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Andrew Hires uses his blog, Brain Windows, to share articles he finds interesting on brain imaging. The blog’s tagline: new tools for peering into the brain.
Hires' effort is but one small step in a quiet revolution for researchers, who have relied on traditional forms of scholarly communication— peer-reviewed journals, scientific meetings—for more than a century. His forebears would likely have blanched at the very prospect of free, unfettered, and seemingly instant access to proprietary information, as scientists have long been hesitant to share their thinking process with others prematurely for fear of having their ideas stolen.
Slowly, however, the culture is changing, not only through blogs but also by means of open notebooks, open publishing, and other interactive models. Those involved call it Science 2.0, an effort to harness the capabilities of the Internet to help scientists communicate better among themselves as well as to the public at large.
While many of their older counterparts remain wary, younger scientists have taken to the medium quite naturally. When Hires is not blogging himself (he posts when the spirit moves him, or research catches his eye), he enjoys visits to other cyber sources such as Bohemian Scientist, Brain Waves, and Neurodudes.
Neville Sanjana, a graduate student in the lab of HHMI investigator Sebastian Seung at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), founded Neurodudes in 1999 along with Bayle Shanks and Stephen Larson, both at the University of California, San Diego. It started as an informal e-mail list among friends but soon became a place to share scientific concepts, news, and commentary with the world at large. It now officially focuses on the intersection of two knotty fields—neuroscience and artificial intelligence—but Sanjana is still adamant that it remain easily readable and interdisciplinary in nature. “No one should feel like it's a formal academic journal,” he says.
Cross-pollination among research disciplines is in fact at the core of many other popular science blogs. Michael Eisen, an HHMI investigator at the University of California, Berkeley, is an avid blog reader who particularly enjoys John Hawks' site on paleoanthropology, genetics, and evolution (johnhawks.net/weblog/). A recent post there discussed a new sequencing of Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA. “It's like a conduit into another whole world,” says Eisen.
Photo: Susana Raab