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Christina's LIS Rant
Monday, September 04, 2006
  Interesting discussion on CHM-INF...
When I researched informal scholarly scientific communication, I found many hopeful statements of how ICTs would help peripheral scientists; that is, how scientists at smaller institutions or in less developed countries could be as integrated into invisible colleges. For several of the fields, this didn't turn out to be the case as f2f discussion was really necessary for in-depth understanding (hence visiting professorships, conferences, etc.)

So... flash forward to this weekend's discussion on CHM-INF. P. M-R. writes:
One of the really exciting things is that you don't have to be at a big institution to make an impact. You have to have tenacity, vision, and e-charisma. The Wikipedia chemists have done a great job with very little mainstream support. Several of them have relatively little chemical experience, but lots of enthusiasm. People like Martin have done a great job adding quality and coherence.
There's also another post mentioning a chemist at a small mid-western liberal arts college who's done some neat software stuff.

Hmmm. All this posted on a Sunday morning (when we Americans were in the middle of a holiday weekend)

So, are the chemists' contributions to wikipedia and the blogosphere moving the chemistry forward (and also their careers) or only helping with public communications of science? Sounds like some of the contributions are more editorial than content. It also sounds like one of the synthetic chemistry blogs that critically reviews papers may be in the first category, but the wikipedia entries seem to be in the second. All scientific publications are not created equally -- although review papers are much more highly cited than "new science" (in general), I think scientists get more mileage out of journal articles reporting new work. There are a lot of educators and librarians on CHM-Inf so we'll be a bit biased in favor of the writing of textbooks and reference works ... after all, these make our lives easier. I should think that a chemist working in industry wouldn't get any direct professional benefit from working on Wikipedia -- of course, with anything like this it's often the prestige that's important (so maybe a blog would be better than a wiki entry?). There's more than just altruism involved in posting valuable information to a listserv.


Anyway, on to continue my holiday weekend.
 
Comments:
I think it depends of what you mean by mileage, professional benefit and prestige. The issue is that there is a difference between communicating science and convincing people that the communication was worthwile. In the past there was clearly no better way to communicate one's scientific results than through an established publisher. Now, social sofware like blogs and wikis make easy and cheap to communicate our laboratory results usually on the same day that they are obtained. It also enables the publication of lots of information, like failed or unoptimized experiments, that can't be communicated by traditional channels. But, even setting aside being able to convince some groups that this type of communication is valuable, using social software in this way is a very efficient way to meet peers and collaborators. And that is definitely a professional benefit.
 
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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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Christina Kirk Pikas

Laurel , Maryland , 20707 USA
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