Friday, October 6, 2017

Blogging about science for yourself

In case you missed it, a new paper in Royal Society Open Science from seven popular ecology blogs discusses the highlights and values of science community blogging. It provides some insights into the motivations behind posting and the reach and impacts that result. It's a must-read if you've considered or already have a blog about science.

It was nice to see how universal the 'pros' of blogging seem to be – the things I most appreciate about contributing to a blog are pretty similar to the things the authors here reported on too. According to the archives, I've been posting here since 2010, when I was a pretty na├»ve PhD student interacting with the ecological literature for the first time. I had a degree of enthusiasm and wonder upon interacting with ideas for the first time that I miss, actually. I just started a faculty job this fall, and I think that the blog allowed me to explore and experiment with ideas as I figured out where I was going as a scientist (which is still an ongoing process).

As Saunders et al. note, one of the other major upsides to blogging is the extent to which it produces networking and connections with colleagues. In a pretty crowded job market, I think it probably helped me, although only as a complement to the usual suspects (publications, 'fit', research plans, interviewing skills). Saunders et al. also mentioned blogging as relevant to NSF's Broader Impacts section, which I actually hadn't considered. Beyond that, the greatest benefit by far for me is that forcing oneself to post regularly and publicly is amazing practice for writing about science.

Despite these positives, I don't necessarily think a science blog is for everyone and there are definitely things to consider before jumping in to it. It can be hard to justify posting on a blog when your to-do list overflows, and not everyone will –understandably- think that's a good use of their time. There is a time commitment and degree of prioritisation required that is difficult. This is one reason that having co-bloggers can be a lifesaver. It is also true that while writing a blog is great practice, it probably selects for people able to write quickly (and perhaps without perfectionistic tendencies).

When students ask me about blogging, they often hint at concerns in sharing their ideas and writing. It can be really difficult to put your ideas and writing out there (why invite more judgement and criticism?) and this is can feedback with imposter syndrome (speaking from my own experience). For a long time, minorities, women, students have been under-represented in ecology blogs, and I think this may be a contributor to that. It's nice to see more women blogging about these days, and hopefully there is a positive feedback from increasing the visibility of under-represented groups.

In any case, this paper was especially timely for me, because I've been re-evaluating over the past few months about whether to keep blogging or not, and this provided a reminder of the positive impacts that are easy to overlook.


Simon Leather said...

Pleased to see that our paper has had a positive effect. Keep up the good work


Caroline Tucker said...

Thanks Simon!

Dr. Fox said...

"For a long time, minorities, women, students have been under-represented in ecology blogs"

Hmm. Do you mean underrepresented compared to their representation in ecology, or underrepresented compared to their representation in the broader population? Just off the top of my head (which I freely admit is not the best way to approach this--ideally one should try to be systematic), I think the makeup of ecology bloggers isn't *too* far off the makeup of ecology as a whole. At least not with regard to gender. For instance, women who blog about ecology and allied fields include you, Manu, Meghan, Margaret, Amy, Ambika Kamath, Joan Strassmann...My own mental list of men who blog regularly about ecology wouldn't be all that much longer than my list of women.

I agree that students are underrepresented among ecology's science community bloggers compared to their representation among all ecologists. But I dunno, "ecology science community bloggers" is a small enough population that its composition changes measurably every time a single blog starts or goes dark. There used to be a lot more student ecology science community bloggers just a few years ago. Then you and Jeremy Yoder and Margaret and Jarrett Byrnes stopped being students (and Jeremy stopped blogging, and Margaret has paused, and Jarrett has mostly stopped), Biodiverse Perspectives went dark, etc. Whether that's a reason to worry about student ecology blogging ("oh no, we just loss a bunch of student ecology blogs!"), or a reason to not worry ("blogs are always blinking in and out of existence, one or two students could start blogging anytime!"), I'm not sure.

The other thing going on here is that blogging as a form is slowly dying. It would be easier to imagine ecology science community bloggers becoming collectively more representative of ecology as a whole if blogging was growing rather than slowly dying.

Caroline Tucker said...

I was thinking of when I first started, back in 2010-2011, when there were few woman bloggers by any measure ( It's fantastic that's not the case today.

Blogging may be dying, I don't know what the stats are on that. There's a low saturation point for the number of blogs the average person is interested in engaging with, certainly, which makes it harder for new blogs to find traction. I would hate to see it entirely replaced by Twitter though, which I find both useful and frustrating as a media form. More than blogs, I think it tends to produce echo chambers, and people who disagree with the majority opinion simply chose not to engage. Blogging at least allows a wide range of perspectives to find some light and nuanced arguments to have some space.

Dr. Fox said...

"There's a low saturation point for the number of blogs the average person is interested in engaging with, certainly, which makes it harder for new blogs to find traction."

Interesting point. So, do you think that ecology's at the saturation point? That for a new ecology science community blog to take off, it would basically have to pull pageviews from Dynamic Ecology, EEB and Flow, Small Pond Science, etc.?