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Science blogger vs. blogging scientist

February 5, 2008

Every once in a while I post about some misleading or erroneous science reporting (or at least what I perceive to be misleading) . If I’m in a particular mood, the post becomes more of a rant than a well-written essay. This is the freedom of blogging, right? A science book author and blogger took exception to my admittedly sloppy rant about sloppy use of words…fair enough.

Additionally, Yami Maria recently touched on why she won’t be using her blog for semi-serious “reporting” of peer-reviewed research (her and some commenters there have some good points). Ole chimed in as well about why he blogs about geology.

This made me wonder about the constantly-growing group of blogs we tend to group into “science blogs”. What are science blogs?

A wise person once said there are two kinds of people in the world; those that divide the world into two kinds of people and those that don’t. For the sake of argument, it seems to me there are two kinds of science-related blogs:

(1) blogs about science

(2) blogs by scientists

Let’s call them science blogger (Type I) and blogging scientist (Type II). Some of Type I blogs are by authors/writers/journalists who may have experience and a degree in science but are now within the general field of science communication. Some Type II blogs are by practicing researchers/students/faculty and cover a broad range of topics, most related to science in one way or another, but also including a few off-topic or personal posts as well.

These types are fluid. That is, one blog can exhibit traits of either type from post to post. Some blogs switch back and forth a lot, some stick to one type or the other most of the time.

This is, of course, a grossly oversimplified classification of something that is more of a continuum (as always).

I tend to view my own blog (right or wrong) as a mix of both types. The last half of 2007 contained numerous posts about finishing my dissertation. Not so much about the content, but the general process and thoughts about it. But, I also attempt to write posts every once in a while that delve into a scientific topic, concept, or recent paper in more detail.

What about you? What kind of mix do you think you have? Or, is my oversimplified view so oversimplified that it’s not even worth discussing?

~

Note: Don’t read this post as if I think I’m the first to discuss this … obviously, this issue has been covered before. Probably many times. I simply do not have the time nor the energy to do that research. Searching and sifting through the myriad blog threads would take some serious effort. Feel free to leave links in the comments for any discussions or threads you think address this (probably better than I have).

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2008 1:27 am

    I agree with Maria on the BPR3 thing – it sounds too much like hard work and it’s like giving yourself a prize for writing well. And I also agree with Ole – I blog because it’s fun, and researching new things and then sharing your findings with everyone gives me some sort of self satisfaction.

    With goodSchist I separated my posts about geology from my general blog (yorrike.com), since I hardly write about much else these days. I set it up so each story had to be written like an article (because of the layout), which I tend to regret now and then when I just want to make a 4 or 5 sentence entry about nothing of consequence. goodSchist would probably fall into your type I definition if I had to put it somewhere. I like writing at length about serious science with references, but I always want to write in a casual style, even though I’ll admit I’m not that great a writer regardless of intended style.

    I’m one of those people who likes tagging things with meta data, but not putting them in separate boxes so never the twain shall meet. I run a blog where I talk about geology and planetary science and that’s as fine-grained as I care to get. I do it because I like doing research on new and interesting topics and sharing my findings with the interwebs.

    Does it really matter why anyone writes about science, or how they go about it, or who they are? If you’re writing good articles, people will notice, and you’ll get links from other blogs. All we need is to continue as we are; people writing about science as much as they can, because they find it fun, and hopefully drag non-scientists into the world-wide discussion about this science project we’re all involved in.

  2. February 6, 2008 2:01 am

    Thanks for the post. You get me thinking about science blogging, and off I go on another ramble, this time about blogging instead of teaching. I’m new at this, but I am finding that I enjoy the medium. I have given you an extended reflection on your question at http://geotripper.blogspot.com/2008/02/why-i-blog-notes-from-rookie-in.html. Check it out if you have time to kill! Thanks again for a good post.

