Why blog? Here are my reasons …

By Joern Fischer

There has been quite a bit of discussion recently about why academics blog. For example, the Guardian reported that blogging among academics was kind of like a “global common room” — a place where people could chat about interesting things, from science to the context of science and their working environment. Christopher Buddle, on his blog, reported that there were three reasons why blogging contributes to better research: (i) to improve writing skills; (ii) to expand one’s knowledge base; and (iii) to build and interact with one’s community.

Reading these reasons why other people blog, I thought I should reflect on my own reasons. So, here they are:

1. A friend told me I should blog! This is the pre-cursor to other, later reasons to blog. Jai Ranganathan — a US scientist and science communicator — told me I should start a blog. His rationale was that I write relatively fast, and it’s a good way to improve outreach. So that’s why I gave it a try. I always planned to run it for a few months to start with, and see what I think after that. I continue to blog, so the following reasons are why I still blog.

2. To put down random thoughts worth sharing. Overall, I guess I do science because I like to think about things, and I like to communicate those thoughts to the world because I hope that is somehow of use. But not every random neuron firing is necessarily appropriate for a scientific paper — but some of these neuron firings are still interesting (or I think so anyway…). A blog is a great way to share half-baked ideas. What’s nice is that there is pretty immediate feedback as to whether  a certain thought it worth pursuing or not — if people read the blog post, share it, and so on, it’s probably a random thought that speaks to people (and hence might be worth pursuing). If nobody reads your post, and nobody shares it, it’s probably a bit of a dead-end — at least the way it was communicated. So a blog is good for sharing ideas, but also for testing their relevance and potential impact.

3. To report about things to do with science, but rarely reported, such as field work. We’ve posted a few things here about fieldwork, mostly in Transylvania, and it’s usually the sort of stuff that would never go into a paper. Among other things, we can show images here, or even movies, and thus get across what our study area looks and feels like much more than we ever will in a paper.

4. To spread research results. Sometimes I blog about a recent paper we have published, or about other inspiring papers that I have read. Because the blog is read by quite a few people, this is an effective way of spreading findings one believes the world out to hear about (whether one’s own findings or other people’s).

5. More as a flow-on effect, blogging creates networks and valuable contacts. There are at least two colleagues I now regularly interact with who I came across at least partly by blogging. Real research collaborations have come out of this.

6. To actively reflect on “context” issues — be it the culture of academia or the deep drivers of global un-sustainability. Much of our science is about the cutting edge; but in addition to finding out “new stuff”, I believe it is important that we reflect on the things we know well, but that often slip the forefront of our minds. Often, those things are not new, but really important, and they deserve attention, often urgently. You can’t write about the importance of global equity in top journals anymore, because inequity is nothing new; you can’t easily say academic culture has become a stupid rat race in journals because they are part of that rat race. Blogs are nicely uncensored. As long as you’re willing to have your name associated with a certain statement, you can write anything you want — in real time, and without anybody telling you it’s not new or interesting enough.

I’m sure there are more reasons, but those are some of the key ones that seem most relevant to me. Comments and links to related posts elsewhere, as always, welcome!

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8 thoughts on “Why blog? Here are my reasons …

  1. Hi Joern – I’d agree with all of those reasons and perhaps add one: it gives my students a fuller view of what I do as an academic, that there’s more to my role than just teaching in the lecture room or lab or field.

  2. Thanks for this Joern. This has inspired me to write a bit about a half baked idea I have in the hope of getting a bit of feedback on it and maybe turning it into something else. I think it’s a really useful feature of blogging.

    Also from the readers perspective you get to see people’s ideas way before they get into print and encounter stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily read otherwise. Many of my better ideas seem to come the convergence of many slightly disparate sources, so I would argue that blogging also makes me a better scientist than I would have been otherwise.

    • thanks Philip, for your comment. And indeed, I think many of the more interesting conversations — because in real time, and with oftne constructive controversy — happens in blogs, not in papers! Papers are often quite “stiff” in their correspondence, and not very constructive (when they respond to one another).

  3. Great post! I particularly like point 2 – I’d never considered using my blog not just to test a new idea, but also to find out the best way to communicate it. If people disagree or don’t quite get your point, the comments give you an opportunity to figure out why, and how to better explain and justify your position. Better to work it out in the comments of a blog post than have papers rejected by frustrated reviewers!

    I also wrote a post on this from a student’s perspective – How media helped my PhD http://ksoanesresearch.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/how-social-media-helped-my-phd/

    • Thanks for the comment — especially for linking to your blog post on this, which has a lot of additional nice ideas (others: well worth a visit!)

  4. Pingback: A half thought out critique | Ecology for a Crowded Planet

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