ResearchBlogging.org: Interview with Dave Munger

This article originally appeared on Next Generation Science (NGS) on January 23rd, 2009 It has been re-posted here to maintain an active copy on the Web. A group blog, NGS was set up to follow emerging technologies and discuss tomorrow’s science, and was active from January 18th, 2009 to May 16th, 2010.

Science 2.0 leverages a variety of Internet technologies, including RSS, blogs and folksonomies (tagging), to promote conversation and make it easier for researchers to connect, communicate and collaborate. A model Science 2.0 website that incorporates all these technologies is ResearchBlogging.org.

ResearchBlogging.org logo

ResearchBlogging.org is an organization that strives to identify serious academic blog posts about peer-reviewed research. It is a self-enrolled, quality standards program created by Dave Munger, who writes for the psychology blog Cognitive Daily [Note: Cognitive Daily closed in January 2010. Dave currently blogs at Word Munger]. ResearchBlogging.org aggregates blog posts from around the Web discussing peer-reviewed scientific research.

Today, reports of scientific research in the mainstream media are frequently the product of a public relations office. The problem with “science by press release” is that it’s often selectively focused on those results that have huge impact or stir controversy. ResearchBlogging.org provides an alternative source for reporting of scientific research, relying on scientists instead of press officers to define, describe and analyze published research studies.

Dave Munger and Eric Schnell

Dave Munger (left) and Research Blogging advisory team member Eric Schnell (right) following a presentation of ResearchBlogging.org at the NISO Discovery Tools forum (a conference for librarians interested in Web 2.0 technologies).

I had the opportunity to interview Dave Munger recently and find out more about ResearchBlogging.org and their approach to the organization and dissemination of serious peer-reviewed scientific research.

The Interview

Dave Munger, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Tell me a little about yourself.

I’m a writer who’s also a former science teacher and textbook editor, so I’m very concerned about how information, scientific and otherwise, gets distributed (or not distributed). Greta Munger, my co-blogger on Cognitive Daily, is the real scientist, a psychology professor at Davidson College who identifies the research we write about and makes sure whatever we do publish on our site is accurate and high-quality.

What is ResearchBlogging.org and why did you create it?

A few years ago we developed an icon for Cognitive Daily to indicate when we were blogging about a peer-reviewed research, rather than just linking to a mainstream media news article or another blog post. Another blogger, Sister Edith Bogue, a sociology professor who also blogs about religion and faith, asked us if she could use our icon on her blog. Since our icon was customized to go with our own site design, we didn’t think that was a good idea, but then Sister Edith came up with the key suggestion that led to ResearchBlogging.org: Wouldn’t it be great if there was an icon that anyone could use to identify their serious posts about peer-reviewed research, as opposed to more hastily-written or personal posts?

It wasn’t a very large leap from that to the idea of a central site collecting all of those posts from across the internet. We created a new blog to discuss the concept, and within a few months a student volunteer had created what became the prototype for the current site. Soon hundreds of bloggers were using the site, and our new site, developed in collaboration with Seed Media Group, has collected over 3,000 high-quality blog posts on subjects ranging from anthropology to zoology.

Can you describe the guidelines a blog has to meet to become a member and publish under the Research Blogging icon?

For each language we support, we have three moderators from a range of disciplines. Users apply to join our site, and a moderator visits their blog to make sure they meet our requirements. Blogs must have at least one post about peer-reviewed research to join, and when they discuss research, they must do so primarily using their own words. Just quoting an abstract or reposting a figure doesn’t cut it.

After a blog joins, our readers can flag any post they believe doesn’t meet our standards, and it will be removed from the site if it doesn’t follow our guidelines.

How popular is ResearchBlogging.org?

