The status of blogging as scientific communication.

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Blogging in chemistry remains something of a niche activity, albeit with a variety of different styles. The most common is commentary or opinion on the scientific literature or conferencing, serving to highlight what their author considers interesting or important developments. There are even metajournals that aggregate such commentaries. The question therefore occasionally arises; should blogs aspire to any form of permanence, or are they simply creatures of their time.

In this blog, as you might have noticed, I take a slightly different tack. One focus is on exploring, perchance in more detail than might be found in the standard text-book, some of the dogmas of chemistry.  It happens that occasionally when writing a conventional scientific article, I find myself wishing to cite such sources. This of itself raises interesting issues (such as should one cite what might be considered material that has not been peer-reviewed in the conventional manner) but the most important would be whether one should cite evanescent sources. So this brings me to the topic of this post; can a post be archived in a sense that achieves a greater perceived permanence? Nowadays, permanence tends to be associated with a digital object identifier, or DOI. So one can boil this question down to: can one assign a DOI to a blog post?

Well, if you came to this post via the main page, you may indeed have spotted that some do have a DOI. This is an experiment I have been running with an organisation known as The Winnower, who provide a WordPress extension to archive any individual post and assign it a (CrossRef) DOI. The archived version also includes metadata that points back to the original post.

This archival is not yet perfect. In its current state it does not (yet) capture:

  1. Comments on any post (which could be considered a form of open peer review)
  2. Enhancements such as the links to Jmol/JSmol that I associate with some of the posts
  3. The ORCID identifier, which adds a layer of additional provenance.
  4. We of course do not yet know what the lifetime expectancy archiving organisations will achieve (could it be 100 years for example?).

It does capture the citation list when there is one, and since I include citations to my data sources (for the computations performed in support of many of my posts) the archive is I think accordingly rendered more valuable.

What brought this post on? Well, the Journal of Chemical Education has put out a call for articles on chemical information for a special issue. I decided to contribute by aggregating some of my teaching related posts; indeed individually could perhaps have only appeared here as opposed to a more traditional means of dissemination such as the JCE journal itself. And I wanted to cite them using the DOI rather than simply the URL of the post. It’s an experiment, and one which I do not yet know if anyone else will try. That in some ways is the point of a blog; it is an interesting experimental vehicle!

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5 Responses to “
The status of blogging as scientific communication.

  1. Raphael Levy says:

    There is also
    https://archive.org/web/
    which enables to preserve the entire page as seen at the moment where its is cited;
    That is what we recommend for our online notebook:
    https://raphazlabcommons.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/open-data-and-licensing/

  2. Henry Rzepa says:

    Thanks Raphael. I have just tried that with this post. Of course it worked, but I did not notice any DOI being assigned. The reason I advocate the DOI system is that it is very effective at capturing metadata associated with the item, including e.g. the ORCID metadata and other forms (which are assigned using the Winnower interface) including chemical metadata.

    The system you suggest above does not seem to have such capability, unless I missed it. It is important for the future to be able to search for such documents using metadata, since without it much Web content will probably remain undiscoverable (or dependent on e.g. Google).

  3. Phil Lord says:

    The question is, though, why? The DOI resolves to their copy and not yours, so you have not actually assigned a DOI to your article, you’ve assigned it to their copy. And, you’ve split your comments into two places. And it is not at all obvious from the winnower version of your article that you consider THAT one to be archival.

    Funnily enough, http://greycite.knowledgeblog.org (which you’ve probably be using indirectly for a while with kcite), provides computational metadata, an indirection URL (like DOIs), and submits your website to archive.org, for future archiving.

  4. Henry Rzepa says:

    Good points Phil. Splitting the comments across two versions is something I raised with the Winnower. Addressing that is “on their to do list”.

    Regarding assigning a DOI, it could be done using a local handle processor (and we do actually have one). But of course a blog can be changed/edited, and its good to have a frozen copy in a separate location.

    The system is still evolving, and I suspect it yet going to change some before it settles down.

  5. Great points above! I think this interaction alone shows that scholarly blogs have great value and they are not something we should neglect in scholarly evaluation or communication. I should point out that many of the comments above would also apply to traditional publications, so whatever criticisms there are of DOIs and CLOCKSS is applicable to the large majority of publishers, not just The Winnower.

    1. archive.org is indeed valuable for archival of the web but the gold standard in scholarly publishing is CLOCKSS. We wish to provide the same tools and functionalities that traditional publishers offer to new forms of content/media and/or grey literature.

    2. The DOI resolves to Henry\’s articles on The Winnower, just like a DOI would resolve to an article of his in a journal. This allows us to ensure that the content persists and goes unchanged, which is one major reason that DOIs are valuable. Other reasons DOIs are valuable is that so many services to publishers use them (ie Altmetrics and PubPeer)

    3. It is definitely a downfall of our workflow that comments are split between copies of the article. This is something we will work to change and I hope that we can get to it soon. We are a small team with big ambitions!

    4. I was unaware of greycite and I think the fact that Henry and others probably are limits its usefulness. DOIs are, for better or worse, the gold standard in scientific publishing and this is doesn\’t appear to be changing soon or ever. Because of that, although there are other services that provide the same functions as DOIs, they are not widely adopted and this is a big limitation of them.

    Hope this clarifies somethings!

    Best,
    Josh

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