Interview with Atila Iamarino

Fonte: Randall Munroe - XKCD.

Fonte: Randall Munroe – XKCD.

Online social networks are gaining increasing importance in scientific communication as a means and tool to support the management, publicity, sharing and content evaluation. Therefore, the SciELO Program has been promoting the adoption of social networks to increase the visibility and dissemination of published research among its journals community. As part of these efforts in engaging the SciELO Network on new interactive tools, we invited Atila Iamarino to answer some questions about the relevance and circumstances of one of these interactive technologies – the blogs. Atila is a SciELO contributor, a biologist and researcher at USP, experienced in academic social media, acting as a science blogger since 2007, besides being part of the ScienceBlogs Brazil, a Portuguese version of the world’s largest science blogging network – ScienceBlogs.com, and also one of the editors of the Portuguese version of ResearchBlogging.com, an aggregator of scientific blogs available in seven languages . This interview shows the advantages of using science blogs by the scientific community.

Entrevista Atila Iamarino | SciELO em Perspectiva by Scielo on Mixcloud

Audio transcription

1. Do you think that blogs are a tool for supporting scientific research? Could you speak a little about science blogs and the new ways of managing information?

Well, blogs are an excellent tool for supporting scientific research. The blog is a tool for writing and interacting with the public. This is its most important function – the ability to allow dynamic and frequent posts and an interaction with the public at large through comments, the exchange of links and recommendations. The blog is an excellent tool for supporting scientific research, and one which can be used at all steps and stages in the research production process, from a students lab book, in which the researcher can list what he will do on the following day or what he has already done in the laboratory, the difficulties he had, right up to the final vehicle which will be used for the publication and discussion of the research results. This opportunity to show what is being done and to discuss it with the public at large and this public can be anyone at all, and range from laymen to researchers and peers means that the blog can take on different roles at each stage of the research process and this has a dramatic influence on the ways in which information is managed. This can happen by the blog taking the place of or complementing a laboratory notebook, an interactive notebook, a resource which can be updated all the time, right up to a tool for the publication of scientific results, as I will discuss in the other questions which will be asked during this interview.

2. In your opinion, can the science blog also be viewed as a communication channel for a wider public and, therefore as a channel for the popularization of scientific knowledge?

Yes. The fact that the blog is an open, free tool which can be used by anyone at all, leaves room for it to be used in different ways by those who post in it. If the author of the post only wishes to discuss the results of a particular piece of research with whom is qualified to comment and discuss, he can use the blog only as a tool for communication between peers, but if he wishes to carry out scholarly communication and blog with a wider public, the blog provides a perfect space for this as well. So, everything depends, really, much more on the approach he wants to take towards what he writes and the time and effort he wants to dedicate to that, and how he wants to illustrate and work on the text, rather than a constraint of the tool itself. The blog is quite simply a tool for updating and ongoing writing. Who will determine which is the audience is who writes the posts.

3. In 2007, the science blog platform Research Blogging1 made its appearance, which nowadays aggregates over one thousand active blogs that deliver scientific knowledge to their readers. What is it that characterizes such a growth, and what would you highlight in this context?

Research Blogging grew partly because of the popularization, in different languages, of the writing tool which is the blog. As far as I am concerned, the thing that most characterizes this platform is the growth in languages other than English, which shows that there is a local interest in whoever is writing. There is dissemination in different languages, and a range of languages which have finished up by being used on the Research Blogging platform since its inception, such as Portuguese, Italian and Chinese2 and what I am highlighting in this context is that the dynamics of blog usage have been changing since then. There was a peak in postings and new blogs written during the period between 2009 and 2010 and since then, really, the rate in the growth of blogs has diminished, which indicates that people are using other tools, including social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to communicate different aspects of what they are doing. The blog used to be used to recommend articles via their links, right up to what the person was writing with more time at his disposal, and these days, they are writing these recommendations on other platforms and leaving the blog for a more detailed text, more complete and with more references. It is true to say that from 2010 to the present the number of posts per blog went down, but the number of citations per blog increased, in other words, texts are becoming more elaborate, which seems to be a refinement in the use of the platform, which is all to the good.

4. Can blogs, scientific blogsphere and Open Access be viewed as aggregating instruments in support of the democratization of scientific knowledge and, at the same time, as facilitators of access to the reading of research?

