Blogging about peer-reviewed research

Bloggers for peer-reviewed research reporting, or BPR3, was conceived by scientists and others who write informally about research on the Internet as a simple way to denote that a blog post or website article is discussing peer-reviewed work. Their mission statement: “Bloggers for Peer-Reviewed Research Reporting strives to identify serious academic blog posts about peer-reviewed research by offering an icon and an aggregation site where others can look to find the best academic blogging on the Net.”

As well as creating an icon for bloggers to denote when their posts concern peer-reviewed research, the organization will host a central web site where snippets from these posts will be displayed, with links back to the original posts. Readers will be able to choose topics of interest and view only those posts, if they wish.

Eventually, the intention is that bloggers will be able to enter a DOI (digital object identifier) or other unique identifier, and automatically generate code to post the icon, link to the post to the BPR3 site and its aggregation tools, and generate a properly formatted research citation which links to the original article.

Now, the first stage is complete — the icons have been created (with a lot of helpful input from large numbers of science bloggers). They must be popular, as the site from which people can collect their code has been down for a couple of days due to excessive traffic, presumably. However, it is now up and viewable, so if you want to pick up an icon for your own blog, or just find out more details of the project, please visit this posting. From this post (29 October): “Anyone can use these icons to show when they’re making a serious post about peer-reviewed research, rather than just linking to a news article or press release. Within a month, these blog posts will also be aggregated here, so everyone can go to one place to locate the most serious, thoughtful analysis and commentary on the web.”

Inevitably, given the engagingly self-referential and gossipy nature of blogging, release of these icons attracted a lot of comment and discussion in the blogosphere. Dave Munger, the driving force behind BPR3, has collected links to all these articles into one post here.

Perhaps in some of this discussion, this question has been addressed already, but as I am afraid I do not have time to read all of the 26 (so far) articles, I raise it here. The icon seems to me an excellent way to indicate that the subject of a blog post is a peer-reviewed research article (so long as there is a mechanism to report abuse and remove the icon from posts that use it incorrectly). And the intentions of BPR3 in providing links to the original research article being discussed are admirable. However, these indicators in themselves do not seem to me necessarily to be an indicator of quality of the blog post itself. On a blog, anyone can write anything about anything, whether or not the topic under discussion is peer-reviewed. A lot of traffic to, or comments on, a blog post is not in itself an indicator of quality. (It could, indeed, be the opposite.)

After the blog posts are themselves linked to the original research article, it will be possible for them to be formally cited, making them eligible for aggregation into citation databases. Blog posts that enter the mainstream scientific debate in this sense would have a quality indicator associated with the post itself rather than the research they describe. Is this the intention?


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    Lise said:

    My blog is written on a very basic, introductory level, but I do occasionally link to peer reviewed research.

    It is appropriate for me to use the icons to designate those articles which are linked to serious research with ‘dumbed down’ explanations?

    Maxine responds: Lise, I think you will have to ask your question at the BPR3 website (link provided in first sentence of my post).

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    DSKS said:

    “However, these indicators in themselves do not seem to me necessarily to be an indicator of quality of the blog post itself.”

    That’s true, but in fairness, I think internet veterans are very much familiar with this concern and read with the appropriate caution. For good or ill, the blogosphere has turned us all into a community of habitual fact-checkers, and the arrival of hard science into the mix probably won’t change that.

    I think the main positive result of this system will be that it further opens up science to non-scientists (especially with journals switching to open access). Breaking down walls and all that… In that respect, I would like to see some of these BPR3 posts attempt to to take the hard science and make it understandable to the non-specialist.

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    Maxine said:

    DSKS’s point about accessibility is a good one, but are blogs, then, a substitute for science journalism in newspapers and magazines (many of which are free on the Internet)? Is a BPR3-stamped blog post discussing a paper different or similar to an article in the free online New York Times science section about the same paper? The latter has been through independent editing and is in an external publication, again independent of the writer: do these factors make a substantial difference to the content and its trustworthiness?

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