Science blogs: still kinda there, I guess

I have bemoaned the lack of a neuroscience blogosphere before. Neuroscience blogs exist as independent fiefdoms, rarely responding to one another. And if we were to cut out the cognitive and psychological sides of neuroscience, the field of blogs would be more like a field of half-grown trees cut down and abandoned, with only a rare leaf or two peaking out of the desiccation.

So in the interests of navel-gazing, it is interesting to think about a post from DynamicEcology (Blogs are dying; long live science blogs):

The classic blog is “the unedited voice of an author”, who thinks out loud over an extended period of time and carries on an open-ended conversation with readers who like that author enough to read a significant fraction of his or her posts. That turns out to be a poor way to make money compared to the alternatives, which is a big reason blogs as a whole are dying. Another reason blogs as a whole are dying is that some of things they used to be for are better done via other means (e.g., Twitter for sharing links, various apps for sharing photos and videos). A third reason is that not that many people actually want to blog…

Fortunately, most of the reasons why blogs as a whole are dying don’t apply to science blogs written by academics. Academic scientists have day jobs that often pay pretty well, and tenured ones have as much job security as anyone ever does. Academics don’t need to make money from blogs, they can do it for real but intangible rewards…

So how come there’s no ecology blogosphere? And how come many ecology blogs either have died or post much less often than they used to (e.g., Just Simple Enough*, Jabberwocky Ecology)? And how come new ecology blogs are so scarce, and mostly peter out after only a few posts without ever building much of an audience? Not that you’d expect most ecologists to blog, but so few puzzles me a little. And it’s not just a puzzle for ecology, since there’s no blogosphere worthy of the name for any scholarly field except economics

But Paige Brown Jarreau actually studies this and is writing a dissertation on this. Here is what she has to say:

Many science bloggers I interviewed and surveyed talked about their blogs today as a place for extended thoughts from Twitter and other “faster” social media streams. According to my dissertation data, academics and science writers alike continue to use their blogs…

– as a home for their writing

– as a portfolio

– as a place to be able to write without strict editorial oversight

– as a place to stick extras that don’t fit elsewhere, either in the academic publishing world or in the larger science content ecosystem

– as a place for opinion, interpretation, analysis and curation

– as a place to cover in depth the stories and scientific papers not being covered by the media (what I call Ecosystem Blogging, or covering what’s missing from the existing content ecosystem)

– as a place to add context missing from news and social media

And here is her fantastic network diagram of how blogs are linked (I have a small little dot in between the neuroscience blogs and the ecology blogs, ironically):

BlogsRead_ModularityClass3_InDegreeSize (1)

I only started blogging something like a year or two ago so I certainly couldn’t tell you if blogs are dying or growing or changing or what. Things seem pretty much the same to me. There are a lot of blogs about science and science culture; there are a lot of blogs explaining science to a lay audience; there are a few blogs that discusses the science at a professional level. But I know that there is demand for it; every conference I go to, I meet people who read my blog.

But we can’t pretend that the community isn’t fragmenting in strange ways. Last week, I posted one of my intermittent Monday Open Questions. It got 0 comments on my blog. However! It go comments on Google+ and tons on Twitter. There was a lot of discussion – it just routed around my blog. Blogs aren’t hubs for discussion and interaction they are the start of the conversation.

I always find it a bit of a shame because it is hard to make everything accessible to a large audience. I know there are people who read this blog through my RSS feed, and who read it through G+, and who read it through Twitter, and who just come to it every so often. And they are going to have very different experiences with it.

(As an addendum: it would be quite nice if there was a way to automatically grab responses to specific blog posts on twitter/G+ and embed them in the comments section.)

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Science blogs: still kinda there, I guess

  1. Blogs aren’t hubs for discussion and interaction they are the start of the conversation.

    I think this is a problem. If we want to build a blogging ecosystem, we have to respond to each others blogposts with blog posts. A simple tweet is often not much of a response. I have really fallen behind on this. I used to make a point of checking my RSS reader regularly and engaging in the comments sections of other blogs, and sometimes responding on my own blog to others. However, recently I haven’t had the chance to do so, partially because of time constraints and partially because it has started to feel progressively more pointless.

    On TheEGG, for instance, I have gotten a lot of great feedback in person, at conferences, in the comments, and in the discussions on Reddit. However, I have gotten close to zero substantial interaction from other blogs. This might be because my writing is crummy (but then the feedback in the other venues is depressingly puzzling) or because I don’t really belong to a coherent and large enough community (what is my blog even about?). However, based on this, I have felt myself become more fief-like in my own posting; I engage less and less with other blogs, instead inviting guest bloggers to TheEGG and creating a closed system. Of course, this means that other bloggers engage less with me (when is the last time you and I chatted about something over a G+ or comment thread?) and the negative feedback loop continues.

