Blogs: Haven't they been around for some centuries?

Reading in the wonderful Baroque Trilogy by Neal Stephenson about the activities of the scientists in the early 17 hundreds and earlier it appears that scientific progress was largely enhanced by writing letters about work in progress to collegues. It seemed to be about trying out ideas, describing problems, asking questions or answering them, discussing ideas etc. Finished work was committed to books - if at all. This activity of writing letters - isn't that how blogs and comments are working nowadays? It is only a little faster and reaching a larger (global) audience.

But even then members of the royal society were communicating globally by letter with fellows in Europe or America. It just took a little longer by ship or coach. So is the century-old art of writing scientific letters rediscovered by using blogs?

Btw. "The complete archive of the Royal Society journals, including some of the most significant scientific papers ever published since 1665, is to be made freely available electronically for the first time today (14th September 2006) for a two month period." found at the Royal Society's website. So you can read some of the original articles that might have inspired Neal Stephenson. If you browse through the Philosophical Transactions (1665ff) at the Royal Society you will find that they consist to a large extent of letters and comments to them (Blogging again?).

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Indeed - thanks for leaving a similar comment on my blog. There is definitely this sense of going back to the roots of science by sharing speculation and more modular results. I just finished reading a wonderful book about the Calculus Wars between Newton and Leibniz. Although Newton did develop the fundamental ideas of Calculus first he did not publish them but rather preferred to write private letters. Leibniz did publish his ideas but even with that it took a long time for the ideas to be communicated to all those concerned. I often thought about how differently things would have played out if they had used blogs while reading the book.

Btw: The blog entry Jean-Claude referres to in his comment can be located here. It questions the importance of peer-reviewed journals in a time when information is freely available and shared - especially if the peer-review process does not always adhere to expected quality standards.

In my opinion this reflects a change from trust in institutions (peer-reviewed journals, ...) to communities of trust. So if A writes something in a blog and I don't know him, but if B comments favoritely on entries A has written, and I trust B, then I will be inclined to trust A.

An interesting side effect of these communities of trust is that they are making science more personal.

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