By Victoria Metcalf 22/11/2015 1


Let’s hope the answer to that is not “absolutely nothing”.

Who reads science blogs?  Who reads my blog posts? Well obviously you might, if you’re presumably reading this right now. Feel free to pull up a pew- it’s a short story today.

(You only have hours left, if that, to complete the survey on who reads science blogs and in this case, my blog. Survey link here: http://bit.ly/mysciblogreaders)

Blogging is one of those activities perceived as reaching that ethereal entity- the public. But what constitutes the public in this case– is it really a representative sector of society? And which society? Are we talking global reach? National reach? Or something smaller?  Or an alternative reality society made up only of those who access social media?

There’s talk of blogging being a way to directly reach ‘the public’ and communicate science, in a world where mainstream media is descending into an abyss, where science journalists are now as endangered as the kākāpō. But blogging isn’t likely a replacement, rather an additional element.

Indeed, there are indications that blogging may not reach much of the public at all; that’s if your definition of public is a world where scientists are one circle, and the public is another separate circle, with the two hopefully reaching towards each other hands outspread and piercing through their respective fences. Of course that notion is nonsense because scientists are citizens too, and so scientists are also part of the idea of ‘the public’ circle. We’re really all one.

So maybe then, science blogs reach some of the public-albeit a highly educated and typically already science-loving group, with some, maybe many, also having studied a little or a lot of science. This would be classed as a selection of the public, a subset circle, not representative  of the totality of the public, but not an entirely separate circle. Such an audience is termed by some as the echo chamber effect of social media.

As Paige Brown Jarreau writes:

Is this an echo chamber? Are science bloggers talking mostly to other science bloggers? Is anything this online scientific community tweets about reaching people outside of this online scientific community? Or are we just talking to one another in an isolated bubble?

These are very interesting questions and Paige is now addressing these, specifically ‘Who reads science blogs and why do they read them’,  in her postdoc and associated current survey, in which this blog features as one being studied.

It’s easy to be dismissive of science bloggers as ‘only talking among themselves’, with the irony being such comments are typically uttered by other science bloggers still committed to science blogging. Paige’s survey is a more positive approach to better understand science blogging.

I’m less fazed by the echo chamber conundrum. Like most science bloggers, I’d definitely prefer not to be exclusively talking within an echo chamber of educated, science-interested people. I’d prefer that sometimes, someone from outside that subset would stumble across my writing and find something to make them stay and ideally return (Perhaps that’s you right now- if so let me know below). And if that is the reality, then I would actually be content with that.

That’s because blogging isn’t my only medium for reaching a wide variety of people, and nor is social media my only communication tool. I note too that the echo chamber effect is not only found within social media, but rather a phenomenon found in other means of discourse too. If I felt that across all the various online and in-person platforms I used, I only ever spoke to entirely like-minded science people, then I might be wanting to take some evasive action to break out of the echo chamber. Luckily that doesn’t seem to be the case.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Menchi, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clinical_thermometer_38.7.JPG
Image source: Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Menchi

I haven’t done though what I intended in the last few weeks- I had plans to blog more, to produce more posts. But life got in the way like it often does. Serious yucky stuff to deal with. Hospitalisation of my father following a stroke, a close relative on the other side with a recurrent malignancy that doesn’t look in any way good.  It’s been a damn tough few weeks. And being there for my daughter as much as possible – that’s always my number one job.

All of that on top of a workload for work that is always overflowing, where the to-do list ever-grows and much of it shifts to the next day and the next. Not to mention my extra-curricula activities- what I call my non-work work. The stuff for which I mainly don’t get paid, but I do instead out of a self-driven desire to make science and the communication of science a better place. The stuff for my night shift.

Yesterday whilst I was flat on my back in bed, struck down by a pretty nasty virus, I episodically woke to visualise that to-do list in my head, the work that needed to get done, the blog post I needed to write. The feeling of reality that day of most certainly not meeting expectations.

That’s the thing about blogging. Few of us do it for money- I receive none.  Most of it do it on top of our normal work, not as part of. My new blog Curious and Curiouser is part of my job but this one (Ice Doctor) isn’t. It’s an add-on. One that if we’re honest as bloggers, we enjoy doing – it’s good for us too.  It’s cathartic, it helps shape ideas- heck, it could lead to greater recognition for what we do, at a pinch.

But many of us struggle to fit it in and it was pleasing to read Paige Brown’s thesis summary to know I am not alone in the push for time to write. It will be even better to know more about who reads my blog and who reads science blogs in general.

It’s your last chance within the next few hours, maybe less, to let us know who reads my blog.

Let me know below in the comments, and fill in the survey right now if you can.

It will help me understand my audience better and I guess provide some motivation to keep on trucking. Motivation to anyone that writes a science blog that even if they are speaking in some sort of echo chamber, that it’s valuable, good discourse.

And maybe, just maybe there’s enough conversation atoms bouncing around in my blogosphere, that some of them find their way out of a hole in the echo chamber to the hallowed and truly public space beyond. That would be satisfactory conversation indeed.

INVITATION TO SURVEY (VERY LAST CHANCE):

Help us do science! I’ve teamed up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau to create a survey of Ice Doctor readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve Ice Doctor and contributing to SCIENCE on blog readership.

For completing the survey, readers will be entered into a drawing for a $50.00 Amazon gift card (100 available, or guaranteed 2 per specific blog included in this survey), as well as for other prizes (t-shirts) and other perks.

Every single participant will also receive FREE science art from Paige’s Photography for participating! It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here: http://bit.ly/mysciblogreaders.

Survey link: http://bit.ly/mysciblogreaders


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