    The only way to reverse this, is for the bigger blogs to actively nurture the community by taking the time to write blog posts engaging with other blogs. Not just pointing (“go check out Lenski’s new blog”) but making in-depth comments on others posts as posts on your own blog. This is obviously more important for centrally located blogs (looks at Dynamic Ecology), but I think even tiny blue dots on that infographic like TheEGG can promote this by engaging more with others. I will try to make a conscious effort of this in the future.

    Also, I am a bit confused by that infographic. Why is the math and CS community so non-prominent? From my experience, it has a pretty active blogging culture (much more than I’ve seen in ecology, for example) and yet extremely prominent blogs like mathbabe, Godel’s Lost Letter, Terry Tao’s blog, or Shtetl-Optimized show up us tiny dots barely bigger than TheEGG. There is no way that is right, a comment made by Aaronson on his blog (not even a post) recently even generated mainstream media coverage….

    I’ll look into it more when I have time.

    • Oh wait, I figured it out. This is how the data for that visualization was made.

      In a survey (MySciBlog survey 2014, by Paige Brown Jarreau, Louisiana State University) of over 600 science bloggers, participants were asked to list up to the top three science blogs, other than their own, that they read on a regular basis. … Nodes and node labels are sized according to in-degree (how many times the blog was listed by other bloggers as regularly read)

      The only reason I show up in the results is because I filled in that survey. Nobody actually reads my blog according to that data, I see. So the reason that CS blogs are not prominent is just a matter of the survey not having penetrated into the math and CS blogging community. That isn’t particularly informative then.

      I think it might be more useful to look at how much blogs link to each other. I wonder if I can interest some programmers in this… sounds like a future blog post.

      • Yeah, so long as you can define blogs to be wordpress/tumblr subdomains or specific identities (eg national geographic), it shouldn’t be too hard to scrape interblog links. That is a good idea, let me know if it works…!

    • >On TheEGG, for instance, I have gotten a lot of great feedback in person, at conferences, in the comments, and in the discussions on Reddit. However, I have gotten close to zero substantial interaction from other blogs. This might be because my writing is crummy (but then the feedback in the other venues is depressingly puzzling) or because I don’t really belong to a coherent and large enough community (what is my blog even about?). However, based on this, I have felt myself become more fief-like in my own posting; I engage less and less with other blogs, instead inviting guest bloggers to TheEGG and creating a closed system. Of course, this means that other bloggers engage less with me (when is the last time you and I chatted about something over a G+ or comment thread?) and the negative feedback loop continues.

      I’ve kind of abandoned G+, I was finding it too visually noisy and the interface is too CPU intensive for my sad little computer!

      But I think you’re spot on about actively making an effort about responding on other blogs… and not only that, but writing responses on YOUR OWN blog. Make it a multi-site conversation, not just somewhere you stop by for a visit.

      Someone on Twitter pointed out that they have a hard time commenting on blogs because they go write a comment – and then forget to come back to see the replies. I know people continually try make integrated commenting platforms, but I do wonder if there is a better way to link, say, Twitter/G+ comment threads into the static comments page. I have no hope for facebook, though.

  2. I was going to reply to your comment on Neuroskeptic’s post, “towards a non-biological neuroscience” (which I thought was a bizarre proposition). But alas, four days have past and no one cares any more. That’s one of the problems with commenting on blogs. If you can’t reply within 24-48 hrs, you’re too late and no one will care.

    Anyway, I agree with your point over there that “neuroscience” does not refer to one coherent discipline. And this limits how much we’re able to converse. Neuroskeptic seems to be referring to “cognitive science” anyway, not neuroscience.

    Paige did a wonderful job with her survey and infographics of the blogosphere, but how skewed are the results if many bloggers (like me) did not participate?

    • I think I need to link comments here into twitter/g+ somehow. Another option is being better at posting old things on Twitter to occasionally stir up interest in the topic. That way it wouldn’t be too much of a waste to comment late? But man, am I bad at replying on threads too.

      I like Artem’s idea for scraping blogs directly, though I expect things to be generally more sparse (except for blogs that do end-of-week linkfests, which will have way more outbound edges). I don’t have any idea how to get a better idea of who-reads-who except maybe scraping from Twitter/G+ as well?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s