Friday, May 2, 2014

Why Blog?

The Blog Review Process
A series of events in my life have lead me to reconsider the value of blogging.

The Back Story

Short story: I got fired.

Long story: Recently I was hired to write occasional blog posts for Quandl. They probably figured that due to my large readership and specialization in econometrics that I could actually write something informative that would shed a good light on them.  I wrote this!  Being how I have never taken a class in time series econometrics and barely touched it in my blog posts to date this was an unwise move on my part.  But I figured, I would post as a kind of exploratory procedure so what can it hurt?

The result, public defenestration and termination.

Quandl was right to fire me. I threw the results themselves together carelessly (not used to working with data) but ended up spending the majority of my effort investigating the technical issues of managing Quandl data in R.  In addition, I did not spend enough time thinking through the quality issues of my post.  I consider my general posts to be of medium quality.  If instead I am posting for someone else then I should really make my posts of the highest caliber possible.  I had not intended my post to be a serious econometric analysis but rather a demonstration on how easily Quandl data can be accessed and deployed.  Of course, I should have thought through this more.


Why Blog?
That said, this whole situation got me thinking about the value of blogging in contrast to the traditional academic publication establishment.  First off, I would like to say that despite it being in my own best interest, I find it difficult to be motivated to write academic papers for academic journals.  Why?

1. Because the average citation index of most papers is around in the single digits and I suspect that a the actual readership for most articles might not be that much larger than that. Yet even the most mundane of the posts on my blog tends to be read by hundreds of readers.  My blog itself, as of this week has reached the half million hits mark!

2. Because I do not believe in the traditional peer review process.  a. The process typically takes a year or more for a paper to go from written to published. b. The "peer" reviewers are left entirely up to the discretion of the editor and therefore creates massive variability in publication quality. c. Most traditional journals have few mechanisms for researchers to point out research failures which were missed by the reviewers. d. Journals are seen as canonical and often unassailable even though publications may very well be completely wrong.

3. Because I believe in the public review process in the form of comments.  On my blog I publish all comments which are written with regards to posts and only have an administrative review to limit robots from spamming the comment section.

Yet despite or because of these reasons posts go out which are just plain bad.  I know I am not the only one who sometimes produces junk.  This creates a situation in which blog posts are not respected as legitimate research and would likely never appear on as academic citation.  They could perhaps be compared with the prestige of an independent reporter.

There are things I love about this.  First off, I can stimulate discussion by writing my thoughts about different subjects.  Often, I know I am not an expert in the field I am writing on yet my hope is that by writing something sufficiently clear, an expert will come in and correct whatever I got wrong through comments.  Thus even my bad blog posts such as the one on Quandl will become an asset to readers even if it is through showing people what not to do.

Yet, I am unconvinced, as I would assume many readers are, that comments are sufficient to correct for such botched posts.

Thus the question arises, "How do we create an open exchange discourse that even though potentially starting of low quality might find its pay to produce true gems?"

Enter: Recursive Blogging
This is a blog design concept inspired by Stack Exchange in which users pose questions and other users answer those questions and there is a reward system giving points as well as, critically, the ability to edit questions and answers.  As far as I am concerned the questions and answers on SE are of some of the highest quality that can be found anywhere.

In my Recursive Blogging web concept I suggest that like SE blog posts could be editable, thumb up, or down, with comments and the ability to provide detailed responses to posts by a larger community in which the comments and responses might be just as valuable as the original blog post.

This ability to revise and update is the amazing sticking power of SE.  The reason why SE questions will continue to be referenced for years into the future.  In contrast most blogs and blogs posts in their current form will fade and become less relevant as their posts fade in relevance over time.  Recursive Blogging offers an alternative schema.  I think like SE Recursive Blogging should work on reputation and user profiles and in order to accomplish this it would need a framework that either supported multiple blogs or was shared across blogs.

This is my answer to the paradox.  Use recursive blogging as a mechanism for generating high quality post which have long term value.  I do not have the skills or time right now to design such a system, but I think there is a good chance that it might take off if someone took the initiative.
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1 comment :

  1. Loved the post discussion. I personally believe blogging should be a bit raw. The, related, history of journals is quite interesting in that they began as a way for scholars to communicate around rough ideas before 'serious' publishing in a book (mid 1600s-Royal Society). Well that got hijacked.... Time passes. Then Tim Berners-Lee has the idea to use the Internet as a platform for researchers to communicate raw ideas with each other. HTML and the World Wide Web were born. Yep, they took that too. Blogging is a scholar's way to put out a raw idea for feedback. To process in a community. It ought to attempt to not deceive. One should state you're trying out methods and they may be raw, but to raise standards too much can lead to constrained discourse. Open dialogue is good for science even when its wrong. It's the one place where wrong/misguided ideas are likely to be challenged or corrected and that's good, it's called growth. We already have great avenues for publishing high quality pieces called journals. The scholarly community needs an intellectual sandbox. Blogging is that tool and readers must judge posts accordingly. They haven't been reviewed. As for me, I say keep the raw ideas flowing here (I love reading them), that's where we learn as a community. We can get the polished ideas in journals. Otherwise scholars are left again with no real means to communicate ideas.

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