Academic blogs

Bloggercon happened last weekend at Stanford University in the USA. One of the sessions was on Blogging in Academia; I wasn't there, but anyone can listen to it at IT Conversations. The moderator was Jay Rosen, and there are notes on the sessions at his site, and on the blogs One Pilgrim's Walk and JZip. A list of other academics' blogs (including a very few in physics and astro) is at Crooked Timber

As an academic (see the "About" section up top, or my home page), it was a useful summary of the obvious and not-so-obvious issues: How do blogs relate to journal publishing? What takes the place of peer review? How can blogs be used to supplement or replace classroom teaching?

One useful aspect of blogging is that anyone (in a developed economy with access to appropriate resources) can read them -- or write them.

In astrophysics, we've achieved a similar sort of access with a set of archives (originally at Los Alamos, now at Cornell, with worldwide mirrors) that hosts freely-accessible copies of papers and preprints in a variety of disciplines from astrophysics to mathematics and quantitative biology. There is some moderating of submissions, but there is no further set of rules: authors can post papers just after they've been written, after they've been peer-reviewed, or at publication. (And some papers appear only here and are never published elsewhere.) More importantly, access for readers is universal: you don't need a subscription or library access. In a field like astrophysics, essentially everything that will appear in the major journals also appears on the astro-ph archive. There's no included commentary, so, in a distinction drawn by one of the Bloggercon participants, it's still a 'lecture', not a 'seminar.' Conversely, no one wants to read a thirty-page paper with equations and figures in a blog.

But a couple of other questions arise. What about non-academic content? This site is hosted on an Imperial College server, but I've written as much about politics or wine as science. Does this bother anyone out there?

The moderator, Jay Rosen, is a professor of Journalism and made a distinction between 'writing' (which is what he does in his academic papers) and 'writing up', which is, he claimed, what we scientists do; this is at least sometimes true -- and scratching my writing itch is part of why this blog exists. Although this entry isn't such a good example...

Let me know what you think. (And come to think of it, just let me know if you've read this at all!).