The authors and bloggers of a recent review paper on scientific blogging talked to Royal Society Open Science about their findings, submitting to the journal, and what blogs can do for the scientific community.
Scientists blog for many reasons – some personal, others purely professional. For most bloggers, it’s a mix of the two. But despite all of the scientific blogging going on there’s little in the scientific literature about the benefits of blogging for the scientist and for science. As a step towards remedying this, we have just published a paper entitled “Bringing ecology blogging into the scientific fold: measuring reach and impact of science community blogs” in Royal Society Open Science.
We are active ecology bloggers, and we share both an interest in blogging and in a belief that blogging is a legitimate medium for communication of ideas, data and professional advice in science. That is, blogging has a role to play for the science community rather than (just) for science communication to the general public.
Part of what we were trying to do with this paper is to break through some walls. A lot of scientists don’t read blogs. No surprise there – some of us are latecomers to the blogging world and hadn’t read many blogs before starting to write one. We think this is a lost opportunity for many scientists. It’s a difficult challenge to overcome at a community level because, almost by definition, non-blog-readers don’t get a chance to see what they’re missing.
But what are they missing? In our paper, we argue that blogs carry clear benefits to the blogger, which include building communities as well as practicing writing. We also argue that they offer clear benefits to the blog-reading community. Blogs can be a source of advice and mentorship (or better, a complement to real-life mentors), and they can foster discussions of how to make science better, fairer, more diverse and equitable, and more constructive. They can even, we suggest, be a route for rapid dissemination of data – perhaps preprint servers are best understood as simply very busy blogs?
By publishing about blogs in a journal, we’re trying to cut across channels of communication with the hope of encouraging more scientists to engage with blogs. Because blogs are an open medium, we wanted to publish in a high-quality open access journal.
Royal Society Open Science was the perfect choice, considering the Society’s strong historical commitment to science communication and community networks.
Scientists like data, and so in the paper we provide a quantitative assessment of the reach and potential impact of our blogging activities. Bloggers often keep readership statistics close to their chests, but by assembling our data and putting them into context, we demonstrate how blogs are part of the mainstream. We are well aware that readership is different from impact, but this was our first step toward documenting the impact of blogs within our academic community.
We also analysed data from each blog’s all-time top 10 posts for insight into what might determine the reach or impact of individual posts. One lesson to pay attention to is that on-site engagements, like views and comments, only tell half the story. A big part of a post’s reach is how often, and on what media, it is shared by readers. This suggests that individual posts can have far greater reach beyond the blog’s immediate network of followers, or in other words, blogs regularly reach outside their own walls.
Working on this paper was very rewarding for us, and a vindication that becoming bloggers was a good decision. It was also a huge buzz to work with such a dynamic group of bloggers. We think Steve sums it up for all of us in this tweet.
Each of the authors wrote a post to promote the paper on their own blog: