Saturday, January 19, 2008

Adventures in Science Blogging

Adventures in Science Blogging: Where Do We Go From Here?
Jennifer Ouellette

-“A blog can be anything we want it to be!”
-science bloggers are a diverse group: by scientists for scientists, by scientists for general public, by writers and journalists, by professional societies, by educators, by media
-tries to tie science in at large level to topics of interest to general populace
-one of the most powerful things about blogs is the community it builds, often engaging with people whom you otherwise wouldn’t have met
-the flexibility of blogs is both a blessing and curse
-how do we take diversity into mainstream?
-personal voice of blogs is a very big plus because it’s more opinionated and subjective than mainstream media; readers will be more engaged
-blogs naturally feed into multimedia
-however, concerns are raised: lack of accountability; lack of editorial oversight; “comment trolls—discussions aren’t always intelligent, polite or productive” (but they are lively and do generate traffic); high-degreed individuals can still spout off nonsense
-people select blogs that fit with their own views, beliefs (act of human nature)
-blogs are a good way of creating cognitive dissonance; eventually you will post something that gets a comment from a “comment troll”
-there are good signs for science blogging…
-bloggers are at threshold where they no longer have to prove themselves
-mainstream media are incorporating blogs
-more scientists are following and authoring blogs
-publishers are actually encouraging blogging
-“bloggers are no longer solely amateurs”
-for science blogging to really take off, people need to be able to do it and make a living; cannot continue as side work
-is oversight needed? Risks “immediacy, freshness, spontaneity” to have vetted, edited blogs
-“user-friendly science” – nice way for blogs to be used
-science journalism doesn’t need to be saved so much as it needs to be advanced
-need to create new financial business models to fund blogging, OA publishing
-use blogs to weigh in on broader issues: policy, politics, religion, annoying TV shows

General discussion
-if bloggers receive monetary compensation risk people getting into it for the wrong reason
-people come to blogs for snarkiness, “air of irreverence” that is so refreshing
-how much longer will distinction between science writers and science bloggers last? Will be continually blurred, as they should be because they are rather arbitrary labels
-strength of science blogs/bloggers is accuracy and expertise; often the mainstream media assign reporters to science stories who don’t have background to accurately assess and synthesize scientific information for story
-blogging is a toy, but must get over idea that we can’t be serious and fun at same time

Framing Science

Changing Minds Through Science Conversation: A Panel on Framing Science
Jennifer Jacquet, Chris Mooney, Sheril Kirshenbaum

-“Scientists must learn to actively ‘frame’ information to make it relative to different audiences” – new editorial rules in Science (Nov.)
-journalists aren’t making an effort to engage intellectually with science in the lab, so why should scientists have to frame their own work for non-scientists?
-public is caught in the middle
-number of US adults believing in evolution has declined in last 20 years from 45% to 40%
-who’s to blame for science crisis: scientists or journalists?
-actually it’s Britney Spears
-Al Gore’s story got “scooped” by Spears losing her children to Kevin Federline
-evidence shows that celebrities are replacing science; more of the American public interested in entertainment and personalities than science news
-where do you go for the best news (non-celebrity) sources? BBC, NPR, NYT, Guardian Unlimited; common thread is that these sources are not corporately controlled
-“Internet: savior of science?” – BBC online,,
-TV is still number one way Americans get news, and still corporately controlled
-in Dec. FCC overturned a ban blocking companies from owning both newspaper and cable channels in same market

-need to change how we approach and write about intersection of science and society
-2008 election is great opportunity to shape where science is going in US
-Sciencedebate2008 is grassroots effort for sharing presidential candidates’ science policy stance; launched through blogger coalition
-science and scientists are approached as being separate from society at large; this needs to change

-why didn’t big science institutions use resources to make sciencedebate2008 happen earlier?
-“intersection endeavor”: people who care about science but aren’t scientists helping find ways to get society to care about science, to connect the public to the science community
-science needs to smash into the arts, humanities, media – need several "big 18-car pile-ups"
-third culture authors were scientists whose writings were popular in general public
-science bloggers are intersection types – working at intersection between science and boundless opportunities offered by new media

