In my own little corner, I've been learning a lot about R while coordinating a series of statistics workshops in R for our department. I hope to post more about this soon, but I've been thinking a lot recently about my workflow in R, and how to organize all my files (aka Project Management).
While reading other blogs about R and workflow, I found a link to Drew Conway's list of ten reasons why grad students should blog. Hey! We're grad students (& Post-Docs)! We Blog! Ok, we share a blog, but this has advantages over trying to forge an individual identity on the web:
- We can provide more content as a group than individually
- We don't have to try to compete for readers' attention: because there really aren't enough blogs already out there (*sarcasm*).
- We can collaborate on content, or provide direct feedback, even having discussions all in one place!
Why do members of our lab blog? Many of the reasons mentioned in Drew Conway's list certainly apply, but I would add that it also serves as a record of progress along our scientific journey in various areas: snapshots of how we were thinking at the time. Like an academic paper, but less rigorous and not peer-reviewed (and therefore faster but less reliable). It reminds me of a McGill yearbook I recently found from 1978 in Thomson House, including a summary of News from that year, and major events on campus: I was struck my how little some parts of lower campus have changed even since then (McGill is OLD), and how much the fashions and administrative issues have changed. There was an article from one professor predicting that the paper publishing business was going to get too expensive, compared to microfiche cards that cost pennies and could easily be used by students with a microfiche reader for a mere $100! Ok, maybe he hadn't heard of the internet yet, but that just goes to show that even expert predictions often fail. I prefer to stick to explanation rather than prognostication, but Your Mileage May Vary.
Scientific knowledge is characterized by historical facticity, and today's truth may become tomorrow's urban legend: do we act on what we know, or keep waiting to resolve uncertainty? Blogging provides a record of the thought, reasoning and discussion process that eventually turns into peer-reviewed publications, media reports, etc. and becomes part of the public record. So, blogging provides more fodder for historians and philosophers of science and provides people a peek into the developmental process of "Scientific knowledge".
This also suggests another reason to blog: to spark philosophical discussions that are difficult to publish in a forum read by scientific peers. It sometimes feels like scientists take the philosophical aspects of their work for granted all too often, despite a few of us jumping up and down about how your philosophical approach can affect the way you interpret results, or even the questions that you ask in the first place. Science - at least academic science - is just as social and cultural as it is academic. I may not have anything novel to say about it, but it is something that occasionally bears repeating to provoke thought in others.
So, blog away my fellow Biodiversity Scientists, and join the party. I'm waiting for you to blow my mind.