Without the slightest doubt, blogs have a dual role in the access to information. They have the role which the author can give, which is that of transforming a text of a scientific article into a text which can be understood by the public at large. So, it is access to education which the public does not have to be able to interpret a scientific article, and I am speaking of education in the sense of scientific training. It is not everyone who is going to get hold of a scientific text and understand it from the beginning to the end. In actual fact, many researchers need years of training to truly learn to understand and read, at one go, a scientific article. In a blog, when the author is able to summarize a scientific article well and explain what it contains, he is already making this access tool independent of the access which the public has to the original source of the research, in the sense of allowing them to see what is contained in that article. And this also has another aspect which is as follows: much of what is published in research these days is closed to the public at large, to the same people who finance research with taxes and other revenues which go to finance the researchers and the research institutes. This is because the research which is published by researchers ends up in journals that are closed access and charge a very high subscription fee for this information. Therefore, in parallel to blogs, we have the Open Access movement, such as the SciELO initiative, whose objective is, since its beginning, making the article available so it can be read by anyone. Blogs can also allow this kind of access by taking articles which are in closed access and transposing them by talking about knowledge which is written there for everyone, into a place – a blog – which is accessible. And so, in as much as the public does not have access to the originally published article, it does have access to the comments made about it on a blog, which is essential, in my opinion, for the democratization of research which is carried out.

5. How would you characterize blogs and bloggers in the field of science?

Blogs and bloggers are going to play a role in any area of the field of science, from disseminators and promoters, and I also include here laymen who write about science and journalists who write very well about science, frequently much better than researchers do in speaking about recent and important research; there are even bloggers who are in fact disseminating research and generating metrics, data which are going to be used in other articles. The blog and the blogger can act as both a disseminator at the end of the research process and as a generator of data for new analyses and to discuss the way in which the science is carried out.

6. How does the scientific blog work as a source of performance metrics for articles in scientific journals?

Up until a few years ago, perhaps ten or fifteen years ago, no-one could go to the library and hang out beside the photocopier to see which were the most read scientific articles. For this reason, one of the measurements used for the reading and use of articles became the number of times it was cited in other articles. That is to say, I know that the article is well read and is important when there are more people reading and citing it. But these days, we know a series of other things about articles, such as how many people recommend them and how many blogs comment on them and subsequently speak about them, and this generates a new layer of measures we can have on them. Less than half of scientific articles are cited one or more times, that is to say, when we discuss the citation as a benchmark for the use of an article, we invariably leave aside leastwise half the research which is done in the world. In other hand, when we begin to incorporate other uses that this article may have such as its citation in science blogs, we are able to understand the other types of relevance that this article can have. Therefore, an article which is not cited by other articles, but which is cited many times by blogs as being relevant and important has a use which must to be measured and commented upon. The fact that an article is not cited but is highly recommended, well-read and commented upon, indicates that particular piece of research is relevant, or that which the researcher is doing has value, only that has no way of being measured by the traditional metrics, used until now.

7. The scientific blogsphere is quite active in countries such as the United States. What is your view the Brazilian scientific blogsphere?

I see the Brazilian scientific blogsphere as an incipient one, as something new, despite some blogs having been in existence for more than ten years. We still have few science blogs in Brazil and these blogs are usually transient; the person is excited to write, starts to write, writes for one or two years and suddenly stops (and this comes from someone who for quite some time has not written in his own blog), but I feel that this need to write is missing here in Brazil, and this need is important even for the students that are beginning to do research, or the graduate students who are doing research now, if they do not write in other means such as in a science blog, they will only get their hands dirty or to write an article, which is they way in which will be judged by the whole world, or in writing the thesis which is the end result of their work. The exception is those that have either a research agency such as FAPESP3, which requires regular reports. Then, a student has few opportunities to write before getting to a real article, indeed, and this certainly will not allow him to practice sufficiently enough to write a good article later on. So I feel that there is this lack of encouragement and in use of science blogs, even as training tools in writing for those that are just starting out.

8. Do you think there is acceptance and engagement from the national scientific and academic communities4 in the use of these new interactive tools of communicating science? Why?

