My latest paper just came out, and it’s unlike anything I’ve done before. It’s called Bringing Ecology Blogging into the Scientific Fold: Reach and Impact of Science-Community Blogs. Really, I’d be perfectly happy if you just went and read the paper – but for those who might like a bit of context and backstory, here are a few thoughts.
(1) It was tons of fun to have, as coauthors, a bunch of terrific bloggers: Amy Parachnowitsch and Terry McGlynn from Small Pond Science, Manu Saunders of Ecology is Not a Dirty Word, Margaret Kosmala of Ecology Bits, Simon Leather of Don’t Forget the Roundabouts, Jeff Ollerton of Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity Blog, and Meghan Duffy from Dynamic Ecology.* If you’re reading me but not them, I don’t know what the heck you think you’re doing.
(2) I’m rather a latecomer to the blogging world (Scientist Sees Squirrel is not yet 3 years old, and I didn’t read blogs all that much before I started writing one). In hindsight this was a major lost opportunity for me, and that’s a big part of our message in the paper. Blogs carry clear benefits to the blogger, which include building community as well as practicing writing. But, we argue, they offer clear benefits to the blog-reading community, too. Blogs can be a source of advice and mentorship (or better, a complement to real-life mentors); and they can be a key part of our discussions of how to make science better, fairer, more diverse and equitable, and more constructive. They can even, we suggest, be a route for rapid dissemination of data – perhaps preprint servers are best understood as simply very busy blogs?
(3) It’s peculiar, I think, that there are two rather different things people mean by the phrase “science blog”, and only one of them gets much formal study or discussion. We draw a distinction (that I’ve made before on Scientist Sees Squirrel) between “science outreach blogs” and “science community blogs”. The former act as a SciComm channel for scientists to reach non-specialists with scientific information – and this sort of blog is reasonably well studied**. But science community blogs are a different thing; they’re (primarily) aimed by scientists at other scientists, and serve to discuss the process of science, its social organization, and so on. Scientist Sees Squirrel is (mostly) a science-community blog, and so are (mostly) the blogs my coauthors run. We think, for obvious reasons, that it’s worth thinking about science-community blogs and what they have to offer their readers.
(4) There’s a sharp smell of irony in the air. We’ve written a paper proselytizing for the usefulness of blogs, so its ideal audience is people who don’t (yet) write, read, or use blogs. But where I am flogging it? On my blog, and thus I preach entirely to the choir. This is actually something we do all the time. A lot has been written recently about the balkanization of mass communication: technological changes include cable TV and social media have fractionated the delivery of information in ways that make it much, much easier for people to listen only to people that are already like them. Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Humans have always preferred that kind of social structure; it’s just that it used to be more work to achieve it. I understand that the fact that I’m talking to blog readers about the usefulness of blog reading is hardly the instance of media balkanization that’s going to drag down our society! But it’s interesting, and just a little bit frustrating.
So I’ll ask you to do us a favour. If you think there’s something useful in our paper, please send it to someone you’ve heard proclaim “Oh, I don’t read blogs”. Extra bonus points if (1) it’s someone who proclaims that often, perhaps with a touch of the supercilious; and (2) if you can gather some evidence that they actually read the paper you’ve sent them.
Nearly every human endeavour advances further when the walls of the echo chamber are broken. Our blogging paper is an attempt to break one set of walls, but it needs help. Please?
© Stephen Heard October 4, 2017
*^No disrespect intended for a few co-bloggers who provided input but didn’t take full authorship roles.