What Good Is Science Bloging?

I’ve been meaning to get to this question that ScienceBlogling Steinn asks:

giving a talk on blogging at Harvard tends to make one think,
in particular, what is the use of science blogging, and why are economists so good at blogging….
but, has science blogging done any good?
I can think of science policy issues where blogging has made a contribution, and the general spread of information and communication done by blogs has probably had some impact, but has any actual science been directly impacted by blogs, or discussion on blogs? I am hard pressed to think of concrete examples.
What is disturbing is realising how effective a use the economists are making of blogs.
As an outsider, my perception is that economic blogs are much more effective at communicating technical information and policy differences, possibly because the readership is less intimidated by economics. I also get the sense that economists use their blogs for actual inter-blog communication and resolve differences (or agree to disagree) in public, and possibly even generate new concepts on-blog.
I don’t see that in the sciences, certainly not in the physical sciences, and arguments about the landscape in string theory do not count…

I think there are a couple of reasons why science blogging doesn’t influence scientific research they way blogging in economics does. First, I don’t think science is as open a culture as economics. By that, I mean that scientists won’t talk about what they’re doing until the paper is in press (or at least, they’ve given a public talk about it). Because the lead time to a paper–and the monetary expense in generating a paper–is greater, I think scientists are far less likely to talk about their work in such a public forum.
Currently, I’m involved in developing a metagenomics pipeline, and, at the risk of sounding arrogant, we’re doing a good job. Part of me would love to describe what we’ve done, but, until it’s published, I’m not talking about it. A select group of colleagues (who can help our work in exchange for us helping them), yes. But I’m not giving this shit away over the internet.
The other reason is that a lot of science is very far removed from actual ‘real-world’ applications. While I’m sure some of my readership would like to hear what rattling around in my brain about sequence alignment algorithms, for most, I don’t think they would be that interested. Granted, that’s never stopped me before, but, then again, much to the chagrin of Our Benevolent Seed Overlords, I’ve never given a shit about what will be popular. But for some, I’m sure it’s an issue–at the very least, it has to be tied into real-world stuff, and that can take a long time (years).
Finally, I think a lot of scientists, including those who are passionate about their work, like to discuss other things. Despite the stereotypes to the contrary, scientists, in ‘mixed’ social situtations like to talk about things other than their work (seriously, try being the only non-laywer, MD, or investment banker–I’m convinced we’re much more civilized about this). For what ever reason, in my experience, scientists build a much greater wall between work and play. Besides, I don’t want to write about the things I’ve been doing all day all the time.
To sum all this up, I never viewed, nor do I view, blogging as the way I communicate to colleagues about cutting edge work–it’s not efficient (the phone works just fine), it’s not feasible within the culture of science, and it’s not always fun.

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5 Responses to What Good Is Science Bloging?

  1. Blake Stacey says:

    Not all fields of science have the same institutional culture. In theoretical physics, for example, the n-Category Café does all that and is by comparison rather light on the public outreach. Of course, its authors and commenters work in a realm where the data has been collected by other people.

  2. I think there are a couple of reasons why science blogging doesn’t influence scientific research they way blogging in economics does.

    The main reason for this is that scientific research is tethered to actual discernable reality, while economics is just making up bullshit stories about shit no one understands. It is thus not at all suprising that scientific research is less influenced by people shooting the shit on blogs: when your business is making up bullshit stories, what you hear other people say when you are shooting the shit on blogs is bound to influence you more.

  3. TomJoe says:

    In every microbiological network (medical and now agricultural) I’ve been a participant of, things have always been held very “close to the vest”. The fear of being scooped or back-stabbed is palpable at times.

  4. My ponderings were generally aimed at whether blogs, given their utility for communication and networking, could be used more as tools for “inreach” and enhanced scientific research, and to some extent whether they ought to be.
    I think they can be, but aren’t being used much as such. I think they ought to be used more for such, and something will probably, eventually, emerge. Or web 3.1 will throw up some new structure with potential for better use.

  5. I think there are a couple of reasons why science blogging doesn’t influence scientific research they way blogging in economics does.

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