Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who reads blogs anyway? Do professional scientific blogs work?

As some of you may remember I have been blogging under my real name as an outreach activity from one of the research projects I'm involved in. I have been meaning to get back to that and discuss my experience and what we have learned from it, but didn't find the right angle to discuss it from, until yesterday. I was at a one day "Public outreach for scientists" course where invited speakers were brought in to teach us about how to promote scientific stories in various electronic media and how to work with journalists. An extraordinary opportunity and an eyeopening experience. Participation was optional, the number of participants limited and there was a waiting list to get on the course, so my immediate reaction would be that the people who were there were interested in working with the media one way or another. I would also think that most people there would be open to nontraditional means of communication to/ with the public.

Some of us had experience with scientific blogging from field work, data collection or expeditions to remote parts of the globe and eventually we got into discussing how those blogs could ideally be framed, who is the audience, what should be our goals in terms of readership etc. All fine. We are all fairly new in this arena, and learning as we go along. Even with experience from more personal academic blogging I think I have a lot to learn about how to use a professional blog. The discussion took place mainly between people who already had scientific blogs, which shouldn't come as a surprise, but when others started to chime in it DID surprise me how negative and demeaning their comments were. Some of the most common comments seems to be "Blogs are boring", "why would anyone read blogs", "when would they do so?", "so, you mean that people read blogs when they are supposed to be working", "who reads blogs anyway?", "kids?".

Are you surprised? I am. But I have heard these and similar comments from enough people in scientific fields (at this meeting and elsewhere) to speculate why it is people think blogs don't work. I should say that none of these comments were related to any particular blog and I doubt any of the commenters have seen the research blog in question before commenting. I tried to explain what it is I think blogs can do that other media cannot. That we have a chance to show how we do science while we're doing it and where our shared knowledge actually comes from. That we make science accessible to anyone who are interested and that people can talk to us if they want to. That even if no one ever visits our blog it forces us to reflect on our own work in a way that's rare in science but which might eventually help us communicate our science, goals and visions better in any media or any setting. I think they somehow saw the point in using blogs as a self-development tool, but self-development is not highly rated in the sciences.

What do you think? Does professional, scientific blogs make sense or should those of us who absolutely must share our dirty laundry with the world stick to write personal blogs for our friends and shut up about it? Is the blog media worth using for scientific communication and would anyone ever read? Is it the scientific dorks who are behind and should just get in the loop and follow up on what has happened in the blogosphere during the past 5-ish years or are we as bloggers just at the extreme forefront of things and should wait for other people to tag along?

Please share your opinions. I will get back to this topic, but would really like to hear what you have to say first.

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6 Comments:

At 8:48 PM, Anonymous Kjerstin said...

In fact I love your ideas about scientific blogs. On the one hand, as a journalist, I've been somewhat worried about what would happen when scientists discovered blogs (after all, why would scientists want to talk to the newspapers when they can just share all their ideas on blogs instead, and escape having their words twisted by journalists? so far there hasn't been much reason for my worries, though). On the other, I've come across a gazillion science blogs, and most of them just seem to share science news that they pick up from journals and newspapers, which is not what I'm looking for in an academic blog. The science blogs that I read, are the ones that let me see how the research and the thinking is done from the inside, and what the scientist finds interesting about it. Unfortunately, most academics feel compelled to blog pseudonymously, so they can't be specific about their research. That's why I think your blog project sounds interesting.

 
At 7:58 PM, Blogger jonathan said...

I also find the anonymous aspect of some (most?) science blogs to be out of step with the mainstay of the "blogosphere". Maybe these scientists are worried about their reputation, so they feel the need to hide their identities. Or, maybe its just that being annoymous lets people be a bit more free in their comments.

I think the explosion of scientific blogs has been amazing! And, as with all "new media", their usefullness will depend on content, audience, and longevity. Having a stated purposed, in my opinion, helps. There are too many "science blogs" that are just diaries/blogs written by people who happen to be scientists. These are not useful to me; I generally look for those s.blogs with a focus - an axe to grind.

In any case... i LOVE this blog. It's very different from the one I am writing (which is generally more technical, hence the name) but your blog is great! Keep up the good work.

 
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At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Sports Picks said...

In fact I love your ideas about scientific blogs. On the one hand, as a journalist, I've been somewhat worried about what would happen when scientists discovered blogs (after all, why would scientists want to talk to the newspapers when they can just share all their ideas on blogs instead, and escape having their words twisted by journalists? so far there hasn't been much reason for my worries, though).

 
At 5:58 AM, Blogger Parmer said...

I think the scientific blog has been amazing and as with all new media. Thank you so much for the mention! I certainly have learned a lot from the experience.

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