January 2, 2014 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

In the good old days when I spent most of my time as a practicing biomedical research scientist it was pretty clear to me what qualified as a scholarly communication. Such communications consisted of submissions of presentations to meetings of scholarly academic societies; submissions and presentations of original research to journals; presenting seminars; and writing the occasional review articles, book chapters, or even books. Now that I spend much of my time as a bioethicist it is no longer so clear to me. It is probably important to note that the uncertainty I feel about this is probably only partly attributable to the difference in discipline and may indeed be primarily due to the emergence of our modern-day online communications including the blogging and social media culture.

The communication you are reading now is a blog, only a blog, not a scholarly communication. Al least I am pretty sure that is the case. I cite no evidence. I reference lightly if at all. I write what I want. I am merely expressing my opinions. I am not really accountable to anyone for what I say here. I can write it in minutes or hours, not weeks or months. This all sounds to me that this is not a scholarly publication. Yet I have read in both blogs and on social media such as facebook and twitter people raising questions about the distinction. (Please note that I did not reference my statement, further evidence that this is not a scholarly publication.) I have seen questions which ask how are blogs and scholarly writings different if indeed they are different. I have seen writers ask if blogs should be included in one’s Curriculum Vita as a publication. Please note that this will not be posted in my Curriculum Vita because it is, again, only a blog.

I frequently hear from people about a newly recognized health risk or a new medical treatment, often with questions from people whether this seems real. I often cannot answer these questions. These questions are usually transmitted to me on facebook or twitter and come with a link to a blog. If the blog has a link to a scholarly publication I can go to that source and view the evidence. I cannot judge if it is true from simply reading a blog. Everything on the internet is not true.

I have not yet fully determined how I feel about the use of blogs and social media by academics to transmit and promote scientific findings and scholarly works, develop followings, and even become celebrities. Perhaps I am just an old guy who is struggling to accept change. But it may just be true that a blog is not a scholarly publication. It is just a blog.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.