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Scientific Communication on the Web: Vox Populi or Vox Dei?. Stephen Yeo email@example.com 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 Usersâ€™ actions help organize content
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Centre for Economic Policy Research
Users create content - bottom up, not top down
Users’ actions help organize content
Yes, but not nearly as quickly
Science is inherently conservative and hierarchical, relying on peer review, journal publications
Mistrust of a “bottom up” web
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
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
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?
The (virtual) landscape looks very different today
Has shifted from from a "read only" to a "read/write" web
At a technical level this is Ajax, sophisticated client side interfaces, open source software
"blogs, wikis, tags and feeds” ¹
… and in addition
audio (iTunes, Odeo) … and more recently
¹ McAfee, A P. 'Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration' Sloan Management Review, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Spring 2006), pp.
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
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
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
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
online tagging and shared bookmarks (www.connotea.org)
collaborative bookmarking and filtering mechanism for (RSS based) scientific material on the web (www.scintilla.nature.com)
weekly podcast of Nature articles attracts 45,000 downloads
Look at the use of Web 2.0 elements in economics
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
Two obvious categories
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
Typically 2-3 authors posting
Examples - Crooked Timber, Marginal Revolution
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
“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
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
Sociedad Abierta (launched in July)
Netherlands site will launch in December
German, Swedish and South African sites under discussion
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)
Surprisingly little use
Audio and Video
The next big thing?
Will become increasingly important
“Vox populi, vox Dei”
The voice of the people is the voice of God
“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
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
For an argument in favour of Vox Dei, see Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur (2007)
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?
James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (2005)