Science blogging is the new email

The just finished conference Science Blogging 2008: London was a wonderful chance for real-life socialising networking. I started to upload some fotos to Flickr (e.g. Scott Keir explaining sign language, see all fotos tagged sciblog here), some of them are too embarrassing and I will keep them for bribes reference later on.

The meeting was also a great opportunity to think about where we are today with scienceblogging. Having a conference is a good sign that the field is evolving1, and you can see several subdisciplines evolving:

  • conference blogging (also includes event blogging)
  • edublogging
  • metablogging (blogging about blogging, by far the largest discipline)
  • research blogging (blogging about scientific experiments, the smallest discipline)
  • investigational blogging (the keynote lecture by Ben Goldacre described this very well)
  • evolution blogging (a large subdiscipline)
  • news blogging (blogging about science news)
  • watercooler blogging (small pieces of interesting or funny thoughts/pictures)
  • summary blogging (summarizing other blog posts and linking to them)
  • diary blogging (blogging as a personal diary of self-expression)
  • hoax blogging (see this example by Jonathan Eisen)

There is no particular order to this list and there are certainly more disciplines and some of the names could be catchier. Most bloggers will blog in more than one category. But these categories can help to think about what you are doing in your own blogging. And it helps when you think about blogrolls or blogging networks such as Nature Network or scienceblogs.com. Could we for example see a conference blogging network in the future?

We ended the conference with a challenge to recruit more senior faculty for science blogging. Jonathan Eisen is a professor at U.C. Davis and might try an April Fools joke again next year, but faculty new to blogging will probably be more interested in conference blogging, edublogging and research blogging (the boundaries between the three can be blurry). I am all for this challenge, as it will move science blogging forward. And next week I will meet a department head that wants to start blogging. Maybe we can put up another challenge for the next science blogging conference: have a blogging Nobel Prize winner as keynote speaker.

I finally get to the title of this post. Henry Gee made some very thoughtful comments in the plenary session at the end. Blogging is much closer to the informal discussions you have in the hallway or via email than it is to peer-reviewed papers. We have to convince faculty members (and other people involved in science) that blogging is the new email. Just as email was either unknown or looked at in a funny way 20 years ago, blogging will become a tool of daily life for most scientists. We can wait until the current generation of children and young students is old enough to become faculty members themselves, or we can promote the use of science blogging to shorten this time.

fn1. Will we soon have a discussion about starting a journal?

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29 Responses to Science blogging is the new email

  1. Jeff Marlow says:

    Nice breakdown of science blogging categories, and I agree whole-heartedly about getting faculty members to start blogging. To start with, a push for each PI to keep a blog of current lab-related activities (minus sensitive results, of course) would be great – a way to attract press, post-docs, etc. and show their lab as a place of vibrant research.

  2. Heather Etchevers says:

    Thanks, Martin, this is a great post and now I won’t try to write a similar one! Like you, I also felt that we were seeing distinctions come through not only in personal style, but in the types of blog posts that commonly come out of this catch-all of “science blogging”.
    So much the better.

  3. Henry Gee says:

    Thanks Martin – and it was great to meet you.

  4. Maxine Clarke says:

    Journal of blogging research, you mean, Martin? Sign me up!

  5. Martin Fenner says:

    Maybe not a journal, but a journal article about the conference and about the challenge to have more scientists blogging would be nice. After all, a paper would be the best way to reach those addressed by the challenge.

  6. Heather Etchevers says:

    And here you said you were joking, Martin…

  7. Oliver Obst says:

    Martin, nice to met you. Unfortunately I somehow lost your trace at the pub …
    I will write something for the German library journal with the largest circulation – Bibliotheksdienst. Should be published in the october issue.

  8. Frank Norman says:

    Martin – I love the categorisation. I have felt unhappy with this catch-all term “scientific blogs” as it seems to cover a wide range of barely-connected species. Some of them really just use the blog format to something rather different from blogging (I put the Open Notebook Science stuff in this category).
    Another way of categorising is by the *intended audience* – other scientists, non-scientists with scientific background, opinion formers (politics and press), lay public, etc etc. Or to put it another way, Nature readers, New Scientist readers, Economist readers, Daily Mail readers.

  9. Neil Saunders says:

    I assume that by “science blogging is the new email”, the analogy is (a) that uptake of email was also slow at first, rather than (b) blogging taking over the role of email?

  10. Frank Norman says:

    Neil – that’s right. Someone pointed out that 15-20 years ago (most) senior people in science didn’t use email and if you were caught “wasting time” on such things you could be in trouble. Now email is ubiquitous.
    Blogging currently is not seen as mainstream, but perhaps in a few years it will be.
    I do worry a bit about what the world will be like when (if) every single research group leader and most postdocs have their own blog?

  11. Kristi Vogel says:

    Perhaps this topic is already included within the listed categories (obviously I wasn’t at the conference), but it seems to me that another variety of science blogging is that dealing with “culture wars”, or the divide between strictly rational and religious viewpoints. At least judging from the ScienceBlogs model, this would seem to be a large category, and one that receives the most comments and discussion. Some of it overlaps with evolution, watercooler, and/or diary blogging, but I think it many cases it’s a distinct category.

