To BPR3, or not to BPR3?

Within the geoblogosphere at least, the reaction to Casey Luskin of the Discovery Insitute’s unauthorized hijacking of the BPR3 icon (Mike has the full saga) has morphed into a much broader and more interesting debate: about the ResearchBlogging project itself, about how it fits into peoples’ ideas of science blogging , and even about what the term ‘science blogging’ actually means.


Maria kicked things off* when she found herself rather underwhelmed by the whole affair – and not just because ‘Discovery Institute tries to apply scientific gloss to religious biases’ is not exactly ‘Man bites dog.’

None of what I’m doing is incompatible with the goals of the BPR3 project, but the boosterism and the use of the icon I’ve seen has been so relentlessly serious that me and my light tone find it difficult to identify as a member of the tribe.

It’s hard to know at this early stage how the aggregation system will evolve, but my attitude towards the project is a little more positive: at the very least, the fact that the system generates a proper citation, with a doi if possible, gives it one up on the press-release factories such as EurekaAlert. Also, since blogging of this sort is quite often in reponse to bad media coverage of a new paper, having a single port of call where the interested layperson can go to find the responses of actual experts to the latest claims to have disproven gravity or found the God/immortality/Brad Pitt gene has huge outreach potential.**
That said, I can see what Maria is driving at: namely that there is a risk that blog entries sporting the magic icon start to be perceived (by authors and audiences) as somehow ‘better’ than entries that do not. I’ve certainly interacted with some people who feel that science blogging should be all about serious discussions of serious research, and would buy into this perception quite heavily. But as Brian pointed out (echoing Julia’s comments a few months ago), the phrase ‘science blogger’ covers a multitude of diverse styles, topics and attitudes.

it seems to me there are two kinds of science-related blogs:
(1) blogs about science
(2) blogs by scientists
These types are fluid. That is, one blog can exhibit traits of either type from post to post. Some blogs switch back and forth a lot, some stick to one type or the other most of the time.

I’d say that there is quite a complex taxonomy within this broad division. There’s blogging about the results of science, the process of science, about the experience of being a scientist, about the interaction of science with politics and religion. You have scientist and non-scientist science bloggers, writing for the general public, other scientists, or a particular social group. I believe that this variety, in itself, has an intrinsic value – rather than the public seeing some sort of monolithic edifice of Science, they see the diverse, smart and ever-argumentative group of people that we actually are. In many ways, getting non-scientists to understand that is at least as important as getting them to understand our research – you could even say that the former is a necessary condition if the latter is to even have a hope of succeeding.
Furthermore, you can write about science without writing about the peer reviewed literature. Since I got back from my Christmas break, I’ve used the ResearchBlogging item with one post. Is that the only post I’ve written in that time with juicy geological content? I’d like to think not. When you’re writing about basic science, references to the peer-reviewed literature are sometimes neither necessary nor appropriate.
I think it is probably a truism that we all blog because we find it rewarding to do so. However, our aims and approaches are almost certainly all quite different, and it is important to recognise that this a good thing. All these different angles and ideas are complementary to each other; no single approach is going to successfully engage or interest everyone, so we shouldn’t start creating some sort of hierarchy where certain forms are considered to be ‘proper’ science blogging, and others aren’t.
For myself, when I find myself discussing a particular paper in detail, I’ll probably submit my post to the ResearchBlogging aggregator. I also hope that it will grow to be a valuable internet resource. But I’m not going to go out of my way to blog about peer-reviewed research just so that I can use the icon, or pretend that using it will impart any particular legitimacy on my blogging. That comes from actually writing stuff that people are interested in reading, just like scientific legitimacy does not come from having a peer-reviewed paper to your name, but from that paper actually influencing other scientists’ own ideas and research. It seems that whatever the medium, the Discovery Institute makes the same mistakes. Hopefully, we all have too much sense to follow in their wake.
* Not typing ‘Yami’ still feels weird. Darned real names.
** It will be especially interesting to see whether the bloggers who use the system will closely follow the “embargo-release-huge bruhaha-rubbish bin” model of science reporting in the mainstream media, or whether we’ll start seeing discussions of older papers, or updates on how last year’s alleged blockbusters have stood the test of time, as well.

Categories: bloggery, general science, public science

Comments (7)

  1. chezjake says:

    I like your thinking on this, Chris. I’ve certainly been learning a lot from your blog, and I appreciate the diverse approach.
    It will be especially interesting to see whether the bloggers who use the system will closely follow the “embargo-release-huge bruhaha-rubbish bin” model of science reporting in the mainstream media, or whether we’ll start seeing discussions of older papers, or updates on how last year’s alleged blockbusters have stood the test of time, as well.
    I, for one, would definitely appreciate seeing some blogging on older papers, especially ones that scientists see as landmark papers in their fields.