General discussion
-no campaign has officially expressed interest in sciencedebate2008; waiting until after Super Tuesday to contact
-simply not true that this hasn’t happened in previous 3 or 4 debates; Science and Nature have had editorials/articles evaluating candidates’ science policies
-must acknowledge that Science and Nature set tone of science journalism in US; if they cover it, general media will pick it up
-for science blogging to work effectively, have to have science institutions framing discussion
-need people to make connection between our world, our lives, and what science could be to excite people
-world of science has failed to appreciate why the importance of science to society has declined
-Sputnik put science on the front burner in a very particular way – is there something today that can do the same thing?
-public forgets if big networks get the science story wrong because it isn’t the next day’s news
-Britney is more interesting because she’s visual
-scientists are scared of giving take home message because there isn’t a pat answer; got to figure out how to make people interested
-having scientists bitch and moan and periodically point fingers doesn’t help their cause
-would love to see scientists have videos of lab bloopers; put tape of lab on YouTube (or SciVee)
-if sciencedebate2008 happens, who should ask questions: scientists or general public? More mileage might be gained by town hall-style debate
-how does the science issue echo out to affect me? Must frame the issue with a talking point that is personally related
-don’t focus too much on national, start locally because it can get the ball rolling and get picked up nationally
-most people get information locally so scientists need to learn to talk to local news outlets

Closing thoughts
-Jennifer: she is young but she hasn’t lost hope
-Sheril: any 6 year old loves science even if they don’t know its science; don’t lose but find new ways to explore, even outside traditional education
-Chris: must look at media problems with clear eyes but don’t not do anything because the grassroots movement will be picked up by media

Blogging in health and medicine

Blogging medicine and public health
Tara Smith and Becky Oskin

-health/medical blogosphere very diverse: policy to research to administration to education to advocacy, etc.
-common experience of health/med bloggers is that people write to them for medical advice; how do you handle this? What are the ethics of health/med blogging?
-Kevin M.D. site includes disclaimer
-M.D.s feel culpable giving specific med advice, despite the fact that some of the questions are broad enough to be asked by many
-when trying to get out accurate information, can be flooded by comments from people
-people are diagnosis shopping OR
-people become the expert on own disease
-are we running risk of losing concept of authority by participating in really open environment, as blogosphere is full of the non-expert?
-blog interface can be great medium for feedback
-if you have a connection with someone, more likely to trust them and trust his/her information
-health bloggers need to connect info/research to actual people, people’s stories
-is there data about people using sci blogs vs. people using Internet in general? Are ed levels of sci blog followers higher than general users?
-mostly male, upper 30s, college degree, lots of IT industry
-education and prevention very important for public health; blogs can be a good medium for getting info to public
-can be multiple layers of release and patient privacy that must be factored into sharing of patient stories
-what is role of med blogs? To carry message to masses that aren’t public health professionals?
-not all blogs have to talk to the public ("not all blogs have to be all things")
-fictionalized medical narratives, while trying to convey information to public but at the same time protecting patients, have less authority because people know that they are fictional
-what if patients guest blogged about their own experience? What are the ethics? Great idea but concern is that because doctor is in position of power over the patient might seem that they are being put in awkward position
-what are reporters interested in writing about with public health?
-Rose Hoban: what is new, today (editors asking)? Personally favors public health over bench science, “people over critters”
-got to watch for saturation point
-always going to be news driven, but helps to have both high personal or “wow” factor
-sex, obesity always gets news coverage
-if topics are controversial, you’re guaranteed to get good readership; must be careful not to do these too often
-weird, gory stories get shopped around quite a bit
-passwords don’t keep people from misusing information; can’t control information on web; need to trust audience
-when citing health info sources in med blogs, make sure sources are ADA accessible:
1. use straight HTML
2. tag images
3. structure documents using headings
4. don’t put up proprietary documents (i.e., PDFs) without confirming accessibility
-when use images in blogs, decrease readability significantly has checker called the Wave that visually displays “bad stuff” on page
-for coders, Cynthia Says will identify code that should be cleaned up

Gender and race in science

Gender and race in science: online and off
Suzanne Franks – moderator
Karen Ventii, Pat Campbell, Sciencewoman – panelists

Pat Campbell, Fairer Science blog
-Started from small NSF grant
-used blog to get people to the website
-great community of women in science that young girls don’t necessarily know about
-how can we use blogs to get girls interested in science?
-working with advocates to use blogs to get kids excited in science

-maintains anonymity because not in position of power
-blogs about juggling tenure, motherhood
-gives approx. an hour to reading and writing blogs; important for social, community aspect and feedback
-think about style and focus of blog, and be true to that focus

Karen Ventii, grad student at Emory
-got into blogging to get experience in sci writing
-interested in how science affects people’s everyday lives (this is her focus)
-grad school is her career
-has gotten job offers because of her blog

