Science.

March 12, 2007

I just finished watching The Great Global Warming Swindle on youtube. I missed it when it was on Channel 4 recently, but had heard enough about it to be tempted to watch. You can too: part1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. They put forward a good argument, and it’s certainly one of the more intelligent programmes I’ve missed on TV lately.

I won’t make your mind up for you regarding climate change, but the programme presents a compelling argument different to the norm. I was pleased to see that the arguments were reasonably balanced, and that it wasn’t a stand by the anti-wind-turbine gang to halt attempts to have people use less energy, to use greener energy, and generally move in the correct direction away from burning fossil fuels to make up a significant portion of the energy we use today. I think the more worrying information presented by the programme was the eternal issue of funding, and of how political or industrial agendas might influence some corners of science to their own benefit. It doesn’t leave science or scientists standing in a good light.

This made me wonder once again if there is any way to improve on the existing peer-review process. I wonder, what would people think if we were to extend the peer-review process somewhat?

I’ll explain. I’ve seen sites like scienceblogs.com, and these are generally excellent at distilling information from published research into a form more easily digestible in this web-2.0 world we all live in. It’s also a great way of pushing science closer to the people, without the traditional press getting in the way (and chopping off paths to references at the same time).

I do wonder if a blog, used to critique papers, would make sense? For example, one paper could be posted daily, with a reasonable attempt made to ensure disparity in posted topics on a day-to-day basis so that people’s efforts are not diluted. Post a paper, then let people comment on it.

How could this work? I think a few things would have to be considered:

  • Copyright issues. Publications generally assume copyright of the text of a paper once accepted, but are also lenient enough to allow people to post their own work on their own website. I have to assume then that for so long as this new “blog” idea were to link to either the “official” copy on the publisher’s website or a copy hosted at the author’s institution or personal web space, there would be no legal issues of this sort.
  • Anonymous commenting would not be permitted, for obvious reasons. So users would have to sign up … and that’s always a hassle. A confirmation mail to an authoritative address would be required to confirm the identity of anybody willing to comment.
  • A moderation process would be required whereby candidate papers are submitted and chosen for publishing (linking to…) on the blog.

Once a paper is posted, people may then comment at will. With real names attached, hopefully some of the abuse would be cut out. But would this work at all?

Does anybody have any thoughts? Reading a paper isn’t always easy. In fact, most often it’s difficult due to the formal language of papers. This isn’t a 15-minute blog break at lunch sort of site, it would require that people invest some time. But it could be an interesting way for the author of a paper to defend his or her work. It could be an interesting interactive playground for new research students or staff to play off each other, figure out their core interests, and figure out how to actually analyse, critique, or even refute the results presented in a paper.

Hmm. Just a thought.

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An Onymous.

March 12, 2007

Blogging is a curious activity. I’ve been blogging since before the term was coined, which sometimes worries me slightly. Then I remember that this here internet has been around a lot longer than the web, and also longer than me, so I needn’t worry.

I think what’s more curious is anonymous blogging. A lot of people do it. A lot of people blog, but don’t attach their name to their output. I also blog in an onymously, elsewhere. To link to my other blog would defeat the purpose of this one you’re reading just now.

Onymous blogging is like chatting with a friend. Very often, you know the author personally. You understand how they would say the words that they’re writing, you understand why they’re writing the words, and you can follow their arguments carefully. The nature of some of these blogs is somewhat like talking to the author about the subject matter over a pint; whether you’re bored by the nature of one of their particular subjects of interest is another matter entirely.

But there’s another form of onymous blogging. Sometimes you value the author’s output that you subscribe to an onymous blog of author you don’t know personally. This is somewhat like listening to a good presentation or a lecture; sometimes the content is interesting to you, and sometimes it isn’t. Generally you’ll pay attention for long enough to find out.

Anonymous blogging, however, is like sitting in that same pub mentioned above and listening into somebody else moaning about their work, their life, their partner, their family, their career, their train journey, their delayed flight, etc. Sometimes it turns up a useful bit of knowledge. Very often, the information is redundant.

I don’t really have a point to this post, and I’m over-simplifying. Perhaps I’m trying to justify to myself the existence of this blog. Perhaps I’m just really tired and having bother focusing on work.

Female bloggers.

February 21, 2007

Blogging is an unusual game. Some people choose to conceal their identity. Some people choose to wear their real-life identity as some sort of badge of honour. Some toy with each extreme, while never quite seeing the full purpose of either.

The most intriguing blogger, however, is the female blogger. I’ll qualify that. The most intriguing blogger is the intelligent, independent female blogger. She’s the one who tosses out her words in as eloquent a manner on the most tricky of topics as she does on the most inane. She’s generally around 30 years old. She seldom posts a picture of herself, but may have done so once or twice. Her prose is consistent. Her discussion of work lends insight into her intelligence. She’s super-motivated. She’s insanely independent. She’s profoundly interesting. She’s also got the, hmm, she’s got the bollocks to embrace what she likes; if some of what she likes might be considered “girly” (perceived as synonymous with weak?), so be it. Her independence leads her to prefer persecution for being herself rather than a denial of her own tastes. She’s generally single.

That last point is insane. Any woman who fits that description above deserves a man who understands her. We’re not that hard to find. Are we?

I think I have a strange fetish. I enjoy reading the blogs of female academics. Ladies, I’m here for you.