Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Cross pollination: getting bloggers to talk to scientists

Jon Udell raises an interesting issue on the degree to which conversations about a particular scientific topic can progress independently of each other in ghettoised specialist communities, communities who could enlighten each other if only they managed to communicate.
When chatter in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere intersects with scientific discourse, I’m always interested in the ways that citations do, or don’t, cross the border between those domains. In 2006, for example, while checking references for a podcast with Steve Burbeck about multicellular computing, I traced a meme about how we humans are really a hybrid of human and bacterial cells. The mainstream vector was a New York Times magazine story on obesity. It got to the blogosophere by way of a Wired News story. But the original Nature Biotechnology article mentioned in the Wired story was linked nowhere that I could find...

Here’s one approach that could help. When the citation engines in the blogosphere find references in blog entries to scientific articles on the web, they could resolve those to their most canonical forms: DOIs, PubMed records. And they could make equivalences among those forms. That way, conversation in the blogosophere about a scientific article, and scientific conversation about the same article, would tend to hang together and would be discoverable in the same contexts.

Why does this matter? Well, the marginalrevolution blog is influential, widely cited in the blogosphere. The entry that cited the PLoS Medicine article was itself widely cited. But the PLoS Medicine reaction to the article is not part of the blog conversation. I had to work really hard to find it, and to include it here.

The conversation-tracking tools used by bloggers should discover scientific discourse related to a scientific article as easily as they discover blog discourse. Conversely, the conversation-tracking tools used by scientists should discover blog discourse as readily as scientific discourse. Public understanding of science would improve, and so would scientific understanding of the public.
Update: No sooner said than done.

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