Back in the dark, old ages of the earliest science blogging, many of the most prominent science bloggers focused their efforts on debunking pseudoscience and battling the politicized anti-science forces. Others specialized in critiquing mainstream media coverage of science. Yet others saw their blogs mainly as educational endeavors, reveling in the wonders of nature and explaining the basics to their lay audiences. It was very rare that anyone would pick up a brand new scientific paper to explain it to the public.
Then, a new blog showed up on the horizon - Cognitive Daily. Written by a husband-and-wife team of Dave and Greta Munger, the blog quickly grew a very large audience. But more importantly - and that is easy to see looking back with 20-20 hindsight - Cognitive Daily ushered in a new style of science blogging, what we now call researchblogging: picking up a scientific paper (usually, but not always, one very recently published in a peer-reviewed journal, though a few bloggers specialize in older, more historical literature) and explaining what it really means. Many, many new science bloggers liked this format and started emulating Dave and Greta's style, and today this style of blogging is almost synonymous, at least for some audiences, with science blogging as a whole.
What this new style of blogging accomplished was to instantly place science blogs on the media map. Scientists, on their blogs, often did a better job at explaining new research (especially when discovering weaknesses of the research) in their own areas of expertise than the mainstream media generalists could. Science blogs suddenly got a lot of respect. The professional science writers and journalists started looking in. But it was still hard to find all the relevant blog posts without much searching around. Dave Munger stepped in again and solved that problem by setting up a new aggregator site - ResearchBlogging.org. It was unveiled to the world at the second ScienceOnline conference in January 2008 and instantly received many applications, and many new users.
Importantly, very early on, Public Library of Science adopted ResearchBlogging.org criteria to its own criteria for adding science bloggers to their Press list (disclosure - I had a hand in this myself). For several years, blog coverage of their papers (in the ALT-metrics tab of each paper in all seven of their journals) was filtered through ResearchBlogging.org as well, turning the aggregator into an informal stamp of approval (or accreditation) for science bloggers who were accepted onto the service, something now extended also to its sister-aggregator ScienceSeeker.org.
Two of the Scientific American network bloggers (Krystal and Jason) are currently editors at ResearchBlogging.org, but I thought it would be best to go to the source - Dave Munger himself - and ask him to explain what it is and how it works for the new Scientific American blog readers. Take it away, Dave!
ResearchBlogging is a system for collecting the best blog posts about peer-reviewed research in every academic discipline. The site launched in late 2007 and has collected a database of over 20,000 posts in seven languages.
The emphasis is quality over quantity. Our 29 editors monitor the site to ensure that the posts all meet our community-based standards for discussing authoritative research. Content editors highlight exceptional posts in their areas of expertise on our News Blog every day.
Any blogger can sign up for the site, but an editor checks each new blog to verify that it accurately covers the research in its field. While the majority of our blogs are written by professors or graduate students, we also have a large number written by enthusiastic amateurs, science writers, post-doctoral and industry researchers, and other professionals.
Unlike many other sites, ResearchBlogging doesn't aggregate every post written by its member bloggers. Instead, it focuses only on those that cite and discuss peer-reviewed research. Like anyone else, science bloggers can write about politics, their vacation plans, or the latest editorial cartoon, but when they take the time to seriously discuss journal articles, they place a special bit of code in their post, which alerts our system.
Then that post is indexed on our site and displayed on our main page, Twitter and Facebook pages, and on over a hundred popular blogs that use the ResearchBlogging Widget to show the latest posts about research from their field.
The site has been influential as a way to demonstrate the tremendous array of solid science blogging being done by experts and amateurs alike. When a pundit dismisses "the blogosphere" as a collection of ill-informed rants, conscientious bloggers can point to ResearchBlogging to show that the blogosphere contains plenty of high-quality writing on a wide variety of serious topics.
While the site has been going strong for nearly four years, it is in need of a facelift and performance overhaul, so you may notice that it sometimes takes a while for pages to load. We suggest that you be patient and/or subscribe to our RSS feeds, which will point you directly to the blogs rather than going through the main site. You can also subscribe to our News Blog feed, which gives you direct links to Editor's Selections.
Previously in this series:
What is: Science Online London
What is: Science Online New York City
What is: Journal of Science Communication
What is: ScienceOnline2012 - and it's coming soon!