Friday, February 03, 2006
News & Analysis: February 2006
Physicists are increasingly using Internet forums to exchange scientific views and share gossip. Paula Gould explores the rise of "blogging"
In July 2004 security and safety fears led to the temporary closure of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the original home of the atomic bomb. Months passed and parts of the lab remained shut. Some staff members opted to leave, while others grumbled to friends and family but essentially endured the situation. Concerned at the lack of public debate, Doug Roberts - a computer scientist at the lab - decided to start an online discussion forum to allow staff to air their views.
But Roberts' Web log (or "blog"), LANL: The Real Story (lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com), has been more than just a place for people to moan. It has also been credited with contributing to the resignation, in May 2005, of Peter Nanos, the director of the Los Alamos lab. Indeed, the blog spawned numerous reports in the national and international press, and has so far been visited by about half a million people.
Running the blog is no easy feat for Roberts. At the height of its popularity, maintaining the site took about five or six hours a day. Even though he no longer works at Los Alamos, Roberts still spends two or three hours every day reviewing and posting contributions to the site. "This isn't for the weak of heart," he says. "If you create a forum where issues that are not complimentary to your place of work are discussed, you are not going to be very popular with the management."
Doug is to be congratulated on a masterful stroke in creating this blog when he did. It was the right device at the right time. Its effectiveness is undeniable, the more so when his established guidelines are followed by the posters (alas, not a perfect record on that score). By strengthening its established effectiveness with thoughtful posting, its usefulness for our community will continue for as long as Doug is able to keep it alive.