  2. BrianR says:

    “I believe that this variety, in itself, has an intrinsic value – rather than the public seeing some sort of monolithic edifice of Science, they see the diverse, smart and ever-argumentative group of people that we actually are.”
    Well said.
    I am also trying to stay optimisitc and positive re BPR3 … as much as I enjoy interacting with other scientists on blogs about jobs and other aspects of being a scientist, I do like the idea of a filter so I can read posts about some topic/concept.
    Similar to a big conference like AGU…one might venture out of their field and go see a talk or two by people they don’t know. But, they’ll likely spend most of their time within their community interacting at a closer level. So, for me, I interact within the geoblogosphere, but when it comes to other disciplines, I mostly want to cut through the “fluff”.

  3. Propter Doc says:

    Chances of me using it: nil. I don’t blog about research that often and when I do, I prefer a more lit survey style than individual paper. The whole Casey Luskin thing has just struck me as a storm in a teacup, a whole bunch of people getting upset over really very little. You see, a logo and a website doesn’t permit a minimum standard of insight and intelligence in the writing on a blog, about peer reviewed research or not. Nor is a blog article a different form of peer review, it is someone’s opinion. The system that has been set up is wide open to abuses of this kind where less than scrupulous bloggers try to get insane opinion validated by an external source.
    Its back to high school history people, only the reader can judge the validity of the information and source they are presented with, logos don’t help with that.
    I had similar feelings towards the basic concepts series that the seed bloggers did. I simply did not see the point.

  4. Julia says:

    I registered for it, but because my blog posts don’t have their own individual pages (because my template doesn’t work on individual pages and I can’t get it to behave), the ResearchBlogging website tried to index my entire site, so the owner had to disable my account.
    I’m disappointed though, because the citation generator was really useful, the one and only time I used it. It produced the code for the paper and I didn’t have to worry about typing in the entire reference myself. Don’t suppose anyone else knows of a site with a similar generator?

  5. Kim says:

    I’ve used the icon a couple times, and I recently registered. I don’t blog about peer-reviewed papers very much, in part because it does take a lot of time to read the paper, and then think about it, and then maybe read it again, and then write a blog post about it. However, I find the exercise useful, particularly because I’ve been out of grad school for fifteen years, and I don’t teach graduate seminars, and I’m not surrounded by grad students and post-docs to push me to consider new ideas.
    I asked a couple non-scientist friends what they thought about the icon and aggregator, and here are some of their comments (quoted with their permission):
    From a librarian:

    The icon sounds like a good idea to me — a way to cut through the pile of RSS feeds quickly — and the complaints of the people who feel it has been misused are legitimate.

    and

    I’ll add that as a librarian, the things which “filter” the flood of information on the net to some degree are of huge importance. I’ve already gone and looked at a number of the blogs which are using the icon by following your link, and found quite a bit of interest!

    From a technical writer:

    I think blogging about peer-reviewed stuff would be a tremendous service. The ignorance that is out there is staggering, but it’s very difficult for a layman to understand a lot of the terms in the field. If someone could distill the essence for me, I’d be very appreciative.

    So I think that the icon does provide a real service, and isn’t simply a badge that says “no, I’m the Real Science Blogger.” That does not mean, however, that the only worthwhile posts are the ones that use the BPR3 icon. I like all the other stuff, too, whether it’s about life as a scientist, or about basic concepts, or about playing a fun, interactive game (like WoGE, or what-on-google-earth, or identifying your rock sample).

  6. Ron Schott says:

    I want to say nice things about them, but the website is not ready for prime time. My biggest beef is that although they aggregate these great posts, they utterly fail (at this time) to offer discipline specific RSS feeds. Why they didn’t design that into the website from day one is a profound mystery to me. I also want a “Geology” category – I fail to see why the “study of the Earth” needs to be described by more than seven letters. And since I’ve probably already come off as a curmudgeon on the subject, I might as well add that although I raised these issues in their forum two weeks ago, there’s been no apparent effort to address them, either by a reply from the site organizers or by concrete improvements to the site functionality. I’m beginning to wonder if they actually “get” what blogging is about.

  7. Chris Rowan says:

    Ron – did you see the comment Dave Munger left on the thread over at Brian’s a couple of weeks ago?

    …We’re actually already working on v. 2.0 of the system, which will be an entirely different platform (but with the same underlying data). This system should be more robust, with two levels of categories, and the second level will be user-definable. We’ll choose the primary categories based on the actual registrations for researchblogging.org.
    In short, if a lot of geologists register, then geology will be a primary category in v. 2.0.

    I took that to mean that your comments were taken on board.
    Kim: thanks for asking around. It’s always good to get the perspective of the end-user.