  3. February 6, 2008 3:02 am

    I usually prefer to classify writing by its intended audience, rather than by any particular characteristic of the writer or the subject matter. You can blog for laypeople who are interested in the methods and results of science, laypeople who are interested in the daily life of a scientist, or you can blog for practicing scientists or science educators. There is a feedback loop here – as you write, you will attract a particular audience, and you will also learn to tailor your posts to that audience. The most successful blog posts IME allow for multiple audiences to mingle.

    Then there’s the trick of writing to promote discussion, vs. writing to impart Truth to a passive audience. Not quite sure how that one works yet.

  4. February 6, 2008 4:12 am

    I am principally against the classification of people in categories. Most of the time I don’t seem to fit in any of the proposed categories anyway.

    Obviously there are exceptions.

    I am one of the kind of people in the world that don’t divide the world into two kinds of people.

    I also seem to be one of your type one bloggers.

    So far my agreement. As science is helped forward by disagreements, I would like to point out that there is something wrong with your link to my blog under “Ole chimed in as well about why he blogs about geology”. The link lead me to a Wikipedia article on the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which I read with great interest, of course. One is never to old to learn ;-)

    That said I usually read your blog with even greater interest. Thank you.

    Ole

  5. February 6, 2008 8:14 am

    ooops! Thanks Ole … fixed the link.

  6. February 6, 2008 6:53 pm

    Ole says: “I am principally against the classification of people in categories.”

    Although in the post above I am certainly classifying people, I also state that the categorization is fluid…I’m not rigorously placing a “person” into a category per se, rather talking about the role we as bloggers play from post to post.

    And to reiterate…classifications are inherently oversimplified, but do play a role in investigation (and hopefully understanding).

    Ole says: “I am one of the kind of people in the world that don’t divide the world into two kinds of people.”

    I was hoping someone would follow that…if you don’t divide people then how can you place yourself in that category? Paradoxes are fun :)

  7. February 6, 2008 7:03 pm

    I guess I don’t think Type I versus II means much. What makes a science blog for me is focus and insight. A science blog is there to talk about science at a deeper level than general-interest sources do. Acquiring the right degree of focus and insight usually takes a degree in a closely related subject. Science journalists can write useful science blogs when they give a little extra, like John Fleck’s New Mexico Science. Even Charlie Petit’s purely journalistic Knight Science Journalism Tracker counts as a science blog.

    Are there blogs by scientists that don’t include science? That’s where I think the Type I/II thing fails. Scientist-bloggers simply can go deeper than the rest of us, and more power to them.

  8. February 6, 2008 7:19 pm

    Andrew says: “Are there blogs by scientists that don’t include science?”

    What I mean is there are blogs by scientist that include posts about the topics that working scientists relate to (e.g., discussing tenure process, how to give a good job talk, whether or not you need a post-doc in your field, etc.) and then every now and then posts completely unrelated to science. There are plenty of examples.

    Other times these exact same blogs have posts that do what you are talking about above.

    Instead me calling the “types” perhaps I should’ve termed them “roles” or “style” … I don’t know. So, I’m not labeling any single blog Type I or Type II. Let’s not lose the message, I don’t want to focus on terms and classification structure…it’s not about applying this classification…it’s just a tool for discussion.

  9. February 7, 2008 3:13 pm

    To me, that type of blog is indeed a science blog, because science includes the scientific life. If you consider blogging from the lab or the field part of science, so is blogging about tenure and funding and all the rest. And that insider perspective is the special thing that scientist bloggers bring to the rest of us.

    I think a blog that reposts stuff from Science Daily or Eurekalert without any more commentary than “look at this” isn’t a “science blog” worth mentioning. There’s no juice there.

    I think blogging only about peer-reviewed research is certainly science blogging, but it can be pretty dry. (Steve Drury’s Earth Pages is not dry, but then it’s not a true blog.)

  10. February 8, 2008 10:40 am

    I’m honestly not sure which role I’d fit just yet.