  12. Frank Norman says:

    Kristi -I agree. I think that the evolution topic is part of the broader area of “culture wars”. I’m not sure whether the anti-quackery blos fall into this, or into the “investigative” category.
    I’m not sure where all the blogs about Open Access, open data etc would fall?

  13. Martin Fenner says:

    Please feel free to add, remove or rename these categories. And the intended audience is indeed another important factor to differentiate science blogs. Right now I would guess that most blog posts are intended for other bloggers – just like this one. Nothing wrong with that, but it limits the audience considerably.

  14. Martin Fenner says:

    Blog posts about Open Access, etc. = political blogging?

  15. steffi suhr says:

    Hey Martin – of course it is… it’s reached funding politics, and will affect the publishing landscape (not necessarily to the benefit of the small publishers, I might add – and possibly with the potential to decrease diversity among publishers… something to think about).
    Concerning your list above, these kind of provide a framework/focus for the 2009 blogging conference, different sessions:
    * edublogging
    * research blogging (blogging about scientific experiments, the smallest discipline)
    * investigational blogging
    * news blogging (blogging about science news)
    The ‘target audience’ theme goes for all four (other researchers or laypersons?). Except for the last one (I think) all were touched on this time, but could VERY easily be expanded and focussed more. Can we lay out the 2009 conference program already? (All you organizers – I’m just kidding..)

  16. Raf Aerts says:

    Nice list and summary Martin. I think there could also be a category ‘social blogging’, where blog posts and comments are more like a conversation than a discussion.

  17. Martin Fenner says:

    I did a little experiment and tried to categorize my blog entries for 2008. I needed a new category called *web2.0*: blogging about new technologies for scientists. And I renamed the category *watercooler* to *fun*.
    !http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=p&chd=t:7,8,3,1,1,10,2,16,4,2,1&chs=400×200&chl=meta|conference|education|diary|news|politics|research|web2.0|investigation|hoax|fun!
    P.S. The pie chart was made with “Google Chart”:http://code.google.com/apis/chart/. Very nice Web 2.0 tool for on-the-fly charts.

  18. Martin Fenner says:

    Another science blogging category is *academic culture blog*. The FemaleScienceProfessor blogged about it this week (“Where’s the Science?”:http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2008/09/wheres-science.html), and were are all familiar with that category.

  19. Maxine Clarke says:

    Maybe, like careers advice blogging, the “academic culture” blog is part of edublogging? In a loose way, these blogs (exemplified by FSP) provide a very real account of what research life is actually like for those considering entering it (or support for others who are experiencing similar issues), compared with what one reads on institutional corporate websites or brochures.

  20. Jonathan Eisen says:

    OK – sure. Our goal with the April 1 on Brain Doping was as a hoax in a way. (Well, maybe science comedy would be a better term). But then it ended up that brain doping was real. So I think our activity should be called “predictive science blogging”

  21. Martin Fenner says:

    Jonathan, you are right. It was pretty scary to see how reality was taking over this science comedy. I am looking forward to next year’s April 1st.

  22. Martin Fenner says:

    Addendum: no need to wait for April 1st, Jonathan “posted his last science comedy blog post today”:http://phylogenomics.blogspot.com/2008/09/tracing-evolutionary-history-of-sarah.html.

  23. Maxine Clarke says:

    Phew, I am glad you didn’t link to that post he wrote about the Nature advertising survey. I was worried there for a minute.

  24. GrrlScientist says:

    i just wanted to let you know that i am working on two PIs from my grad dept to start their own blogs, although neither of them knows it yet. (heheheh). i am actually going to seattle at the end of the month to my alma mater to meet with them!
    not only that, but i was seredipitously contacted today by another PI who says he reads my blog who wants advice and assistance with starting a blog of his own. even though i did not give him the idea to start a blog, i am determined to be as helpful as humanly possible as he gets started!

  25. Maxine Clarke says:

    That’s great, Grrl! Well done to you. I am reduced to the divorce threat, and even that is not working as well as I’d hoped.

  26. Martin Fenner says:

    I thought that husbands and wives are excluded from the blogging challenge… My wife was probably one of the few non-blogging senior scientists attending the science blogging conference. Although this didn’t convince her (yet) to start blogging, she gave me some very helpful feedback.

  27. Richard P. Grant says:

    Speaking as one of the judges, I don’t think we excluded spousal units.
    Go for it!

  28. Maxine Clarke says:

    It can certainly be a bit of a strain when it comes to submitting mss to certain journals…

  29. Zhuo Li says:

    “blogging is the new email.”
    Good comment. But I prefer to consider it as a conbination of email and P2P software. I belong to the “current generation of young students”, I believe. My friends and I had found natureblog a fantastic place to look for ideas and sparkles.
    Blogging flaged the Web 2.0 wave. When there going to be the 3.0 I wander.