Can blogging about your research-in-progress help feed the ideas pipeline?

In Journalism, New Media, Science on February 20, 2008 at 5:03 pm

Crowdsourcing for science? Posted by Alison McCook
[Entry posted at 20th February 2008 01:42 PM GMT]
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Last night, I and other attendees of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships 25th Anniversary Symposium in Boston were introduced to an interesting idea, courtesy of Clive Thompson, science writer extraordinaire for Wired and other outlets: Write blogs to get ideas.

It’s a basic concept. Thompson — a surprisingly dapper (for a writer), well-coiffed, quick-talking presenter — explained that he constantly feeds his blog,, because blogging is “highly promiscuous” — meaning, you blog and link to another blog, then that person links to you in a future post, and so on. You find out who’s linked to you ( ), check them out, and see other blogs by like-minded people, who might think about something you’d never considered before.

Journalism is a bit like science: If someone works on your same idea and publishes first, your work is practically for naught. However, Thompson convinced his editors at Wired to let him post online some information about a column he was working on, asking for reader comments. He received nearly 15,000 words from readers and 65 emails — suggesting examples that illustrate his idea, or something else to think about.

Which made me think: Should scientists be doing more of this? As in, you’ve got a question you’d like to research, but you’re not sure how best to conduct your experiment. Why not ask the scientific community? We’ve written about moves in this direction, such as Nature Precedings. Would scientists participate without poaching?

We’ve also done some of our own experiments about crowdsourcing — notably, a feature last September that asked readers how they thought tenure should change, which received over 100 comments.

Thompson had all sorts of interesting ideas about how to get — well, ideas. For instance, in front of the audience, he logged onto his profile on, which operates under a practically inexplicable premise, and asked: “Does anyone have a question they want to ask a room full of science journalists?” Twenty minutes or so later, he checked back and found six or so questions, including our opinion of the new movie “Jumper.” One question, however, came from “Hermida” — Alfred Hermida, an assistant professor at the graduate school of journalism at the University of British Columbia, who was in the audience and scheduled to speak today (February 20). His question: “Why aren’t they on Twitter?”

By the end of Thompson’s one-hour presentation, Hermida had posted a blog about the talk on


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