That’s a little difficult to assess. We have over 30 different RSS feeds and a variety of other ways of connecting directly to our members’ posts without visiting our site, so just the traffic on our main site (about 1,000 visits per day) may not be an accurate representation of how popular we are. Our participating bloggers say they get a nice boost in traffic when a post appears on our ResearchBlogging.org. One way we are now reaching even more potential readers is through a widget which appears on ScienceBlogs. This widget places relevant headlines in front of hundreds of thousands of visitors. Soon we’ll have a version of the widget that can be placed on anyone’s blog, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands more. We’re also starting to build a presence on Twitter @ResearchBlogs and other social networking sites.

ResearchBlogging.org is similar to the Health On the Net (HON) Foundation, which promotes and guides the growing online community of healthcare providers and consumers to reliable health information and expertise through quality assessment and stringent peer review. How does ResearchBlogging.org assess blog quality and/or author expertise for inclusion? Is there a mechanism for reviewing participating blogs?

As I mentioned before, a moderator visits each blog before it is allowed to join the site. If a moderator doesn’t feel he has enough expertise to assess the blog’s content, he’ll share it with other moderators or consult experts in the blog’s specialty field. We also reserve the option of removing a blog from our site if it doesn’t meet our standards. But overall, we’ve found that bloggers themselves have set a very high standard, and nearly every post on our site is top-quality, typically offering much more detailed discussion than you would find in a mainstream media report about the same research.

What do you see as the difference between HON and ResearchBlogging.org?

HON attempts to be an encyclopedic medical reference, while ResearchBlogging.org offers general discussion about cutting-edge research. Our site is a great way to follow current trends in one or more fields, to read thoughtful posts and find interesting discussion about research, and find out if a particular journal article has been discussed in the blogosphere. HON is more comprehensive, but covers a narrower range of fields [focusing only on health and medical information].

How does ResearchBlogging.org manage blogs that are promoting and/or reviewing pseudoscience?

We don’t allow them on our site, and we don’t allow them to use our icon even if they haven’t registered. We had one high-profile case of an “Intelligent Design” blog using our icon without registering for the site and we had an open, public debate about whether this use should be allowed. The blogger removed the icon from his blog and he wasn’t allowed to register. We’ve had several other cases that were handled internally with similar results. We are committed to disseminating only accurate, thoughtful discussion of peer-reviewed work.

Are there any changes coming to ResearchBlogging.org? Can you let us in on anything new to watch for in the near future?

Right now we are primarily focused on broadening our site’s reach. We have over 500 registered blogs, representing over 3,000 blog posts in English and German. We will gradually add new languages while ensuring that the quality of the posts is equivalent, no matter the language they are written in (users have the option of specifying which languages they see when they visit the site). We’re also working on adding new features to the site — we have a long wish list, including more automation in citation-generation, more integration between our forums and main site, and more connections with other resources such as journal and library websites. Ultimately we hope that any time a person does a library search for a journal article, they will not only find the article itself, but also links to all the blog posts discussing that article.

As more and more scientists use Web 2.0 technologies, what do you see in the future for ResearchBlogging.org?

I see scientists taking more responsibility for disseminating the results of their work to the public, relying less on the media to interpret their results for them. Eventually every lab will have a blog that discusses not only the research coming out of their own lab, but also other relevant research from around the world. ResearchBlogging.org can be a hub connecting all those discussions, bringing researchers together and sharing that research with interested members of the lay public.

Walter Jessen is a digital strategist, writer, web developer and data scientist. You can typically find him behind the screen something with an internet connection.

  • http://sciencebase.com David Bradley

    Nice interview guys. I’ve been using RB now to tag my “serious” posts on http://www.sciencebase.com/ and http://www.sciencetext.com/ for quite some time now and it certainly makes me feel good to know they’re being taken up by the system.

    It’s impossible to analyze referrals because so many people read blog posts and RB via so many different routes now, but I had a couple of hundred new readers via direct referrals from researchblogging.org last year, which is a small number compared with my actual daily visitor rates, but it’s presumably a more targeted audience so definitely a good thing.

    As RB itself and awareness of it grows this year, I’d expect those stats to improve and for the scientific threads to pull our community together more effectively as well as to rope in more and more people from outside the various niches too.

    Keep up the good work.