Responding to a Call to Action: Preserving Blogs and Discussion Forums in Science, Medicine, Mathematics and Technology

The following is a guest post by Christie Moffatt, Manager, Digital Manuscripts Program, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine

Developing case studies around digital content subject areas has been a major focus of the NDSA Content Working Group, and the activity has enabled members to share the concerns and challenges specific to their communities. The purpose of these case studies is to establish the value of preservation, recognize opportunities for preserving content, identify and engage stakeholders in the preservation process, consider obstacles and risk factors that threaten digital preservation and provide suggestions for next steps.

The first set of case studies was created by the News, Media and Journalism Content Team, who shared their concerns for Digital Community and Hyperlocal News, Newspaper E-prints and Citizen Journalism.

I participate in the Science, Medicine, Mathematics and Technology content team (“the science team”), along with Trevor Owens, Abigail Potter and Jennifer Harbster of the Library of Congress, and together we have prepared two brand new content case studies, one on science blogs and one on science forums.

These case studies were inspired by the discussions and call to action summarized in the NDIIPP report Science@Risk: Toward a National Strategy for Preserving Online Science, produced following a Library of Congress summit of science bloggers, representatives from citizen science, individuals working on innovative online science publications, archivists, librarians, curators and historians. Participants voiced concern that much of what they deemed to be most valuable was also at most risk of loss as it does not clearly fall into the existing collecting practices of libraries, museums and archives.

The science team’s case studies focus on two such areas of valuable content.

Screenshot of Anthony Salvagno's open notebook <a href="http://research.iheartanthony.com/">science blog</a>

Screenshot of Anthony Salvagno’s open notebook science blog

Blogs and discussion forums in science, medicine, technology and mathematics have significant research value for historians, sociologists and anthropologists of the twenty-first century as they:

  • Reflect and may influence a wide range of viewpoints, and capture dissenting opinions and new trends not found in other publications.
  • Serve as a record of who did what and when and will serve as a data mine for understanding trends in scientific practices and attitudes, and how ideas evolve.
  • Provide insight into the environment of science, medicine, technology and mathematics.
  • Show how science, medicine, technology, and mathematics is communicated among collaborators and broadly in the scientific community.

Science, medicine, mathematics and technology blogs include everything from blogs that professionals keep about their personal lives and activities, to open notebook science where practitioners are sharing their daily raw notes, to more reflective and commentary based blogs by individuals, professional organizations and institutions. Included also are blogs about science, medicine, mathematics and technology that document the perspectives of the many other individuals and groups who engage in these topics, including the voices of citizen science, healthcare, science policy and science news.

Science, medicine, mathematics and technology forums have become a popular mode for scientists, mathematicians, engineers, doctors and technologists to talk to each other. Places like Stack Overflow, Math Overflow, and Science Forums have extensive amounts of these discussions. Science also comes up a lot in non-professional discussions, for example, forums for video games that broach science topics, or a range of forums that exist around science controversy in the general public ( such as evolution and anti-vaccination). Many Citizen science projects, like Galaxy Zoo, have web forums that serve as a corollary component to the project where users discuss potential discoveries.

Screenshot of a Galaxy Zoo discussion forum

Screenshot of a Galaxy Zoo discussion forum

We invite you to review these case studies and let us know what you think. We are also interested in hearing how elements in these case studies might be extended to other subject areas, or perhaps even more broadly to the content types identified in the National Agenda for Digital Stewardship (electronic records, research data, web and social media and moving image and recorded sound).

For more information, to provide feedback, or to get involved, contact ndsa@loc.gov (please include the subject line: Content Case Studies).

Update: On 2/24/14 an image was replaced.

3 Comments

  1. Troy Johnson
    February 24, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    What is happening to the Blogs and Discussion Forums in Science, Medicine, Mathematics and Technology? Are they being shut down? Have people stopped participating? What is going on?

    I ask because I’ve seen a similar thing in the arts and I’m wondering if I can gain any insight from this predicament.

  2. Christie Moffatt
    February 25, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Good question! The content in blogs and discussion forums is at risk for loss due to its ephemeral nature. Content may be intentionally or unintentionally deleted by the creators of the blog/forum or the service providers who host them. The case studies point out other risk factors for this content, including technical limitations and perceived lack of value. While these case studies are specific to science blogs and science forums, these risk factors likely apply to blogs and forums in other subject areas as well.

  3. Trevor Owens
    February 25, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Along with nodding to Christie’s comment, I’d also add the following.

    All kinds of things are happening in different blogs and discussion forums. There is so much diversity and extent to discussion and presentations on the web that it’s sort of like asking what kinds of books are there out there. Simply put, almost every kind you can imagine.

    Places like open notebook science blogs are largely filled with discussion between practicing scientists. Where, discussions of hot topic science issues with political dimensions can become quite heated. From my perspective, the diversity of the norms and practices of discourse in these spaces is part of what makes them so compelling to preserve.

    The mixture of scholarly communication, public presentations of science, and their intermixing with dialog in any number of distinct communities makes discussion of science on blogs and in forums a unique kind of primary source for understanding science in society.

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