I spent the weekend down in North Carolina at ScienceOnline 2011. I had a blast. It reaffirmed, for me, what a great and supportive community science writers and bloggers are. Everyone always seems genuinely interested in and impressed by everyone else’s work.
But as we were sitting around and enjoying the love-fest, I couldn’t help but wondering whether we sometimes get trapped in an echo chamber. There was much discussion of whether online science writing presented new and “better” opportunities for dialogue than old media.
In some scenarios, it unquestionably does. As many mentioned, the new model works really well when it comes to covering things like the controversy over arsenic-based life-forms. As we saw, Twitter and blogs made it possible for us to have a wide-ranging, nuanced discussion about how science is done–and to do so at lightning speed. (The whole conversation took place over the course of just a week–think about how much longer it would have taken if the discussion had happened only in comments and responses submitted to peer-reviewed journals.)
In any case, I think that the web clearly provides us with great new opportunities. But I do have one concern, which I discussed with several people at the conference: How much are we really sparking a wider discussion about science in society and how much are we just talking to each other? I know that I’m thrilled when science bloggers that I respect notice my work, compliment it, and retweet it. And it’s exciting to watch science bloggers debate the finer points of science with one another.
But who are we really writing for? Is it just for each other? Are the debates we’re having really reaching a wider audience?
That’s not to say that our work is only valuable if it reaches the public at large. There are lots of roles that we, as science journalists and bloggers, can play beyond just being the wise, paternal “educators” of the public. And, personally, I love writing for a small, self-selected group of science nerds. I just worry about whether we are sometimes unrealistic about who’s really reading a given blog post.
Or maybe I’m totally wrong here. What do you all think? How much influence do you think we have on the public understanding of and enthusiasm for science? Should that even be our goal? How do you see your role as a science blogger? What audience do you write for? What audience do you hope to reach? Let me know in the comments.
Image: Flickr/Ryan Somma