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Christina's LIS Rant
Monday, July 25, 2005
  The Blog as a Sharp Tool for Research | Cosmic Variance
Clifford posted a great idea he had to the new collaborative blog, Cosmic Variance. He starts by discussing the amazing impact Arxiv has had on his field in physics. He's now proposing a kind of ongoing seminar... well read this huge block quote:
If you are an individual researcher or group at an institution somewhere, that wants to be a full participant in the process, you register with the System. The System then randomly picks a schedule which determines which group (from wherever in the world they are from) gets to be the hosts of the blog. As hosts, they choose the topics of discussion (perhaps some of the topics they are working on in that group) and put up posts on these matters. Everybody else reads and makes comments as usual on several threads, just as on any busy blog. Discussion happens. After the predetermined period ends, it is the turn of the next randomly chosen group to take the baton, choosing their topics of interest, and sparking off the topics for discussion. This just keeps cycling on and on. Full participants get to contribute and host, while others can simply lurk and listen, or listen and post comment.

Advantages?

1) Ideas are thrown around, both good and bad, general and technical. Nuggets of value are panned out of the mud and incorporated into research in the usual manner.
2) Senior people as well as junior get to contribute, and learn from each other.
3) Smaller groups or individuals at more isolated institutions get to have regular conversations with the entire field. Everybody benefits.
4) By changing the host every so often, everyone gets a chance to participate and to change the perspective and the agenda.
5) No one group, no matter how big or powerful, gets to dominate the scene.
6) There will be a permanent archive of these discussions which will be fully searchable. It can be mined for information at later times.
7) Flexibility: It is up to the group how they choose to participate. Just one person from the group can run the show, or it could be a group blog from that whole research group.

Disadvantages?

1) Someone has to design the system, but there are so many clever people to write some software to implement the System and there are excellent standard blogging resources for making it easier. Once set up, it will run itself with minimal effort. I bet there are several such clever people out there who could collaborate on setting it up.
2) Lots of random comment might come from people not working in the field that could be distracting. I’m not really convinced that this is a problem, but I’m sure that it will be mentioned as one. Easy solution is to have three levels of participation. The basic level is that everyone can see it and search on it as a resource. Next level is that you are a registered contributor that can comment. Next is that you are a group or individual that can be chosen by the system (with ample warning of course!) to be a host for a period.
3) Too much talk not enough equations? Not convinced this is a problem either. It is trivially easy to post up equations as images, raw TeX, or whatever, and also I think that people like Jacques Distler have been playing with other equation plugins for serious research use.
4) Can’t think of any more downers. What are we waiting for?!

I think this could work for several fields of endeavour where exchange of ideas is a key component. It is very well-suited to theoretical physics indeed. It will not and should not replace blogs like this (which have discussions of all types on all sorts of subjects, scientific or not), and will not replace all the other more “traditional” modes of discussion that already happen. It will enhance them.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the commenters came up with some important and big issues with the proposal. But-- there are also lots of cheers in the comments. I'll want to incoporate this somehow into my model of using blogs for team collaboration and for scientists' personal knowledge management... hmmm. I'd also like to respond to some of the comments but I'll try to do that in another post.
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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