Felix Salmon had a nice piece the other day about the Jonah Lehrer self-plagiarism affair. (Basically a journalist, Jonah Lehrer, copied some things he had published elsewhere and posted them on his New Yorker blog.) Felix uses the controversy surrounding this event to write up four useful blogging rules for print journalists who also blog.
I think these rules are probably also useful for academic researchers who also blog. To paraphrase Salmon’s rules:
‘‘Hey Look at This’’: Blogging is about reading rather than writing. Point others to something interesting you read.
This can serve a very important function in academia, where without blogs and the like, most research is confined to low readership journals and conference presentations.
Link, Do Not Repeat: Because any content on the internet is just a link away, you never have to repeat it.
The need not to repeat frees researchers up to add onto others work. It also fits in well into an established culture of citing other’s work.
Blogs are Interactions, Not Just Primary Sources: Read, generously link to, summarise, and fill in the gaps of other blogs and web content.
This is another key part of the same process as rule 2.
A Blog Post is the Beginning, Not the End: Use a blog to develop ideas.
This is the one I like the most. Even if no one read my blog I would still write it. Writing the blog has become part of my learning process. Writing a post makes me sharpen my ideas and, in the case of technical posts, my skills. I also regularly go back to previous posts to remember how to do something.
Of course the social aspect of blogging about research ideas further increases the benefits of blogging for researchers. A recent example is when I posted about using GitHub to host data. Someone wrote to me with a problem they were having with my code. So I then learned about how to solve this problem. Commenters to my solution post then shared even more information about the issue.
I now know how to solve this problem so that I can get my research done, other people can also find the solution, and I have a record if I forget what the solution was.