General discussion
-in absence of gender cues, default is to male in science, but not so in other fields (education, librarianship)
-even if you blog pseudonymously you have to censor what you say; feels constrained by online persona same as when blogging under your own name
-unless we want to be “fulltime asshole” must censor what we say
-Suzanne doesn’t feel constrained on her blog because she isn’t worried about ramifications at work; she’s bolder, more straightforward on her blog than in real life
-does have concerns about future employers’ reaction to her blog
-difficult for people to say I’m not only interested in science, but how gender and race affect and are effected by science; perception of innate objectivity when approaching any subject (as a scientist) creates challenges
-easy to have different levels of interaction in blogosphere that you cannot have with a colleague; flexibility more useful for those who are more isolated in work environment (e.g., only scientist in lab juggling having baby because only woman in lab)
-acknowledging scientific data and study on gender and race is important to making advances in getting more women and minorities into science, science blogging
-important for men to acknowledge that juggling a career and family is also their issue
-don’t underestimate costs of being willing to speak up; still taboo to talk about these issues openly
-when you talk about race and gender issues, risk being tagged with that for the remainder of your career

Open Science

Open Science: How the web is changing the way science is done, written and published
Dr.Hemai Parthasarathy (former editor at Nature and PLoS)

-Began work when publishing was totally paper based; coworker using fax to send acceptance letters was novel
-PLoS founded on model that value added services should be funded upfront
-Web has transformed all business models of communication
-No one knew how to sell subscriptions for online models
-OA to science lit can be argued by ROI, taxpayer, cross-disciplinary access, smaller institutions have access
-True OA is not just access but ability to reuse, repackage, translate – do everything you want with lit, subject to proper attribution
-Opens thinking for submission, review, acceptance process to change
-There’s much waste in peer-review process; going from jrnl 1 to 2 to 3… without major change to the paper
-All this evaluation put into peer-review that is lost when papers are bounced
-If one can deemphasize where paper is published as well as perceived quality
-Yes, there are risks
-Where is balance of top-down and bottom-up filter of science
-How can web 2.0 change how science is published?
-Let’s separate process of evaluating rigor and evaluating substance
-What is the value to overworked scientists to interact with lit to make more valuable? (concern)
-Is there a critical mass of expertise that can provide review? (concern)
-Can process be incentivized?
-Hope and promise is info that is now lost in peer-review process can be captured
-Can change concept of what sci paper is from static, done doc – not the end all, be all, but just the start of the discussion
-Are you trying to improve sci publishing or improve sci? Not the same thing
-Trying to improve sci – how would you improve publishing without improving science?
-PLoS contacted journals where previous papers had been rejected to ask for previous reviews; some said yes, some said no
-Nature once looked at paying reviewers and it would’ve been bank-breaking, even to offer paltry sum
-Politics of editors does come into play when editors don’t pick good reviewers; lots of trust comes into play, as well as knowing expertise
-Has anyone contemplated model where both paper and reviews are published in wiki form where rest of sci community can comment?
-PLoS One is sort of this model
-Anonymity is another risk – does anyone want to read an anonymous review of paper? Is there value without authentication?
-Is Nature with 200 articles still Nature? Still have cache value?
-“No longer doomed to obscurity” if you can’t get published via peer-review in big journal
-“Put info out there, make it available, I’ll find it if it’s of use to me”
-Same issue whether you’re publishing data direct from lab or publishing paper – is it a democratic process? Should you read Nature because you trust them
-Sophisticated reuse of OA article would blow it open
-In small fields where topic is of interest to small group of people, will there ever be a critical mass of people looking at paper and commenting on it if open?
-Peer review does provide positive criticism that is worthwhile
-Is web democratizing anything or creating new kind of oligarchy?
-In field such as evolution with “crackpots and pseudoscientists” should we risk open papers that risk great implications from policy being built on poor papers?
-If everyone publishes online, what role should Nature take?
-Faculty of 1000 has tried to do this to an extent
-All papers should be in PLoS One, then PLoS Biology “republish” best papers from top-down assessment/review
-Foundation organized to accelerate drug research; cooperative of labs across country; design experiments as a team and share info in real time; they perceive rate of discovery is much faster; publishing more papers, and publishing more jointly; began in 2004, originally thought it would be 2019 before identifying viable targets, but process has accelerated and they have already identified 14(?) targets in 2008; take these and patent with promise to share revenue with universities (Carol Menake, Myelin Repair Foundation)
-“What’s the deal with embargos in this day and age?” [came back to this question below]
-Patent issue is big concern with open science
-Will drug be usable if doesn’t go through patent process?
-Are tools to search sophisticated enough to get high ratio of what you want to see in info that is put out there?
-This is where journal brands are going to come into their own – they will be aggregators of great information; filtering role
-When all info in your field is delivered to you, when do you browse? If you no longer flip through Nature, how to you learn about other science?
-Rational for embargo for PLoS actually makes sense: if USA Today says cabbage cures cancer, if article is in PLoS, then readers can do directly to source
-In practice, use of publicity to block publication is a rare issue; authors not penalized
-Sci journalism uses embargos to be less investigative, don’t go after the story
-“Better grasp of probability of trueness” is essential for sci publishing to change
-Serendipity is changing, people finding own methods of serendipity
-Peer-review process is becoming difficult as science is being popularized for general public
-Never find enough reviewers to read all the science that’s out there, which will doom the system
-Real peer-review is taking data and reusing/building on it
-Peer-review harder on multidisciplinary papers because hard to get people who have time and expertise to give quality review, whereas in small niche field easier to find three reviewers who are willing to review because they want to read the paper anyway
-Peer-review gets oversold; should be a smell test: “this doesn’t stink, let’s let the community have at it”; “if there’s something good in there, let the community sniff it out”
-Always try to get raw data; make it the standard
-Need a new kind of citation analysis – not only give citation, but WHY
-Very difficult for peer-review to catch fraud without raw data
-Science tends to have dominant lang – was German, now English – which helps globalize science publishing; if scientists in other countries want to be heard, they will find way to publish in dominant lang
-Incentives are answer for getting OA to grow; understanding needed too

