Of blogs, newsletters, magazines, journals and books…

posted in: Reports | 2

Of later, there has been much confusion among our local birdwatchers about what blogs are – what they represent, what are their roles are, etc. There are even those who believes that blogs are scientific “publications” that require peer-review. Such confusion is understandable. Most of our birdwatchers are not ornithologists or even biologists. A few may have published their observations, but not extensively enough to understand the subtle differences of the different publications, let alone what peer-review means. However, the aims and objectives of BESG and the blog it maintains are clearly spelt out HERE.

Now what is peer-review? In the scientific context, it involves the manuscript that is being submitted to a scientific journal being sent to an impartial, usually anonymous reviewer, an expert in the same field as what is being submitted for publication.

Blogs and personal websites have become popular during the last few years. These are informal affairs that can be equated to birdwatchers’ diaries where sightings and observations are recorded. BESG blog is comparable to the Singapore Avifauna, an in-house, multi-copied newsletter (now gone online) put out by the Bird Group of the Nature Society (Singapore) [NSS]. The only difference between the two is that the blog carries snippets on bird behaviour while the newsletter concentrates (the post-1990 issues anyway) on sightings, trip reports and lists of birds. And by no stretch of the imagination can postings in a blog and writings in the newsletter be considered scientific publications.

Local birdwatchers have also published in the NSS magazine Nature Watch. This again is not a scientific publication, and until a few months ago, the editors even failed to subject manuscripts to technical editing.

The Oriental Bird Club’s BirdingASIA can be considered scientific but it is rated below its sister publication, Forktail. Manuscripts submitted to the former are not sent for peer-review, although the editor does send them out for editing by competent birders. However, Forktail is a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR), University of Singapore, has two peer-reviewed journals. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, now gone online, is peer-reviewed. So is its online Nature in Singapore.

Then we have books. Here, we need to refer to specific examples to explain the differences. The manuscript of An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore (KS Lim & D Gardner, 1997), published by a private publishing house, Sun Tree, would have been closely edited, as a creditable publisher would. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Singapore (LK Wang & CH Hails. 2007), published by The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, is definitely peer-reviewed. On the other hand, The Avifaune of Singapore (KS Lim, 2009), whose contents came from the same set of raw data as that of An Annotated Checklist, can be considered a sort of vanity publication. It was published by the NSS with donated funds and the manuscript is unfortunately not peer-reviewed, unless peer review here refers to review by a twitching peer.

YC Wee
September 2009


2 Responses

  1. […] is not enough to just report observations in websites and in-house newsletters. There is a need to publish them in scientific journals, […]

  2. i stumbled into this blog/website and saw some references to Dr Wells and Dr Hails who happen to be my supervisors and lecturers in university of Malaya some 30 years ago. Would you be able to get their contact address/email? they may not remember me but i was a co author to a paper with Dr Hails on the ecology of swiflet published in IBIS,1981. i had recently googled “a amirrudin swiftlet” and saw it had been cited as recent as 2010! Thanks


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