    I don’t know if I can rightfully call myself any sort of scientist right now, even if I’m taking classes and attending lectures and reading as much as I can find time to read (which isn’t much right now). At this particular point in time, I’m snorkling in the depths that are music comprehensive exams, prose thesis, and composition thesis, all of which feel like huge hurdles before I can hope to get down to more serious science – and I still haven’t received a letter saying either way about my admission to the geophysics program! I’m not sure whether I’m even on base in qualifying what I can call myself based on the degree on which I’m currently working, but that’s where my mind is sitting right now.

    So I’ve been trying to blog about science as I pick things up, but I have this feeling that anything I write at the time being is stuff that’s pretty elementary knowledge to the rest of the geoblogosphere. I again don’t know if that’s an on base thought to have, but it’s there.

    But despite any insecurities and uncertainties I have, I started blogging about it and intend to keep blogging about it because I enjoy doing so, and I enjoy reading what everyone else has to say. And, indeed, that gives me something to aspire to. I don’t know what category I’d be in right now, but I hope that in a few years, I can choose to blog-about-science or be-a-scientist-blogger on an entry to entry basis.

    (Gah, didn’t mean to write a whole essay in your comment box. Sorry!)

  11. February 8, 2008 3:13 pm

    Julian…firstly, you can post comments as long as you want here…go for it!

    Secondly, what I think is great about the blog medium is that those who are just getting into the field like yourself can start to interact with a community with such a broad range of experiences and training. We have faculty, students, professionals, and the general public all mingling and talking about stuff. I love it.

  12. February 8, 2008 10:18 pm

    I like those classifications – Type I and Type II. Reminds me of a statistics course.

    I especially enjoy when people blog about topics in their specialty in language that I can understand. Most GSA talks that I have attended – even in a topic that might be a specialty of mine – the content generally gets over my head by the second sentence. Maybe the blogger realizes that anyone could find their way into the blog and the GSA presenter is geared up to communicate at a higher level.

    One of my favorites is Lee Allison’s “Arizona Geology” at http://arizonageology.blogspot.com/

    There you have a State Geologist talking about the sides of geology that you don’t hear much about in academic or industry circles. Budgets, politics, bills in the legislature. These are the things that most geologists give very little thought to but that can have an enormous impact on our profession. I think that every state geologist should have a blog and that every geologist who does work in that state should read it.

  13. February 9, 2008 9:11 am

    Hobart says: “…the GSA presenter is geared up to communicate at a higher level.”

    Yeah, that’s right. Big conference talks are only 12 minutes or so…if you want to report new data, findings, interpretations you need to skip a lot of context and assume your talking to other experts. And you also end up using a lot of jargon for efficiency.

    For communicating to the general public, jargon usage should be very little or none at all…it can be tough if these words are “common” to you…I try and read and re-read my posts to make sure, but I still use terminology that people probably don’t know all the time.

    I like the Arizona Geology site as well…that’s a good one.

  14. August 3, 2008 12:37 pm

    Hmmm…I think I’m definitely a Type II. Many of my posts are about science, but somehow, I think half of them end up as rants or essays dealing with science and its relationship to religion or philosophy.

    I dig your blog by the way!

  15. April 16, 2009 1:05 pm

    I like the categories! My blog is definitely a Type II.
    I like classifying things… maybe that’s why I’m in research.

  16. March 29, 2010 3:13 am

    Type II all the way! Science miscellany and points yet unrelated are my specialty.

  17. February 24, 2011 5:04 am

    Categorizing science writing (being subjective) according to me is not a good idea. As in any form of writing, what is important is the content. A science journalist (TypeI) can write as good article as a hardcore researcher and vice verse is also true. So what matters is the content.

    Regards

Trackbacks

  1. goodSchist.com » Blog Archive » The GeoBlogosphere Review #1
  2. deciding on a research topic « dilettante

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