16 March 2011

Discussing [history] through microformats

At PLOS Blogs Martin Fenner observes something about blogs that I wish more people would emulate in the history of medicine and science:
The best and quickest discussions of a scientific paper now sometimes happen in science blogs rather than in the peer-reviewed literature. Whereas we have a number of scholarly databases that track citations between papers, we don’t have the same tools for science blogs.
More can be said: on some level it is silly that academic journals in the humanities and social sciences persist in publishing book reviews in their journals. The most popular articles on this blog are the book reviews.Why many of the leading organs in, for example, the history of science, medicine, and technology have failed to review and promote books through blogs attached to their websites is beyond me. The costly space they devote to book reviews could easily be given over to more scholarly articles. Moreover, the reviews would be available to the public sooner and not dependent upon quarterly cycles.

If, moreover, comments were allowed, other scholars could react to positive and negative reviews of work in a democratic fashion, challenging the views of the reviewer and opening up fruitful debates.

While we are on this topic: it is also silly that the same journals don't invite comments on recently published papers in a similar fashion. Peer-review should persist. But why shouldn't subsequent critique be invited afterwards? We all know that our ideas are often in development, even as they grace the pages of illustrious organs. It would be nice to hear what other people think about our work - even if they hate it.

The BMJ does an awesome job doing this with its rapid response model and its open peer review process. Any journal could copy their pattern by paying for a domain name and pointing blogger at the web address.