Monday, 8 February 2010

what’s wrong with science blogging?

There was an interesting post by David Crotty entitled Science and Web 2.0: Talking About Science vs. Doing Science on The Scholarly Kitchen blog.
Even without new online technologies, scientists already spend a substantial portion of their time communicating. They share results with peers, plan future experiments with collaborators, give talks, write papers, teach, etc.
Frankly, I don’t see why any of these activities are incompatible with blogging. Quite the reverse: blogging can be a way to improve the communication. If you give a presentation, whether at a conference or in a classroom, why not to post it online? And is there any better way to share your results than to blog about them?
New social media endeavors ask scientists to devote even more time to communication, but it’s unclear where participants are supposed to find that time. Every second spent blogging, chatting on FriendFeed, or leaving comments on a PLoS paper is a second taken away from other activities. Those other activities have direct rewards towards advancement. It’s hard to justify dropping them for activities backed by vague promises that “you will be one of the early adopters and will be recognized and respected for this in the future.” That’s a tough gamble for most to take, and scientists are unlikely to risk current status for a leg up in the event that sweeping societal changes occur in how we fund, employ, and judge scientific achievement.
Thus, it is inherent conservatism of those who are “unlikely to risk current status” that prevents the scientific community from embracing new technology. If so, then that’s too bad for science. But really, should we worry?

The author discriminates between scientists and people who talk about science, for example... teachers. Excuse me. I heard there are many people in academia whose positions include a lot of teaching. On the one hand, “scientists are no different than other humans” (and most people don’t blog, ergo most scientists shouldn’t either). On the other hand, it is implied that they require the communication tools different from “mainstream” ones. I do recall that in 1980s there was a belief that scientific computing should be done on specialised workstations, not PCs or Macs. Now most of the scientific computing is done exactly on the same PCs and Macs.

The blogging in science may never become a mainstream activity. Or maybe it is the future of scientific communication. Consider this: people blog because they like blogging, not because they have nothing else to do. Also, people go to science because science is fun. While writing grant proposals and, in most cases, writing research papers is not fun. (That also explains why reading grant proposals and most research papers is not fun either.) The sooner scientists leave these not-fun activities behind, the better. Or so one can hope.

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