Scholarly blogging, now with DOIs

I have been blogging at The Ideophone since 2007, and not all of it has been as ephemeral as my PhD promotor once feared. My short post documenting the etymology of Zotero is apparently the only scientific documentation of where Zotero’s name comes from; it has served as a source in Wikipedia for ages and has received over 15 scholarly citations. It was also a blog post on here that became my first academic publication (a commentary in Science), which definitely did something to change my promotor’s mind about the utility of blogging. I’ve kept on steadily if irregularly ever since, posting about everything from my 2008 attempts to decipher the oldest attested fragments of Siwu to my 2016 critique of PLOS ONE’s lack of page proofs and my 2020 worries about LLM-generated uninformation.

Over the past week I have worked with Martin Fenner from Rogue Scholar to archive selected content from The Ideophone and make it more durably accessible. The Rogue Scholar service, in its own words, “improves your science blog in important ways, including full-text search, long-term archiving, and DOIs and metadata.” I wouldn’t say every ditty on here is equally in need of such a treatment, but there are some categories of posts that I think benefit from increased accessibility and some measure of durability.

The most obvious category is scientific commentary. I’ve often used this blog to take respond to scholarly work or take part in scientific conversations. A quest into the early history of the term ideophone was shared on LanguageHat and even led to clarification of the OED entry ‘ideophone’. A twitter conversation with Denny Vrandečić turned into a post on concrete reasons to be skeptical about ‘Abstract Wikipedia’. Attending a conference in Linköping resulted in a two-part series on non-lexical vocalisations (which in turn led to a journal paper on liminal signs). And more recently, critical engagement with computer science led to posts on the perils of disfluency detection and on the linguistic roots of connectionism. When it comes to these kinds of posts, the blog has been a public extension of my private notebooks, reflecting my interests and sometimes foreshadowing future directions.

Closely related is the category of metascientific commentary. Some scholarly services or products are widely used across academia, but we rarely stop to think about them. I have found it valuable to have a place to post reflections on services like Google Scholar and Academia.edu, used by many scholars; critiques of products like Elsevier’s Pure or widely used metrics like the journal impact factor; or notes on mindblowing dissertations and slow science. Most scholarly venues are too slow and too elaborate to publish this kind of stuff. A blog allows me to shoot from the hip and still share useful content. 1

A third category could be called science as it happens. This too is a lovely affordance of scholarly blogging: it allows you to share the process. Journals, in contrast, tend to expect finished products that show as little of the process as possible: as if the work sprung forth fully formed. And sometimes the process is worthwhile documenting even if it doesn’t lead to a ‘minimum publishable unit’ in today’s system. For instance, it was a meaningful exercise for me to try and decipher the oldest attested fragments of Siwu, and it is useful to have that tidbit documented somewhere; but I doubt I could have found a scholarly venue willing to publish it. Likewise for my recent forays into visualizing conversation: they document important elements of the scientific process and may even yield fun experimental visualizations, but they don’t necessarily add up to a full paper and that is perfectly fine, too.

Finally, another category worth preserving is historical sources. Early on in my PhD work I produced English translations of accounts of early travellers in the area where I’ve done fieldwork. An example is A visit to Akpafu by David Asante; and as the comments on that post attest, this has been a very useful resource to many readers, especially those with ancestry from that area, for whom English is a much more accessible language than German. Another example in the same category is the historically important 1913 Grüner map. But also a fascinating publication by René Magritte on words and images, which I’ve dug out from the surrealist journal it was published in because I thought it deserved a wider readership.

Keeping a scholarly blog provides me with a really useful middle ground between private notes and full-fledged publications. It makes it possible to share my process, provide others with access to hard-to-find resources, and document my thoughts in ways that are less telegraphic than microblogging allows. I am thankful that some of this work is now more durably archived.

For the geeks: technical setup

Thanks to Rogue Scholar’s Martin Fenner, getting DOIs for selected posts on The Ideophone turned out to be very easy. Rogue Scholar fetches everything in the category doi on here, archives it, syndicates it in multiple formats, and assigns a DOI to it.

