As ConservationBytes.com is about to tick over 1 million hits since its inception in mid-2008, I thought I’d share why I think more scientists should blog about their work and interests.
As many of you know, I regularly give talks and short courses on the value of social and other media for scientists; in fact, my next planned ‘workshop’ (Make Your Science Matter) on this and related subjects will be held at the Ecological Society of Australia‘s Annual Conference in Alice Springs later this year.
I’ve written before about the importance of having a vibrant, attractive and up-to-date online profile (along with plenty of other tips), but I don’t think I’ve ever put down my thoughts on blogging in particular. So here goes.
- The main reasons scientists should consider blogging is the hard, cold fact that not nearly enough people read scientific papers. Most scientists are lucky if a few of their papers ever top 100 citations, and I’d wager that most are read by only a handful of specialists (there are exceptions, of course, but these are rare). If you’re a scientist, I don’t have to tell you the disappointment of realising that the blood, sweat and tears shed over each and every paper is largely for nought considering just how few people will ever read our hard-won results. It’s simply too depressing to contemplate, especially considering that the sum of human knowledge is so vast and expanding that this trend will only ever get worse. For those reasons alone, blogging about your own work widens the readership by orders of magnitude. More people read my blog every day than will probably ever read the majority of my papers.
- Related to (1), even your audience diversifies when you blog. From school children to journalists to politicians to scientists in other disciplines, people who would never think to read (or be able to understand) your technical paper will suddenly be able to digest the results in at least their basic form. In essence, a blog post becomes your own personal newspaper article about your work.
- A greater audience means that you’ll also likely get your work across to more of your peers who will be interested in collaborating with you. Yes, even scientists read other scientists’ blog posts. I have been approached many times by previously unacquainted peers with ideas for collaboration based solely on the subject of my blog posts.
- You have a moral obligation to disseminate your results to the public as best you can, because let’s face it, most of our funding comes from public sources (national science agencies, government grants, NGOs and even philanthropists). In my view, believing that you’ve achieved that dissemination once your paper goes online is self-delusional and unfair to the members of society that funded it.
- Even if you’re a cold-hearted bastard that isn’t swayed by the moral or goodwill arguments, you can justify blogging by appreciating that it will probably lead to a higher number of citations of the original article. But don’t just take it from me, there are now empirical studies emerging that show that the more a paper is visualised outside of academia, the more it’s cited within (see here and here for examples).
- Have you ever had one of your papers butchered by a so-called ‘journalist’, sensationalised by a reporter or just ignored by an influential news outlet? Most scientists can relate. A great reason to blog is, as I hinted above, that you can ‘cut out the middle man’ and publish your own ‘news’. Of course, still deal with traditional journalists and reporters, but take more of the matter into your own hands and rely less on non-specialists.
- Related to (6), blog posts are a great precursor to traditional media releases. Every time I wish to send out a press release, I e-mail a copy of the paper in question and the blog post covering the topic to my university’s media team. It makes their job much easier and limits the probability of translation errors.
- Blogging allows for a certain amount of independence from the shackles of institutional restraint. Like people afraid of inadvertently raising the ire of their employers for posting online material, blogging ‘independently’ of your institution’s main web presence gives you some (but not necessarily complete) freedom.
- As I’ve written recently, good writing skills are a key element of being a good and successful scientist. Blogging frequently means that you will hone your writing skills, which will make your scientific papers/books/chapters more concise, easily understood and engaging. Practice makes perfect.
- “The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about” (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray 1890). A little self-indulgent, perhaps, but for many of the reasons outlined above, getting ‘known’ improves your scientific career. Use your blog to promote yourself.
- For the same reasons why it’s easy to debunk the argument that it’s all too difficult to find the time to keep one’s online profile up-to-date, blogging shouldn’t really add much to your daily agenda. If you’re spending more than a few hours blogging per week, you’re probably cutting into important scientific writing time. Limited like this, it’s an easier pill to swallow.
I’m sure there are other reasons why scientists might choose to blog, but the ones I’ve given are probably the most relevant. Happy blogging.