Just this morning we noted that the economists wax eloquent about blogging (and find it better than seminars); however, Carl Zimmer at The Loom (in spite of the difficulties he has in remembering pre web2.0 days) is not impressed with science blogging–he compares science blogging to conferences (and finds the latter better suited for scientific arguments–at least, for the moment):
Now, in the pre-Web 2.0 era, all this to-ing and fro-ing happened all the time. At a packed presentation at a scientific conference, people would stand up during the question period and have at it, or head out to the hallways to continue the arguments. But most of this sort of debate didn’t get far beyond the walls of the conference hall. Science writers like me would try to offer a glimpse into the arguments, but there’s a hard limit to how much we can convey in a thousand-word piece. Any other debate had to get channeled into the glacial flow of scientific publications. Now, as this flagellum exchange makes clear, freewheeling scientific debates can reach a wider audience.
This can potentially be a good thing. It may drive the scientific process forward more efficiently, and it may let non-scientists better understand a crucial part of science. But as it stands, this open debate has some big problems. For one thing, it’s incredibly diffuse–a post here, a comment there. It’s not even really a debate. The authors of the paper itself have not, to my knowledge, responded anywhere to all this. (Admittedly, this has all unfolded in about 24 hours, so perhaps I need to lay off the coffee and wait a while.) Obviously, the blogosphere gets a lot of its strength from its decentralized structure, but it seems to me that productive debate is a lot like life. If you pack a lot of enzymes and DNA and other molecules in a tight package, you get life. Disperse them, and you get a few random reactions. Pack comments about a particular paper in one place, and a real debate can emerge. Disperse them across the blogosphere, and you encourage cheap shots and irrelevant tangents, while good observations go unappreciated.
As another example, he also indicates how quiet it is over at PLOS one.
Personally, having seen the wonderful iMechanica, I am convinced that the economists have got it right–for all the diversions, blog discussions are still more “democratic” discussions as compared to those at the conferences (and probably a bit less “proof-by-authority — I met Bob in the elevator; he told me so” oriented).