The rise of digital media has revolutionized the management of information and created opportunities for broader involvement in science's production. Collaborations are growing ever larger, transforming the concept of authorship. Prepublication discussions of research on blogs dilute a principal author's claim to discovery. And the public is increasingly involved.It is amazing to read Ravetz's strong argument for new social practices in science in Nature, the world's leading scientific journal. In publishing this comment, Nature demonstrates that it knows well to read the signs of the time. Already on the "Science in a digital society" workshop in Lisbon in March 2011, an editor of Nature reflected on the changes the blogosphere and other emanations of the digital media might bring for Nature and scientific journals in general. There is definitively something going on!
Ravetz shares a deeply democratic approach to science, everyone can participate, even though there emerge new problems of quality control:
The journal is losing its status as the sole gatekeeper — simultaneous guarantor of quality, certifier of property, medium of communication and also archive. Other means of sharing material, assessing quality and screening out the incompetent or fraudulent are emerging to fill the gap, but ultimately the professional monopoly on quality assurance of science will have to be modified.The blogosphere holds, according to Ravetz, "great promise for free information sharing". For him, positive examples are the defense by climate scientists of Steve McIntyre; or in medicine, the employment of thousands of "expert patients (...) to review the quality of research papers on treatment"; or the general virtues of "whistle blowing" in the blogosphere. In the wikipedia-like communitary 'open source' and 'creative commons' production of knowledge, Ravetz sees even the fulfillment of Merton's ideals (communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originality and scepticism).
In any case, there are, of course, problems of quality assurance, which might be solved by "societal consensus and professional gatekeepers"; simultaneously, the mere numerical system of the number of peer-reviewed articles in quality assessment "could be relaxed and made more personal and communal":
For this to happen, barriers to sharing scientific information with the public, such as journal paywalls, should come down. And better online discussion forums must be developed. The presentation and archiving of blogs and other forms of internet communications should be improved, so that ideas can be debated and added to over time.Of course, to accept these changes whole-heartedly and to even develop new forms of knoweldge production, good blog management is not enough; it also takes civic virtues, courtesy rules, and trust:
Ultimately, effective quality assurance depends on trust. And science relies on trust more than most institutions. As Steven Shapin, a historian of science at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed in his 1994 book A Social History of Truth, trust is achieved and maintained only by mutual respect and civility of discourse. In a digital age, civility should be extended to, and reciprocated by, the extended peer community.In the discussion, Jerry Ravetz rightly mentions Judith Curry's (who has also a discussion of Jerry Ravetz's comment) and Anthony Watt's blogs as good examples for keeping the standards high while having successfully established rules of courtesy. I think our contributors and readers might agree that our 2-year-old klimazwiebel is an active part of this exciting movement towards more open, democratic and collective practices in science .
(Photo by Sarah Pleger & Caroline d'Essen: Jerry Ravetz, Jeroen van der Slujis, Roger Pielke jr., Beate Ratter and hans von Storch in Hamburg 2011, workshop on "postnormal science: the case of climate research").