Month: October 2006

Trust and practice online

I’ve discovered a very interesting researcher. Her name is Christine Hine and she is the person who edited the book where I’ve read the articles from Beaulieu and Park and Thelwall. She seems to be doing research in the area that interest me a lot defined in her terms as cyberscience. I’ve just now read a very interesting article where she’s done a study of the use of an online forum in laboratory science. Her ideas about what questions to ask in such a study is very much like my questions about blogs in the research practice. For example does the online forum provide a function for bringing together a community of science that otherwise is spread out geographically? And how does the researcher deal with trust in this environment?

Hine distinguishes between scientific knowledge as used in formal or informal communication as it usually done in research in scientific communication and says that the forum makes it possible to study informal use.

ICT could be looked at in different ways when it comes to science communication. Sometimes ICT is talked about as something that will do research more efficient e.g. in terms of faster getting results. What interest Hine, and me, though is when ICT is part of the research practice and how it might change the practice and to looke at ICT in a communicative approach. ICT might develop new possibilities to produce knowledge e.g. in the case where Beaulieu was studying the knowledge production and the way collaboration and interaction was seen in hyperlinking. It is possible, Hine says, that CMC might expand the way invisible colleges are interpreted.

The way CMC is used in different disciplines is most likely not the same. Hine mentions a study about this by Kling and McKim from 2000 that I should have a look at. The context and the social boundaries is something that is important to be aware of. The informal practices are normally not part of the formal scientific communication and to be able to study the scientific discourse it has been useful to study the laboratory. Latour and Woolgar (1986) looked at the difference of the scientific discourse when it becomes public and Knorr and Cettina (1981) studied the research paper and how less and less research practice was visible as it was rewritten.

Hine studies a news group and this forum is public in the same way as the researcher blogs, which is my object of study. The study, by Hine, is of how the communication between scientists in different laboratories is organised. The forum in question is within in biological sciences and the sample of contributions in the forum has been looked at from a discourse-oriented view.

One part of the analysis is of how the researchers make a message authoritive and convincing. I’m also interested in how researchers develop trust online. In Hines case she noticed that:
“Participants have to be able to display themselves as credible scientists through appropriate affiliations and identification and also to ‘talk the talk’ of laborative science.” The forum is used to discuss things that are not part of the formal communication like the technique or way to do a certain experiment. This hasn’t been a publicly displayed part of the scientific discourse before. Does this mean that the boundaries between the public and science are changing? It is a relevant question that Hine asks and her answer is:
“For such an effect to occur, however the everydayness of science has to be not only potentially available but also discursively available in the sense that people feel that they are part of a discourse and thus able to contribute.”

In the conclusion Hine says that the boundaries between science and the public are still there in this environment but the geographical boundaries are seen to be less apparent. It is shown that ICT or CMC in itself does not break boundaries but it is the social and discursive practises that will have the possibility to change them. I find her study very interesting and as I’ve mentioned very close to my intention with studying the nature of the blogs within a research practice. The point that it differs between different scientific communities is something I have to take into consideration when I choose my object of study. It might be interesting to look at two very different scholarly discourses for example one within the natural sciences and one from humanities or social sciences. I have been thinking about this before but at the moment I’m still trying to find out things from blogs in Postgenomic which is totally focused on Science. Still the scientific discourses in different subjects here is of course also very different.

Reference: Hine, C. (2002) Cyberscience: and social boundaries: the implications of laboratory talk on the Internet. Sociological Research Online. 7(2) Available online: