By Alison Campbell 07/02/2018 8


That’s the premise of an article in Nature (Brown & Woolston, 2018), which I discovered via the excellent Debunking Denialism on Facebook (and if that’s not a good example of how various social media are interlinked, I don’t know what is). Since mine is a science blog, obviously I was interested in the Nature narrative.

Brown & Woolston believe that:

Blogs continue to be an effective platform for communicating your science to major stakeholders – and the public.

Or, in my case, communicating about science (and pseudoscience) and science education to the public; what began as something focused on scholarship biology students has acquired a wider view of things as time’s gone by.

So, why do they (and a lot of science bloggers, yours truly included) think that blogging remains important?

For some, it’s all part of the way that scientists communicate and network – what starts as a blog post may end up as a collaborative research project. It’s one of many channels for digital communication – one that allows for deeper engagement with a topic than something like Twitter, with its still-tight limits on how much you can say in a tweet. (And of course, it’s good practice to share your blog posts via Twitter and Facebook, and so potentially reach a much wider audience.)

That communication can be with intending scientists as well as those already established in their field. Brown and Woolston cite one researcher, Allison McDonald, whose

ultimate goal [in blogging] is to take the mystery out of the equation, to level the playing field for [young scientists] who aren’t aware that there is even a game at play.

It does take time, of course. One of the reason my own posts have dropped a lot in frequency over the past year is that the demands of my day job have increased. I’ve got a lot of drafts stored up, for example, that I’ve jotted down during conferences about science education; the trick has been to find time to polish and publish them. But for those who blog, the time is well-spent. Blogs like Respectful Insolence, for example, have hits in the hundreds of thousands a month – they have a very large readership, and keep key messages in public view. (And on RI, with a range of scientists and health professionals providing commentary, you can learn a lot from the comments thread as well as the posts.) Others, like Dynamic Ecology (cited in Brown and Woolston) bring in over 40,000 views a month (still a very respectable figure), and New Zealand’s own Sciblogs is in the same ballpark.

And it is a challenge to keep posting in the face of Twitter and FB – given the apparent tendency for people to ‘share’ things in those social-media sites without actually reading them first, I sometimes wonder if folks have the patience to read a lengthy (or even a short!) blog post. (Not that this deters Orac, whose very long posts are legendary.) But I do agree with Paige Brown Jarreau (also cited by Brown and Woolston), who describes the way that I’ve tended to do things in the last few years:

social media platforms don’t supplant blogging, they feed it – giving writers a place to develop and test ideas that they might later incorporate into a lengthier post.

That, and using my FB and Twitter feeds to identify interesting things to follow up and write about!

Oh, and if you’re interested in blogging, the article also includes some useful hints – and some caveats about putting yourself out there for the world to read.

E.Brown and C.Woolston (2018) Why science blogging still matters. Nature 554: 135-137. doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-01414-6


8 Responses to “Does science blogging still matter? Yes. Yes, it does.”

  • I love your work, Alison, and I’m so happy you plan to keep at it. Loved your piece in The Spinoff about ‘raw water’.

  • Hey, thank you, Carol! I do enjoy writing about science 🙂 Just realised I’ve been doing it for 11 years now, which is quite something.
    The headline in The Spinoff wasn’t mine (though I approve); no doubt it will generate much pearl-clutching. I had someone tell me on FB that, well, clean treated water didn’t stop the Havelock North people getting sick, did it? They seemed completely unaware that the HN problem happened precisely because the water wasn’t treated!

  • That’s amazing that someone could be unaware of the cause of the HN contamination crisis..!
    I just got banned from a particularly crazy anti-chlorination FB group called ‘Water Water Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink’ – for posting a link to the report from the Havelock North Drinking-Water Enquiry Stage 2. It’s kind of ironic as the report is very critical of current practices in providing safe drinking water to the NZ public.

    Please keep on being you!

  • Thanks Alison for your blog and the link to the Nature article.

    Science blogging is still important. Absolutely! It is encouraging to hear a sensible voice in, what seems like, a sea of idiocy. An scientist has so many wonderful stories to tell.

    The Nature article will help me further develop my own blog. Thanks again.

    • Hi Mauirce – thank you for the feedback; I’m glad to hear you found my post useful 🙂 All the best for your own blog – will you share a link with us here?

      • Alison. My blog is an eclectic collection of reflections on things that interest me. Moving forward I am looking to write more short science items modeled after Jean Balchin’s and longer ones modeled after bloggers like yourself but that’s a work in progress. Thanks for asking me to share the link. Here it is:

        https://sustainabilityandbeauty.wordpress.com/

        • Oh! A fellow fan of Ursula Le Guin! I was so sad to hear of her death. One of my favourite authors, & definitely someone who speaks from & to the heart.