Some comments on peer-review and a year of blogging

It's been a year since I began keeping a web log. This post presents some thoughts related to the experience.

Blogging is Sharing Ideas

Blogging is online self-publishing. There is no faster way to share your ideas so broadly. Last year at the useR! conference (in Gaithersburg, MD, just a few months after I started writing online), someone I'd never met walked directly to me and asked, "Aren't you BioStatMatt?" I couldn't believe it!

Journal Articles and Peer Review

"Published papers are the currency of science", says Martin Raff et al. in Science magazine (2008, Vol. 321 no. 5885 p. 36). This phrase isn't new, but I find Raff's interpretation discouraging. In the article, the phrase means that published peer-reviewed journal articles are the currency of academic advancement, but not necessarily the currency of science.

Shared scientific ideas, arguments, and evidence are the currency of science. To extend the currency analogy, we might think of scientific theories like coins, with face value in proportion to how widely the ideas are accepted in the scientific community. Published peer-reviewed articles are a popular and useful medium for scientific currency. Peer-reviewed arguments and evidence are usually more well-developed, read more clearly, and are more consistent (i.e. conclusions follow from the evidence).

Online self-publishing isn't peer-reviewed in the journal article sense. This may lead the reader to discount the legitimacy of ideas and evidence presented online. Such a reader commits a type of ad hominem (a logical fallacy), by discounting the validity of a premise because it hasn't been vetted by a peer. Online scientific currency is often valid and insightful, but requires the reader to assume more responsibility in evaluating the evidence. In other words, the reader acts as his own editorial panel.

Some Advice for Blogging (No, I haven't always adhered to this advice)

  • Give your posts an expiration date or make them timeless.
  • Be explicit about your constraints (e.g.software versions).
  • Be polite; as if you were face-to-face with your readers.
  • Use your best grammar, proof-read, and revise your text.

5 Most Popular Posts

Rank Title
1 A serial Connection for R
2 Matrix determinant with the Lapack routine dspsv
3 ECG Project
4 ECG Signal Processing
5 A Short Side-by-side Comparison of the R and NumPy Array Types

2 thoughts on “Some comments on peer-review and a year of blogging

  1. Pat Burns

    I (seem to) agree with your comments about peer review. I think peer review is given too much credit for science. In the days before the interweb there were tech reports. Those were the real scientific conversation (and you had to be connected to get them).

    I think the actual key thing in science is replication. Ideas are tried and possibly mutate. Bad ideas tend to die out faster than good ideas.

  2. Millsyq

    It may also be worth noting that blogging can be a currency in its own right.

    As a dual graduate student, I have received 0 job offers based on my degree aspirations (though, the scientific publications are limited at best).

    As a blogger, I have received multiple fantastic job opportunities in a matter of months (ranging from paid writing to statistical programming to sports analytics).

    Of course, without my time spent in science and extra schooling, the latter would not happen. But I certainly echo your suggestions and note that real people are reading this stuff. Perhaps not a currency of science, but blogging can be a valuable endeavor.

    In other words--done right--blogging is not just self-publishing, but self-marketing!

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