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University of Iowa News Release

 

Sept. 24 2008

Scientists promote blogs as tools for scholarly discussion, collaboration

Science blogs have enormous potential to spark scientific discussions, enhance academic collaborations and inform and engage the public, according to an article co-authored by Tara Smith, Ph.D., University of Iowa associate professor of epidemiology.

"Science doesn't stop at the publication of a paper," Smith said. "Finding new and inventive ways to discuss science among people of different backgrounds and in far-flung geographic areas should be a priority in the Internet era."

In their article, published Sept. 23 in the open-access journal PLoS Biology (http://www.plosbiology.org), Smith and co-authors Shelley Batts, a neuroscience Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, and Nicholas Anthis, a graduate student in biochemistry and Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, outline several suggestions for making blogs trustworthy educational tools.

However, academic institutions have been slow to accept blogs as a valuable resource for facilitating scholarly discussion, the authors noted.

"The academy has often treated blogging with suspicion due to the lack of vetting, or regarded it as a waste of time that draws a scientist away from bench work," Batts said. "We want to illustrate that in addition to connecting researchers to laypeople interested in their work, blogging can be a serious academic pursuit by continuing and enlarging the scope of academic conversations between collaborators and peers."

The authors, all active science bloggers themselves, suggest that academic institutions can take a "bottom-up" approach to blogging by creating a common Web home or directory for existing blogs written by faculty, students or alumni. In this model, the authors note, the institution "gets free publicity for its researchers' work" and academic bloggers "have built-in readership funneled straight from the institution's Web page."

Institutions can also take a "top-down" approach by recruiting academics to write blog content for the institution's web presence. In contrast to scholarly journal articles, which can be technical and expensive to access, science blogs are "freely accessible, interactive and are generally written for a lay audience," the authors write.

To ensure the quality of blogs, the authors propose making use of informal peer evaluation as well as periodic reviews by appointed moderators or committees. Additionally, the authors suggest that an icon or other "blog badge" can be conferred by the institution to reward quality bloggers and help readers identify trusted blogs.

"While perhaps not all science blogs belong under the institutional umbrella, we certainly think that there is much to gain by integrating and supporting the blogging of academics," Batts said.

PLoS Biology is an open-access, peer-reviewed general biology journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a nonprofit organization.

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications and External Relations, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

MEDIA CONTACT: Debra Venzke, 319-335-9647, debra-venzke@uiowa.edu