Thoughts on Blogging and Haldane's Sieve(s) - part I

Thoughts on Blogging and Haldane's Sieve(s) - part I

Lately, many university professors are becoming curious about blogging. Few weeks back, Zen Faulkes, posted for the first timepublished his own research paper in his very interesting blog neurodojo. We also talked about frustration expressed by authors of Simply Statistics blog regarding journal publication process, and their desire to post all research in their blog. Cost and bureaucratic delays of journal publication are forcing many other scientists to explore alternatives to reach their audience.

Haldane’s Sieve is a revolutionary blog that presents such a venue for population biologists. We briefly mentioned it earlier, but they deserve a full commentary. The blog, maintained by three talented young scientists - Graham Coop, Joe Pickrell and Bryan Howie - reviews interesting papers submitted to arxiv preprint server for their community. That way, good papers posted on arxiv preprint server can get visibility among their peers. If their project becomes successful, eventually population biologists may be able to skip the process of journal publication altogether. That is not the stated intention of Haldane’s Sieve, but we clearly see it as the future destination as explained previously.

Here is how the authors of Haldane’s sieve blog describe their role in the scientific community.

Welcome to Haldanes sieve

The ease of communication facilitated by the Internet has dramatically affected the process of scientific communication in many fields. Most notably, many physics, math, and economics communities have adopted a system in which new research papers are immediately distributed throughout the world prior to formal evaluation in the form of peer review. This system allows for rapid distribution of bleeding edge results among all the experts in a field, allowing them to see and build upon the most recent advances.

This practice has historically been uncommon in biology, where instead results are generally made available to the community (including many people qualified to judge them) only after a delay of generally around six months to a year, during which a paper is reviewed, formatted, and published. We believe this is unfortunate. However, there is growing pressure in some parts of biology (in particular our fields of evolutionary and population genetics) to follow physics and math in posting papers to preprint servers ahead of formal publication.

Some authors have a variety of reasonable concerns about posting their papers to preprint servers. In particular, one worry is that, in a morass of online content, their work will not reach the relevant audience. Others see no benefit in posting their papers prior to review if they will not receive useful feedback. The goal of Haldanes Sieve is to partially remedy these issues. We aim to provide a simple feed of preprints in the fields of evolutionary and population genetics (though we may later expand to other fields). Thus, instead of checking arXiv, PeerJ, or Figshare for relevant preprints, readers in these fields could simply check Haldanes Sieve.

To learn about whether they are successful in achieving the goal so far, please take a look at the commentary at pathogenomics blog titled All the cool kids are on arXiv and Haldanes Sieve .. why you should be too.

So Ive talked a lot about arXiv where does Haldanes Sieve come in? This is simply a blog site run by Graham Coop, Bryan Howie and Joe Pickrell. It is important because arXiv provide no facilities for permitting comments on manuscripts, preferring that individual communities figure out the best way to discuss articles (and sensibly recognising this may not be a single place, something that even the open-access publishers cant really understand).

In maths and physics this is usually done on listservs, but in genomics and biology I guess we are more comfortable with the blog format for discussion hence the choice of WordPress. Haldanes Sieve finds new postings on arXiv, mainly in the field of population genetics, and then posts summary articles for you to comment on. It may be in the future we need a similar site for microbial genomics and ecology, but for now its not so busy that this nascent community needs splitting up. Another place to find links is Twitter, e.g. by following me (shameless link).

It seems to be working; the discussion of Lenskis paper has already generated a vigorous response from Inigo Martincorena, the likes of which you are unlikely to see in a published journal, and all the better for its frankness and energy in my opinion.

So, in summary, you should add Haldanes Sieve and the arXiv qBio category ( to your feed reader if you want to spot exciting new articles and comment on them, and why not think about sending your next manuscript to arXiv first? (No, it doesnt prevent you publishing in peer-reviewed journals)

In the comment section of above blog post, others lamented about lack of similar forums for filtering important papers and discussion in their scientific areas. Here is the great news. As far as the ‘sieving’ task is concerned, we discovered hundreds of Haldane’s Sieves from many areas of biology and the source is called Twitter. By joining Twitter feeds of researchers from various areas, you can get a pretty good list of exciting papers covering all journals and preprint servers.

Written by M. //