Mr. DeMillo: The blog is essentially an expression of a master teacher’s understanding of a field to people that want to learn about it. We think that there are some very simple layers that can be built under the existing blogging format that can essentially turn it into a massive open online seminar. It’s also a way of conducting scientific research. When you think about what happens in this blog, it celebrates the process of scientific discovery. I’ll just give you one example. Last year about this time some industrial scientist claimed that he had solved one of the outstanding problems in this area. In the normal course of events, the scientist would have written up the paper, would have sent it to a conference. It would have been refereed. Nine months later the paper would have been presented at the conference. People would have talked about it. It would have been written up to submit to a journal. Refereeing would have taken a couple of years for that. Well, the paper got submitted to Lipton’s blog. It just caused a flurry of activity. So thousands and thousands of scientists flocked to this paper, and essentially speeded up the refereeing of the paper, shortening the time from five years to a couple of weeks. It turns out that people came to believe that the claim was not valid, and the paper was incorrect. But what an education for future research students. You get to see the process of scientific discovery in action.
There are strengths and weaknesses to the academic model described above, in which far less refereeing happens with content. Strength: ideas can spread quicker. Weakness: ideas are less vetted.
That point aside, there’s something to think about here in regard to blogging. If all blogs are “online seminars,” then bloggers must exercise stewardship in their writing. That’s a sobering reminder, and an exciting one. Knowledge, so to speak, is out of the bottle. Who knows what the future will bring in terms of educational trends?