Thursday, 24 January 2008

The ethics of on-line blogging

In my recent readings I came across an article which mentioned the existence of a science blogging conference. This year’s blogging conference was held in North Carolina, USA (aptly named the “2008 North Carolina science blogging conference”). It was held over a full day and addressed important issues including publications on the internet, science blogging ethics, science journalism (which is something I am interested in and have blogged about in a previous post titled "Science communication"), gender and race in science, teaching science online and other science-cyberspace issues. I just wanted to bring this to attention because I think the idea of a blogging conference, particularly a science one, would be highly beneficial for bloggers of all kinds. With the emergence of the internet as today’s most preferred forum to disseminate information and opinions, there are always important things to consider and new ideas to be learned especially when blogging. For instance, when I posted about “Science communication”, I was unsure whether I was allowed to describe the article from “New Scientist” magazine, which I used as a catalyst for the "Science communication" post. I contacted “New Scientist” magazine regarding this but I did not receive a reply from them. In my defence, I clearly quoted the article name, publication date and the name of the magazine. I have also described articles from the on-line publication, “The Scientist”, who promptly informed me of their rules about using their articles, which I have abided by. In April 2007, an interesting story came to air about science blogger Shelley Batts, in the USA, who blogged the findings of a peer-reviewed journal article on the health benefits of fruit in alcoholic cocktails (Antioxidants in berries increased by ethanol (but are daiquiris healthy?). Shortly after posting the findings in which Shelley reported on the experimental results and added a chart and a graph from the manuscript, she was threatened with legal action from the publishers of the journal. The publishers claimed that she had breached copyright laws. This saga went on for a while during which she wrote about her experience in her blog and published the correspondence between herself and the publishers. Shelley was eventually exonerated resulting in an apology which was issued from the journal’s publishers, and was allowed to publish the experimental results as she had done initially. In the US, each university has an established agreement with journals and depending on who you are (ie. a student, academic, etc) you have to comply with their “fair use” principle. This includes academic bloggers. I am not entirely sure what copyright agreements Australian universities have with journals when it comes to publishing on-line. According to the “Research and Study” sub-section of the Australian copyright act, material taken from a website must abide by the website’s copyright rules or permission must be granted from the website. This act however does not mention anything about on-line blogging publications. I’m not sure whether personal blogging falls under research and study. However, it is something I will follow up on. Below is the definition from the Australian Copyright website as to what constitutes the definition of research and study:

In one case, the Court said that “research” and “study” in the Copyright Act have the same meaning as in the Macquarie dictionary. Thus “research” means:
“diligent and systematic enquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover facts or principles...”and “study” includes:
“(1.) The application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge, as by reading, investigation, or reflection; (2.) the cultivation of a particular branch of learning, science, or art:...(3.) a particular course of effort to acquire knowledge...(5.) a thorough examination and analysis of a particular subject...”
You do not need to be enrolled in a course – you could be researching or studying something for yourself.

Taken from

Aside from the ethics, those interested in hardcore science blogs should visit which boasts great science blogs in various disciplines from physical sciences, humanities, politics, medicine and technology. I frequent some of these blogs, which initially inspired me to start my own science blog and continue to inspire me to work on it.

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