Blogs Are Increasingly Venues for Scholarship

Submitted by Dean Giustini on January 13, 2008 - 17:47

This just in from the Chronicle of Higher Education....

For those who are skeptical that blogs can really change the face of publishing and scholarship, consider the case of Reed A. Cartwright. A postdoctoral geneticist at the University of Georgia, Mr. Cartwright posted his random thoughts on a mutant plant gene on his blog in March 2005.

Six months later a plant geneticist at the University California at Davis contacted Mr. Cartwright after reading his post. The California researcher said that he had coincidentally arrived at the same hypothesis offered by Mr. Cartwright, and that he was about to publish his research in Plant Cell. The plant geneticist said he felt obligated to acknowledge Mr. Cartwright’s blog post and offered to make him a co-author of his article. Mr. Cartwright, who is not a plant geneticist, accepted the offer.

A group of librarians at the American Library Association midwinter conference heard that story Saturday from Andre Brown, a doctoral student in physics and astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Brown wanted to impress on the librarians that blogs are increasingly being used by scientific researchers for sharing of ideas and developing new ones. Mr. Brown himself helps run a blog for biophysicists.

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Very interesting. This is one of the reasons why I encourage residents, medical students and colleagues to blog -- you can use it to build an educational portfolio:

Dean Giustini retells a very interesting story on his blog [1], to which I have reflected in my own blog which is cited (!) below [2].

The story of a blogger (Dr Cartwright) who was invited to be a co-author on a paper because another author (Dr Davis) who arrived at the same hypothesis didn't know how else to acknowledge him highlights a few emerging issues which I discuss in my blog [2].  The paradox I see is the following:

1) blogs (and other Internet venues such as wikis) are - at least in theory - important venues for scholarship to publish hyptheses, analyses etc. outside of the traditional journal publishing system

2) yet, they are not considered "citable" or "publications" - which in turn affects their use, usefulness, and acceptance among researchers as tools for scholalry communication.

If they (blogs, wikis) were considered citable, why else would Dr Davis, who came across the blog of Dr Cartwright, offer him co-authorship to "acknowledge" him? He could have just CITED him - which is usually how researchers acknowledge each other.

There are two answers to these questions - lack of "recognition" of webcitations due to perceived lack of "peer-review", and perceived lack of digital preservation of anything that is published outside of the traditional journal publishing system.

Both of these issues - which in my view impedes scholarly communication - are addressed by the WebCite® ( system.

WebCite® is a not-for-profit system which is live since 2005 and is already used by publishers like BiomedCentral and over 200 journals. It is part of the International Internet Preservation Consortium (consisting of libraries and Internet archives).

Simply put, WebCite® aims to make Internet material (any
sort of digital objects) more "citable", long-term accessible, and
hence more acceptable for scholarly purposes. Without WebCite®,
Internet citations are deemed ephemeral and therefore are often frowned
upon by authors and editors. By archiving Internet material WebCite makes them more "citable" (and
also by creating incentives such as mechanisms and metrics for
measuring the "impact" of online material by calculating and publishing
WebCite® impact factor).

We hope that this will encourage
scholars to publish ideas and data online in a wide range of formats,
which in turn should accelerate and facilitate the exchange of
scientific ideas.

For more information on what bloggers can do to make themselves "citable" (and to get their blog digitally preserved), see . (WebCite is a completely innovative idea but it may help to reframe what WebCite does using traditional terminology: For bloggers, WebCite can actually be seens as a scholarly "journal", which brings blogs, wikis, and other Internet material into the "system" of scholarly publishing, i.e. by ensuring digital preservation, assigning a DOI (Digtial Object Identifier), and keeping track of citations).


We also invite publishers and editors to participate in this initiative by making sure that cited URLs in submitted manuscripts which are published in traditinal journals are "webcited" (i.e. digitally archived in WebCite). This ensures that readers do not encounter 404 not found errors when clicking on cited URLs which no longer exist, and that they see exactly what the author saw when he/she cited the Internet reference.

"Instructions for Authors" should point out the policy on citing Internet references and encoruage authors to "WebCite" cited non-journal Internet material. Copyeditors and editors should "WebCite" material if it hasn't been done by the author already at the time when he wrote the manuscript. We also have mechanisms in place for publishers to submit XML files (which we crawl to automatically archive cited Internet references).



1. Giustini, Dean. Blogs are increasingly venues for
Archived on WebCite at

2. Eysenbach, Gunther. The
paradox of the current state of scholarly communication in the age of Web 2.0

Posted at
18, 2008. Archived at

This scientist has a slightly different experience. Someone saw some of his published data, and wanted to include it in his own, separate, publication. The author of the second paper ended up crediting the original researcher as a co-author, on a paper he never even saw before publication!