Thursday, February 17, 2005

 

The rise of academic blogging

Yesterday I posted the following:


Since IlliGAL Blogging opened up shop on 24 January, I've been a little surprised that the young avant garde of the EC world hasn't been blogging its brains out, but maybe I'm missing something.
To which, Amir at thesilog commented:

During my surfing in blogosphere, I have found few really technical weblogs. This rush of academic weblogs (in AI-related fields) is rather new or at least new in the eye of me! Most previous academic weblogs are something between daily life of an graduate student or professor and their research-related news, e.g. mine weblogs is a sample of it.
Yes, this is what I've found, and I think it is rather surprising. Blogging has been around for awhile. I would have thought that dozens of young faculty and hotshot grad students who already were blogging for personal reaons would have turned to academic blogging by now.

Amir continues

And more importantly, it would be nice to discuss about "what a weblog can do for us?". Is it a place to report, or a place to disuss, or place to fast-publishing? What about its formality? Can I claim that I have this XYZ idea if I do not publish a paper in a conference or journal and write a post in my weblog instead?
Others need to answer these questions for themselves, but my lab website has always been a place to disseminate work, inform, and influence. Blogging for IlliGAL Blogging is a way to do those things in a manner that can provide more continually updated content. Also the comment facility allows us to have useful online dialogue in a straightforward manner. Previous efforts at interacting with readers were too static or too annoying.

Moreover, I like the informality of blogging, but I've never been one to be overly formal in academic discourse either. This work is fun. I'm not sure why it is necessary to dress up the joy of discovery in stilted language and thereby turn it into a form of drudgery.

I do share Amir's concern with posting new ideas prior to publication. I don't believe blogging takes the place of scholarly publication, and we are holding new results from this site until they are published. Having said this, it has been a long standing policy at IlliGAL to publish papers as tech reports on the web immediately following paper completion. The public nature of that posting has made it difficult for others to claim our ideas as their own, and perhaps contemporaneous posting of new ideas to a blog could serve the same function. This might especially become the case if bloggers continue their habit of citing one another generously (as is the academic ideal).

If this were to take place, rapid exchange of new ideas in blogs could represent a new kind of open-source brainstorming, but I have difficulty believing this process will become the norm. It is hard to imagine a tenure and promotion committee ever looking favorably upon a series of blogposts as being sufficiently serious. On the other hand, much of what is going on right now on the web was difficult to imagine 15 years ago. What do IlliGAL Blogging readers think?

Comments:
I also share the concern about posting new ideas or findings. It would be great if we wouldn't have to worry about these things, but we probably must.

However, there are many other types of posts that are interesting for blog readers without having to disclose unpublished but publishable results. The posts in this blog prove this concept. Even though I still didn't get to post as much (and I promise this will change, or is this more of a threat), I enjoy reading this blog and I find most posts quite interesting.
 
What precisely is the concern? Are you afraid that someone will take your idea and not give you credit? It seems like many people have this fear, but I don't see a very strong foundation for it.

Posting your new ideas and findings right away provides an immediate claim, especially in a public forum like this. Heck, we should set up public write-only blogs so that nobody can claim you went back and changed your words. That is essentially all a print-publication does anyway.
 
First of all, I think posting unfinished ideas on blogs is good when you have more ideas than you can implement. For instance I did a post on a possible application of tensor methods to CRF optimization because I just have too many things to think about. Maybe somebody else can try it, and tell me how well it works!

Secondly, instead of viewing researchers as being in competition with each other, one can view different *fields* as competing. So suppose Reinforcement Learning community actively cooperates, whereas people in biology are secretive. Then Reinforcement Learning community might make greater impact, and that means more money and public appreciation for anyone affiliated with it.

Thirdly, as Lance Fortnow pointed out in his "How to do Research" post, the impact of papers is more important than the quantity. A paper with great impact requires a lot of thinking and/or informaiton. So who cares if you miss out on a few easy papers if the thinking stimulated by discussions will move you closer to getting something really valuable? (ok, you care if your department wants X papers a year from you)

As far as Machine Learning community goes, I think there's a tendency to be "nice". Sure you can steal X's idea and get 1 extra paper, but presumably it's not your last paper, and who's to say that person won't be peer-reviewing your articles some time in the future ;)

As far as stealing ideas, does anyone have examples? There were some big profile cases in XXth century of famous people discovering X independently, and purposefully not aknowledging less famous previous author Y. Does anyone have examples for AI/Machine Learning fields?
 
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