Tuesday, 3 March 2009

An Academic Use of Blogs

As a follow-up to a previous post on writing academic papers, I have just discovered another use of blogs in the context of academia. Part of academic work is to claim ground in your research area. You discover something, and you want to have your name associated with it, so that people will until eternity have to write according to Bloggs (2008), this that or the other. If Bloggs (2008) is one of your publications, then you get recognition by rising in the citation indices, and your employer looks on you with a pleased smile as you are raking in points for the REF or whatever is about to replace the RAE.

The only problem is that you're not alone in working on your topic. Many other people in other places will work on similar areas, and what if they claim they came up with the idea first? It is thus important that you publish your findings, as proof that you had the idea at a certain point in time. That in itself is of course not sufficient, as even in the oh-so-perfect sciences there are cases where some idea had been published in some obscure place by a now forgotten individual, before the person now associated with it got a publication in a more mainstream place.

However, it is a non-trivial issue to get together a publication, and often discoveries in themselves are not sufficient to fill 10,000 words worth of writing. And even if we manage to 'pad it out' in the course of many weeks, then it has to be submitted, is reviewed, rejected, revised, resubmitted, etc, until it is finally published years later. Conference papers are a bit better in that respect, and you can get something out quicker as well. But there might not be an appropriate conference in the near future after your discovery.

Along comes Web 2.0. Actually, Web 1.0 would have had the same capabilities. In fact, the whole Web was invented just for this purpose, distributing research papers. Blog posts just neatly fill the gap between chatting to your colleagues about an issue and publishing a research paper. Or maybe giving a seminar talk. Only, you're not talking to 20-30 people, but potentially to a lot more. In reality probably to about the same number, or fewer, depending how many friends you have. Or members of family who feel obliged to read your blog. But, once it's out in the open, search engines will pick it up and other people will find it, so the potential audience is really quite big enough.

Now there are issues of quality control, as nobody peer reviews blogs. Maybe that would be a good project, setting up a review mechanism for academic blog posts? Anybody and their dog can post, which on the other hand is great, as it removes formal barriers to research. One could of course make bold claims which are not supported by any evidence, but if the post is written like a short research paper that wouldn't be an issue. I leave you to judge it for yourself, and here is my most recent academic blog post.

Now if I only could the right places to recognise blogs as publications...


  1. I also thought of another neat use of Web 2.0: How about setting up RSS feeds with journals in your field? That way the table of contents will arrive to your reader and you will be able to keep up to date without actually having to visit their website (or the library). If there is something of particular interest to you, even better. If not, then you can sweep that particular issue/volume under the rug. I already have quite a few set up, it's great.

  2. Interesting here viz your ideas, OL - perhaps there's the beginnings of a movement, a real change...

    And I'm setting rss journal feeds up right now, great idea.

  3. Link doesn't work in previous comment: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/blog_peer_review.php

  4. I don't really know what to do to increase the 'value' of blogs as publications. Will probably happen all by itself. Or not :(