Fighting Junk Science: Eco-Experts Urged to Blog

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
April 20, 2006

The blog search engine Technorati lists nearly 36 million active blogs—and the number is growing at dizzying speed.

Blogs, short for Web logs, are online journals where readers can post comments and links to related material.

Now some scholars are proclaiming these rapidly rising media and information platforms as potentially potent tools for science.

"It would be great if top scientists who are experts in their field did contribute to the debates that are going on and put their ideas across," said Alison Ashlin, a doctoral candidate at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment in Great Britain.

Ashlin is an environmental scientist, and in the current issue of the journal Science she cites her own field as a prime example of the need for more accurate blogs fuelled by top researchers.

"Currently, there are roughly 400,000 weblogs featuring discussions on environmental and conservation-related issues, which makes it difficult to assess the general quality of scientific information on weblogs," she wrote in her paper.

Reliable Source?

For most people, blogging appeals because it is spontaneous and simple. Just about anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can create a blog or post comments on other bloggers' sites.

But the quick, easy, and often anonymous nature of blogs can create an enormous range in the quality and reliability of information presented.

For example, Ashlin and colleagues looked at predictions for global extinction rates as cited on 30 blogs.

Scientific consensus (though there is uncertainty) puts the maximum predicted rate between 74 and 150 species going extinct every day. (Read "Global Warming Could Cause Mass Extinctions by 2050, Study Says.")

But roughly 40 percent of the sites surveyed indicate that extinctions are happening at a rate of more than 200 species a day.

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