On the WordPress side, I’ve made some simple changes to my theme to display citation metadata including the DOI. Here’s how:

A metabox labelled 'Citation metadata' with a custom field to fill in the DOI.
  1. Using ACF, I have added a custom field post_doi where I paste the DOI I get from Rogue Scholar.
  1. I have edited sidebar.php in my custom theme (a Primer child theme that I originally developed for my personal site) to display the doi if it is present for a post. Simplifying a bit:
<?php if ( get_field('post_doi') && is_single() ) { ?>
	<!-- #post_doi content -->
	<aside id="post_doi" class="widget widget_text">
	<h4 class="widget-title">Cite or save</h4>
	<p><?php global $wp_query;
	$the_doi = get_post_meta($post->ID,'post_doi', true);
	echo $the_doi ; ?></p>
	</aside>
	<!-- #end post_doi content -->
<?php } ?>
  1. I’ve also added a little explanatory note below the citation:

🛈 Selected posts on this scholarly weblog are archived and receive a DOI from Rogue Scholar, making them easier to save and cite.

  1. And finally, I have styled that note in my theme’s style.css to make it not too visually prominent:
p.doi-explanation {	color:#808080; }
p.doi-explanation a:link,p.doi-explanation a:visited {
	color:#808080;
	text-decoration:none;
	border-bottom:1px dotted #808080;
}

Although I like the flexibility provided by a child theme, you don’t need to use full-on PHP to display a DOI. You can also use a plugin like Meta Field Block, which can display the content of any custom field (and which you can set to remain hidden if the field is empty). You might also think of a widget with an ACF shortcode like (though it is harder to get conditional logic that way). Or, finally, you might just edit your post once it’s gotten a doi to add said doi in a place where readers can find it.

By the way, Martin Fenner tells me he’s working on a WordPress plugin that may automate some elements of this process, so stay tuned for updates.

Footnotes

  1. The Google Scholar post, for instance, has attracted some citations and continues to draw thousands of visitors every month, partly on account of the fact that it introduced the viral profile of Prof. Et Al.[]

4 thoughts on “Scholarly blogging, now with DOIs”

  1. Thanks for blogging Mark, always interesting “content” to read here and nicely delivered to my feed reader through open protocols!

    Anyways, the reason I’m commenting on this post is because there was a related DFG-project (and an open position in that project) announced just today by Heinz Pampel (HU Berlin) on the open-science-de mailing list: Infra Wiss Blogs (“Cooperative Information Infrastructure for Scholarly Blogs”):

    Project description: Blogs have become an indispensable component of digital science communication, serving as a platform for scholarly communication, a diary for documenting research findings in the context of open science, or a showcase for communicating scientific findings to the general public. However, challenges for science blogs arise from unresolved issues pertaining to the permanent preservation of blog posts and the frequent lack of evidence in library records, hindering the sustainability of this publication type.
    The project Infra Wiss Blogs aims to support blogging researchers and information infrastructure institutions in identifying potential solutions for ensuring the long-term accessibility of scientific blogs in Germany. To this end, the project facilitates and moderates a discussion process to develop a distributed system to permanently store and make scientific blogs accessible. Given the complexity and scope of the addressed desideratum the development of such an information system for research requires collaborative efforts.

    To foster collaboration and promote stakeholder networking, the project will organize communication forums on this topic, bringing together science and infrastructure. This approach will facilitate coordination among actors, processes, and standards, ultimately leading to the development of a distributed, organizational, technological, and cooperatively supported infrastructure that ensures the permanent accessibility of scientific blogs. Furthermore, the project will be accompanied by a socio- technical perspective of information science

    Link to project: https://www.ibi.hu-berlin.de/de/forschung/infomanagement/projekte/infra-wiss-blogs

    Link to mailinglist announcement: https://mlists.okfn.de/pipermail/open-science-de/2024-February/000332.html

  2. Thank you Hendrik, that sounds indeed very relevant! And it looks like Rogue Scholar’s Martin Fenner would be a valuable participant in such discussions, seeing as he was once head of DataCite and has built an important part of the necessary infrastructure. I’ve been particularly pleased by how Rogue Scholar handles archiving, PDF and markdown export, and DOI assignment all in one go.

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