The matter has indeed been discussed ad nauseam in the recent past. Blog posts, internal discussions, conferences, workshops, other blog posts, threads. But there is always the chance to add some bit of information to the soup, or -more easily- misinformation. In this case, the discussion invests mostly italian blogs, so I figured I would give you a summary here.

The topic is that of the communication of science, and more specifically, whether blogs are useful, whether they should be supported by the institutions, or at least recognized as a positive force, or rather watched with diffidence, scrutinized for violations of rules of conduct of the scientific collaboration to which the writers belong, etcetera. I wrote about it recently here.

A new wave started when Peppe Liberti, a physicist who runs an eclectic italian blog, discussed briefly a few of the points brought up during Comunicare Fisica 2010, a workshop on the communication of physics held in Frascati a couple of weeks ago. The workshop included sessions where a few bloggers could present their sites, and a round table on the topic of blogs and science communication.

The points brought up were mine, and they were a bit flippant as often happens when somebody wants to stimulate an otherwise dull discussion. I explained that running a blog is certainly a source of personal satisfaction and a fulfilling experience, but it has several drawbacks, many of which come from the workplace. Institutions such as the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics who pays my salary along with 2000 more, and which have interest to foster the communication of science, should give a positive signal, encouraging blogs of its dependents if at all possible.

After Peppe another blogger, Marco Delmastro, entered the fray. Marco is a colleague who works for Atlas and whose blog "I borborigmi di Marco" is a great example of a positive force toward the communication of what is done in these large particle physics experiments and why it is important. The news was that his blog was, maybe for the first time, linked by an "institutional" site, the LHC italia weblog, after an interview he gave to them.

His post was quite good and it discussed several important aspects of the problem. Let me quick-translate a few of the points made by Marco below.

"Peppe [...] is happy about that [the link] since he reads in it an opening of institutionalized scientific communication toward the more personal and anarchic of researchers who blog. Is it true ?

Maybe, but I am not so sure. True, there are signals of opening and interest of official scientific communication toward blogs of researchers and teachers. The section on blogs in Comunicare Fisica is probably a proof [...], but the bloggers who took part to the conference well know that the presence of space devoted to blogs was not really approved by all. I think that there are cultural reasons rather clear of why what Peppe calls "the communication ouside canons" is not loved by those who commission the institutional communication [...]. And why it will not be, at least before a deep cultural change that appears distant to me. Let me explain.

[...]Official communication of physics (but not just physics) in Italy never really digested this interactive model [blogs, threads, online discussions] and it does not seem at all ready to embark in this direction, systematically preferring the single-directional model (I speak, you listen). The reasons are certainly historic and cultural, but also of the required involvement (practical and political): invest in a interactive space is much more costly (in terms of time and involvement) than investing in a single-directional space, and it would probably require too big a political mandate to the collaborators [...]. If and when this will happen, it will be a daring choice, which looks to me quite against the flow [...].

[...] The hope of a total freedom to say what one wants, associated however to the official recognition of one's thought as part of an institutional outreach -which appears to be Tommaso's request- looks like an illusion, and maybe even unjust and childish request. For the same reasons, it looks improbable that an institution like INFN or cERN may even just link officially a series of personal blogs as "advisable resources". It would be an a-priori endorsement on all the contents. [...]"

Tommaso's request is not that. I raised the point of INFN using the potential it has -2000 bright minds among which there certainly are talented communicators- rather than damping their efforts. But unfortunately the participants in the thread preferred to focus on the "childish" aspect of vouching for some "official recognition", which I threw in as a provocation. Of course, since provocations are easier to pick up than meaningful proposals.

More meat was put on the fire in the lively comments thread, where I was cited as a violator of internal rules of the experiments to which I take part (which is false, and be careful or I will sue you if you hold it publically and I do not like your face as I like Marco's), and where I was further attacked as a dreamer, a self-pity guy, etcetera. Not even the fact that I am paid for what I write here was omitted, despite it being utterly beside the point.

I defended myself from the allegations, I explained how some views are naive, but I left the matter where it is. If the bloggers themselves manage to quarrel on this topic, I imagine that Marco is indeed right: there is no room for blogs in the agenda of institutionalized scientific outreach.