Why do we blog and other important questions, answered by 34 science bloggers

What started out as a few questions to science bloggers in the Nature Network Bloggers Forum, has turned into a collection of more than 30 blog posts not limited to Nature Network (big thanks to Bora and others for spreading the word). The following science bloggers answered a set of 10 questions about their blogging (roughly in chronological order):

Henry Gee
Eva Amsen
Steffi Suhr
Stephen Curry
Maxine Clarke
Martin Fenner
Bora Zivkovic
Clare Dudman
T. Ryan Gregory
Massimo Pinto (and another post in Italian)
Mike Haubrich
Larry Moran
John Wilkins
Kristi Vogel
Paolo Nuin
Heather Etchevers
Lee Turnpenny
Ricardo Vidal
Bob O'Hara
Deepak Singh
Frank Norman
Jim Hardy
Andrew Perry
Pedro Beltrao
Shirley Wu
Angelos Markos
Thomas Soderqvist
Sandy Gautam
Duncan Hull
John Dupuis
Mike Fowler
Erika Cule
Viktor Poór
Richard Grant
Ed Yong
Sally Church

Please contact me if I missed a blog post.

Reading these blog posts is not only interesting and entertaining, but probably also a very good introduction to the current state of science blogging. Below is a personal summary of some of the answers. Oh, the best title was probably from Frank Norman: La meme chose.

1. What is your blog about?
Most bloggers seem to write about many different science-related topics. And only a minority about the actual science they are doing. Some bloggers gave more specific answers:

  • My blog is about science, in particular evolution and genomes. (T. Ryan Gregory)
  • It’s a sort of a window of transparency over a weird scientific environment, the Italian science jobs and funding market. (Massimo Pinto)
  • Basically the philosophical implications of science. (John Wilkins)
  • Anything releted to Biotechnology in Frederick County, MD. (Jim Hardy)
  • The general theme is how we can bring the worlds of information technology and the life sciences together. (Deepak Singh)
  • I am trying to put the people behind the science into the spotlight: the technicians, operational support, science management and others. (Steffi Suhr)
  • We write about making sense of medicine and medical science in museums. (Thomas Soderqvist)
  • Ostensibly about theoretical population biology. (Mike Fowler)
  • I am interested in how the internet is changing the way we publish and communicate science. (me)

2. What will you never write about?
Several people mentioned that they would not give out personal information about other people, or comment directly on what's going on in their institution/company. Most people also avoid to talk religious beliefs or politics. Confidential information, including unreleased papers, was mentioned several times. The release of calcium from intracellular stores is another topic that several people would never blog about. Also:

  • Only write about things I actually understand. (Ed Yong)
  • I will never ask anyone to give me money via this blog. (Maxine Clarke)
  • I hope that I will not have to write blog posts that are evaluated, measured and put on a resumé. (me)

3. Have you ever considered leaving science?
Several people said something similar to Bora Zivkovic: Leaving research – yes, I already did that. Leaving science – never.

4. What would you do instead?
Some interesting answers. And a science background would be helpful in most of the jobs:

5. What do you think will science blogging be like in 5 years?
This was a difficult question that some didn't answer. Larry Moran said: pretty much the same as it is now. T. Ryan Gregory thinks that more professional researchers will join the blogosphere as this becomes socially acceptable. Andrew Perry thinks that research groups will be tied together more and more by their blogs. Eva Amsen thinks that there will be so many science blogs that we have to specialize. And I wrote that some science bloggers will be able to make enough money to earn a living from it.

6. What is the most extraordinary thing that happened to you because of blogging?
Thomas Soderqvist said that there is no the most extraordinary thing. But I hadn’t expected to get so many interesting contacts with colleagues around the world. Many people (including myself) had similar answers. Going to SciFoo is certainly an extraordinary thing an SciFoo invitation was mentioned by Pedro Beltrao, Jim Hardy, Duncan Hull and Deepak Singh. Some other answers:

  • The Editor-in-Chief of Nature once told David Attenborough that he should read my blog. (Ed Yong)
  • Getting a job with PLoS in the comments of one of my posts. (Bora Zivkovic)
  • Co-founded a network of science bloggers (The DNA Network) and been invited (and accepted!) to work at MIT. (Ricardo Vidal)
  • Getting interviewed by Jon Udell. (Deepak Singh)
  • I loaned a power cable to a Nature editor. (Bob O'Hara)

7. Did you write a blog post or comment you later regretted?
For most people that was not a big issue. Ed Yong regrets to have written nice things about studies that later turned out to be rubbish not so good.

8. When did you first learn about science blogging?
Many different answers. Nodalpoint was mentioned by several bloggers, including Duncan Hull, Paolo Nuin and Pedro Beltrao. T. Ryan Gregory was introduced to science blogging by his graduate student. The most hilarious answer is from Henry Gee and involves a garage, an old washing-machine motor and heavier-than-air flight.

9. What do your colleagues at work say about your blogging?
The standard answer seems to be that most of them don't know or don't care. I would hope that in the future we will have more answers like the one from Bora Zivkovic: That's what they are paying me for and I hope they are happy.

10. How the heck do you have time to blog and do research at the same time?
Most people blog in their spare time. I hope to see more daytime bloggers that blog as part of their science job in 5 years (this relates to questions #5, #8 and #9).

11. Extra credit: are you able to write an entry to your blog that takes the form of a poem about your research?

Not all bloggers answered that question, but you can find poetry by Heather Etchevers (who suggested that question), Stephen Curry (who inspired it), Henry Gee, Eva Amsen, Bora Zivkovic, Maxine Clarke (a play), Massimo Pinto (science fiction), Shirley Wu (karaoke), Mike Fowler, Erika Cule, Kristi Vogel, Bob O'Hara (art), Viktor Poór (a dance) and myself. Paolo Nuin needs a few more encouraging comments before he will write a poem.

Update: Andrew Perry has created two great wordle images for question #1 and question #2.

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12 Responses to Why do we blog and other important questions, answered by 34 science bloggers

  1. Martin Fenner says:

    Thanks, I added the “blog post by GrrlScientist”:http://scienceblogs.com/grrlscientist/2008/11/navelgazing_courtesy_of_nature.php to the list.

  2. Massimo Pinto says:

    Nicely done, Martin!
    What a response you had.

  3. Mike Fowler says:

    Great summary, to what turned out to be a great, stimulating, fun idea! Cheers, Martin

  4. Mike Fowler says:

    But the wordle links ain’t linking. Any chance of a fix?

  5. Marizela Moya says:

    I’m with Bora on #4. Absolutely.

  6. Martin Fenner says:

    I fixed the broken wordle links. And added the blog post by Erika Cule.

  7. Bob O'Hara says:

    Thanks, Martin. I’m amused by some of the common entries on the “what I would never blog about” Wordle: stuff, things, anything, people, science.

  8. Maxine Clarke says:

    Great post, Martin, and lovely summary. Thanks so much. Well done to you for initiating such a stimulating collection of ideas, thoughts and writing.

  9. James Hardy says:

    Hmm, I didn’t even know I created those Wordle images, but I guess I’ll take credit. Thanks for the write up Martin!

  10. Martin Fenner says:

    James, I guess I got confused by all these blog posts and links. It was of course Andrew Parry who created the Wordle images. I fixed that and also added your answer to question #4 (which looks like a good plan).

  11. Martin Fenner says:

    Maxine, thank for the nice words. I think a meme like this would also work in preparation for a science blogging conference. Some other possible questions could be:
    * What is the intended audience for your blog?
    * What part of writing a blog post do you like the most/least?
    * How do you find topics for your blog posts?
    * Do you write about your own work?