other 2.0 applications. In fact, the age bracket that most widely uses these tools among researchers is from 35 to 44 years old. Even more surprising is that researchers of over 65 years old are more frequent users than those who are under 25, just the opposite of what the stereotype would suggest.
Researchers of over 65 years old are more frequent users than those who are under 25
The study concluded that the use of Web 2.0 tools will spread to the extent that they "provide distinct advantages to the user and almost zero cost for adoption" and as they continue to improve their quality: one of the areas of resistance to overcome is that many researchers do not trust information that has not been subject to a formal process of peer-review. Keep in mind that these are services as diverse as PLoS (a set of open access publishing), SlideShare (presentation sharing service), myExperiment (a service for scientists to discuss their experiments) or Nature Blogs, an aggregator blog prepared by the editors of Nature, not forgetting the famous Wikipedia. It is, in fact, a very broad universe in constant renewal before which scientists advise caution, as if it could be otherwise.
Blogs for disseminating research

The emergence of the Internet and Web 2.0 allows scientists to assume direct responsibility for explaining their research to society at large. Any researcher or research group can write a blog dedicated to communicating their work and discussing the work of others in an informal manner directed to mass audiences. It seems to be an excellent choice that, although it still lacks popularity among researchers, may lead to very interesting results.

The website of the 4th International Polar Year 2007-2008 hosted a set of blogs and written comments by the researchers aboard the Canadian ship Amundsen, located at the North Pole, in which they explained their research. The scientists themselves explained what they did in an informal and relaxed style. Another famous example is that of the Japanese engineer and astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who until recently had been continuously sending outstanding images from the International Space Station that earned him 250,000 fans of his tweets from space.

These blogs also have their awards. Some, like the so-called Research Blogging Awards, provide an interesting twist: they are awarded through a peer-review system. Because, when necessary, the informal blogger universe can also incorporate the best mechanisms of the formal scientific system.


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