Make it a pub

[Crossposted at A Man with a PhD]

pub by gailf548
Participation Value and Shelf-Life for Journal Articles:
[Via The Scholarly Kitchen]

Discussion forums built around academic journal articles haven’t seen much usage from readers. Lessons learned from the behavior of sports fans may provide some insight into the reasons why.


The scientific discussions that many researchers have found the most productive are often those sitting around a table in a informal setting, like a pub. These discussions are often wide-ranging and very open. They often produce really innovative ideas, which get replicated on cocktail napkins.

Some of the best ideas in scientific history can be found on such paper napkins. Simply allowing comments on a paper does not in any way replicate this sort of social interaction. But there already online approaches that do. We call them blogs.

Check out the scientific discussions at RealClimate, ResearchBlogging or even Pharyngula. Often the scientific discussions replicate what is seen in real life, with lots of open discussion about relevant scientific information.

If journals want to create participatory regions in their sites, they might do well to mimic these sorts of approaches. David Croty at Cold Spring Harbor has such a site. Although it has not reached the popularity of RealClimate, it is a nice beginning.

I would think that research associations, with an already large audience of members, would have an easier time creating such a blog, one that starts by discussing specific papers but is open to a wide ranging, semi-directed conversation.

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2 thoughts on “Make it a pub”

  1. In my blogging experience (reading and writing), blog entries on specific papers receive far less notice and comments than articles on controversies, news items or the use of online technologies in science.

    Some of the problem is that the vast majority of papers don’t really stimulate much comment. If they’re good valid pieces of research and decently written, the author has probably already pointed out their significance (if there is any). Beyond that, how much more needs to be said about every paper? Sure the occasional groundbreaker or the occasional really bad paper might stimulate more conversation.

    Blogs have the added advantage of having started the conversation for you. You won’t see comment on a blog entry that’s merely a link to a paper, but one that tries to make a point using that paper will draw comments. Perhaps journals that want active forums should invest more in “News and Views” sort of articles to get the ball rolling.

    But I think my comments on shelf life are still relevant even to blog discussions. We’re fairly well trained to carry on conversations around new blog posts, but those conversations fade pretty quickly. If you read a blog post a year old and leave a comment, it’s doubtful that a new full-blown multi-person conversation will result.

  2. I agree that online discussions will be tilted towards the immediate and will go stale rapidly. Luckily there are always new papers to discuss.

    I think News and Views approaches would be a good start. Providing perspective, relevancy and background on a particular paper or area can be really helpful. I love checking on Research Blogging and rapidly getting a useful perspective, not only from the person who felt strongly enough about the paper to write a blog entry about it, but also from comments about both the paper and the blog entry.

    The power law mathematics of the web means that sites with lots of eyeballs also get lots of comments. That is why Nature is making some progress along these lines. It is also why I think that it will be easier for some of the professional societies that publish online to create something similar.

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