Well, this touches upon precisely what I began to say in the previous question. There is still not the necessary acceptance and engagement of the national academic scientific community in part because of the generation gap itself. Those who do research today grown with other model as source for research. They are the ones that spent a large part of their research careers, since their start, reading printed materials and who are still not accustomed to this new type of tool, partly because they do not have an encouragement or a requirement on top of this action – I speak about encouragement and financial reward because here in Brazil there are very few funding agencies with strong power for promote the tools that will be used. Unlike any other part of the world, in Brazil all researchers have their CVs online in the Lattes system5 because they get research funds only if they have their CVs in Lattes, and CNPq6 can do this because it controls a large part of the national funds for research. So, an incentive is missing from this type of funding agency to financially reward the use of these tools and thus value them. By value them I mean to use blogs as metrics, for example, in the performance evaluation of a researcher, which means if the research is done on the three pillars – research, extension for the public and education – why not assess extension for the public via the productivity of the researcher with his writings in blogs? People are very responsive to incentives and it is, in part, this lack of incentives for using this tool that diminishes its credibility and the engagement of the community. Blogs are talked about quite often, as is showing the use they may have, and watching the faces of the researchers change as they say Wow! But I had no idea what it served for. I mean, it is not that people are not accepting something that they know and believe is not important. It is that they simply do not have contact with it and thus do not value it.

9. What could promote science blogs in the scientific and academic community?

Of course, besides having an incentive to use this tool and making it part of the evaluation of a researchers performance, there is still engaging the community to use it for communicating and exchanging ideas, and the need to promote the use of blogs within institutions. Nevertheless, there is still missing the notion of how this use can be rewarding and bring good collaboration or the participation of more people. For example, discussing an odd result or a methodology or a book of minutes in blog is a way to have people give their opinions, interacting and talking about the issue posted in the blog. It is a way to get collaborators, to get help, to receive critiques, which enrich research. What is lacking is institutional support and the vision that this can be important to an institution, that writing amongst those in the institution should be encouraged, and educational support for researchers to make them understand that to encourage students to write in blogs is a way of putting these students to write early on and to have them familiarize themselves with tools for writing, organizing, and with methods in writing and communication with the public. These will be greatly missed for students at the moment when they will get their hands dirty with an actual article, beyond these tools give a notion of collaboration and creation of a community that also interacts online.

10. And among the general public, what actions would you suggest to encourage accessing and reading science blogs by this audience?

The responsibility is not from the public. The public is already on the Internet, already clicking and reading what it likes. The responsibility is of those who write to make this type of content compelling, and it is an overwhelming responsibility, but it is real. If I were to write a text on science of only one paragraph, without spaces or figures or anything else except a list of references at the end, I would not say that people would be interested in clicking on it because they would not. So, I think the biggest stimulus for access to reading by the public – in addition to education, of course, which is something that has to be approached from the beginning-, is to reduce the bottleneck, which is primarily in the ease with which researchers communicate. This is something that will come with practice and familiarity with the tool. So it is this vicious circle which does not encourage the use of blogs, because it is not recognized, it is not valued, and whoever does this does so under great difficulty. From the moment we have more encouragement to do this, with more people becoming familiar with the platform (blog), with the tools and with how to write for the public, then blogs will become more accepted. Nowadays, the public who reading blogs is still an elite audience owing to the education necessary to understand and get the content thats in there. This does not have to be that way. If the text is well written, well explained and well supported, it will be appealing to everyone.

Notes

1. Research Blogging: a platform that aggregates science blogs. http://researchblogging.com/.

2. The Research Blogging platform currently aggregates blogs in 7 different languages​​: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Polish and Chinese.

3. FAPESP: Foundation for Research Support of the São Paulo State, an important research funding agency in Brazil.

4. National scientific and academic community in Brazil.

5. Lattes CV system  – a virtual platform that collects resumes of the academic and research community in Brazil. It is mandatory for researchers to obtain research grants. http://lattes.cnpq.br/.

6. CNPq: National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, a national agency of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT), dedicated to the promotion of research and develop of human resources for scientific and technological research in Brazil. CNPq coordinates and maintains the Lattes CV system.

About the interviewee:

I am Atila Iamarino, biologist, researcher, and work on the evolution of HIV, and soon I will also be working on the evolution of the genome of DNA virus. I write blogs, beginning with Rainha Vermelha blog since 2007. I am one of the creators of ScienceBlogs Brasil, which today continues to be the largest Portuguese language network of science blogs, part of ScienceBlogs.com, the world’s largest network of blogs. I will reply to questions here about the use of blogs as a scientific tool, addressing a little about how they can be important for the public, institutions and researchers.

 

Translated from the original in Portuguese by Nicholas Cop Consulting.

 

Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

SCIENTIFIC ELECTRONIC LIBRARY ONLINE. Interview with Atila Iamarino [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2013 [viewed ]. Available from: https://blog.scielo.org/en/2013/11/29/interview-with-atila-iamarino/

 

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