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Scientific Communication on the Web: Vox Populi or Vox Dei?. Stephen Yeo syeo@cepr.org Centre for Economic Policy Research. I will explore three questions. How has the web changed over the past decade? Users create content - bottom up, not top down Users’ actions help organize content

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scientific communication on the web vox populi or vox dei

Scientific Communication on the Web: Vox Populi or Vox Dei?

Stephen Yeosyeo@cepr.org

Centre for Economic Policy Research

i will explore three questions
I will explore three questions
  • How has the web changed over the past decade?

Users create content - bottom up, not top down

Users’ actions help organize content

  • Has economics on the web changed as well?

Yes, but not nearly as quickly

Science is inherently conservative and hierarchical, relying on peer review, journal publications

Mistrust of a “bottom up” web

  • How do you know what to read and who to believe on the web?
outline
Outline

Background – changes in the web since 1997

User generated content – wikis and blogs

User organized content – RSS feeds and tags

How have these changes affected communication in the natural sciences?

And in economics?

Why have these chances been slower to take place in the sciences?

The tension between scientific authority and web democracy

economics on the web 1997
Economics on the web - 1997

The state of the art was reflected by Bill Goffe in

“Resources for Economists on the Internet” ¹

Everything is top down

Many “institutional” websites, almost no individual websites

Data available on the web, usually produced by official agencies, a few other data sets (Penn World Tables)

A few examples of code for Gauss routines

No mention of user generated content such as "blogs" and wikis, RSS feeds

¹ http://rfe.org/

something happened on the web in the late 1990s
Something happened on the web in the late 1990s

The terms "weblog" and "blog" were first used in late 1997

Initially a US phenomenon

Political blogs emerged in the US in 2001 - Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit)

Initially a phenomenon of the political right?

Impression (not backed by any serious research) is that blogging emerged on “the right” of the political spectrum initially

Is this surprising?

web 2 0 the web in 2007
“Web 2.0” – the web in 2007

The (virtual) landscape looks very different today

Has shifted from from a "read only" to a "read/write" web

“Web 2.0”

At a technical level this is Ajax, sophisticated client side interfaces, open source software

“Enterprise 2.0”

"blogs, wikis, tags and feeds” ¹

… and in addition

audio (iTunes, Odeo) … and more recently

video (YouTube)

¹ McAfee, A P. 'Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration' Sloan Management Review, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Spring 2006), pp.

the four elements of web 2 0
The four elements of “Web 2.0”

Blogs

best known

Wikis

Wikipedia is an example, obviously, but less familiar

RSS or Web Feeds

Not widely used yet, but a key element in web-based communication, especially blogs

Tags

Like keywords in a library catalogue

If on the web, can be shared across individuals

Shared tags connect you to information discovered by other users

Pooling information in shared tags is the basis of social bookmarking sites such as technorati and del.icio.us

¹

the natural sciences are changing but more slowly
The natural sciences are changing, but more slowly

Changes have been slower than in the IT community itself, or in business. Why?

Declan Butler in Nature 1 suggests this is due to the conservatism of scientists and their habit of communicating via seminars and peer-reviewed journals

1 Butler D., 'Science in the web age: Joint efforts' Nature 438, 548-549 (1 December 2005) www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7068/full/438548a.htm

nevertheless some important changes have taken place
Nevertheless, some important changes have taken place

Wikis

OpenWetWare (www.openwetware.org)

Biology - A field where experiments and experimental protocols are very important

Share data, protocols etc on the web

Nature Magazine's own web presence

The most advanced use of web techniques for science-based communication

Connotea

online tagging and shared bookmarks (www.connotea.org)

Scintilla

collaborative bookmarking and filtering mechanism for (RSS based) scientific material on the web (www.scintilla.nature.com)

Podcasts (www.nature.com/podcasts)

weekly podcast of Nature articles attracts 45,000 downloads

is there an economics 2 0
Is there an “Economics 2.0”?

Look at the use of Web 2.0 elements in economics

Wikis

Blogs

Feeds

Tags

wikis
Wikis

Wikis

CEPR has launched 3 or 4

only moderately successful - tend to be more successful for more "data intensive" topics and participants

may not be so different from physical sciences - experimental, lab-based fields have wikis

individual and group blogs
Individual and group blogs

Two obvious categories

“Individual blogs”

slow start, but now a large number in the US - preponderance of conservative bloggers still, but balance has been shifting slowly (e.g. Paul Krugman and Dani Rodrik)

not clear whether bloggers are representative of views of economists as a whole in the US – are they more of a think tank than a university phenomenon?

in Europe - still relatively few "one person" blogs by university economists

“Group blogs"

Typically 2-3 authors posting

Examples - Crooked Timber, Marginal Revolution

platforms portals
“Platforms /Portals”

A third category? Something between a blog and a web-based magazine

LaVoce in Italy the pioneer

Economists Voice in US

… and now at the European level

Vox (www.voxeu.org)

“A platform for the analysis and discussion of key European and global policy issues by leading European economists.”

Aims to be the leading web-based portal for economic policy issues

Parallels in traditional media

Personal View in The Financial Times

“Economics Focus” in The Economist

slide16
Vox

Generates its own content

Columns by a set of eminent contributors on policy relevant topics

500-1500 words at a level that is generally higher than a newspaper column

Federates or syndicates the EU-oriented content of national policy portals in Europe

La Voce www.lavoce.info

Telos www.telos-eu.fr

Sociedad Abierta (launched in July)

Netherlands site will launch in December

German, Swedish and South African sites under discussion

some statistics
Some statistics

Launched in June

1,166,258 page views or 4,097,004 hits since launch, from 90,000 distinct IP addresses

132,000 “visitors” in September

How many individuals does this represent?

Depends on how often an individual visits the site

We estimate between 5000 and 10,000 individuals who read the articles

One third of readers in the US, 5% in Asia, the rest in Europe

Has risen from #27 to #17 among economics blogs since July (www.26econ.com)

feeds and tags in economics
Feeds and Tags in economics

Feeds

Surprisingly little use

Audio and Video

The next big thing?

Tags

Will become increasingly important

final theme scientific authority versus web democracy
Final theme: scientific authority versus web democracy

Vox Populi

“Vox populi, vox Dei”

The voice of the people is the voice of God

Vox Dei

“Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.”

And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.

A letter from Alcuin to Charlemagne in 798

vox dei
Vox Dei?

The importance of authority and reputation

clear for individual blogs

It’s clear that many of the most popular blogs are written by good economists – Levitt, Krugman, Mankiw, Rodrik

So the academic authority of the author has some impact in the economics blogosphere

Rodrik: “a weak but statistically significant positive correlation between citations and blog rankings” http://www.26econ.com/?p=56

also seems to be the case for group blogs – the reputation of the contributors is important

Eurointelligence

RGE Monitor

Marginal Revolution

For an argument in favour of Vox Dei, see Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur (2007)

or vox populi
or Vox Populi?

Vox Populi?

tagging, folksonomies

automatic voting - but who controls the franchise?

Slashdot handles this through moderators, and ranking the performance of moderators

David Weinberger (2007), Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder

You might be skeptical of this as internet hype, but isn’t this something economists believe in?

Prediction markets

James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (2005)