Friday, January 18, 2008

Revised NIH Public Access Policy

Last Friday, the NIH released its revised Public Access Policy in response to the Congressional mandate to upgrade public archiving compliance to a funding requirement. Over the weekend, the NIH subsequently redesigned the Policy website, including the FAQs. I encourage you to visit the site and read through the FAQs, but in the meantime, here are the highlights:
  • April 7, 2008 - date the Policy goes into effect; applies to grants and cooperative agreements active in Fiscal Year 2008 (Oct. 1, 2007-Sept. 30, 2008) and beyond, as well as to any contracts signed on or after the effective date
  • May 25, 2008 - all applications, proposals and progress reports must include the PubMed Central ID number (PMCID) when citing articles that are affected by the policy; this includes articles not only authored/co-authored by the investigator, but any papers stemming from his or her award
  • As of Jan. 14, 313 journals deposit articles into PMC on behalf of authors, so if papers are published in these journals, no further action is needed
  • Non-compliance is "not a factor in the evaluation of grant applications," but "may delay or prevent awarding of funds"
  • Articles submitted to PMC that stem from research funded by multiple awards only need to be archived once, as more than one award funding number can be attached to the record
  • NIH revised the estimated number of articles published annually stemming from NIH-funded research to 80,000 articles

If you have any questions, please contact Molly Keener at 716-4203 or mkeener [at]

Friday, January 11, 2008

NIH mandate date: April 7

The NIH announced today that the revised public access policy mandating archiving in PMC goes into effect April 7, 2008, *MUCH* sooner than I (and likely many others) had hoped for. The official release can be found here, and Peter Suber’s blog announcement – how I learned of it – can be found here.

More information will be coming, but for now I’m heading home to enjoy a feast of crow with a big grin on my face!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Mandate victory for NIH

On December 26, 2007, President Bush signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 (H.R. 2764), which includes a provision (Division G, Title II, General Provisions, Section 218) directing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to strengthen its previously voluntary Public Access Policy from a request to a requirement. Here is what the law stipulates:

The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

This means that all articles accepted for publication in scholarly journals that stem from research funded in whole or in part by awards from the NIH must be archived in PubMed Central (PMC)—approximately 65,000 peer-reviewed articles annually. Although there are several hundred journals automatically archived in PMC by publishers, the responsibility for ensuring deposit falls on the authors themselves. Fortunately, Carpenter Library links to several tools to help authors – or those persons designed to make PMC submissions on their behalf – navigate the publishing and depositing process.

Although this is the first instance of the U.S. Government mandating free public accessibility to research funded by a major agency, this is not the first mandate on the scene. The NIH mandate joins company with another 20 funder, 11 institutional and 3 departmental mandates, including those from the Wellcome Trust, 6 of 7 UK Research Councils, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

For further analysis of the NIH mandate victory, see the January issue of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, and Gavin Baker’s response and predictions.

It will likely be some time before the NIH issues the new policy; in the meantime you can familiarize yourself with the deposit process by complying with the voluntary Public Access Policy. If you have questions or concerns, or would like to request a group presentation on the current Public Access Policy and PubMed Central, contact Molly Keener at 716-4203 or mkeener [at]