The Scientific Activist (Archives)


Apr 15, 2006

Writing About Blogging About Science

Most of you reading this are probably already believers in science blogging, but not everyone out there is, including many in the scientific community. It would be in the best interest of the science and the scientists for that to change, though, according to a policy paper published in yesterday’s Science magazine. The report’s authors, Alison Ashlin and Richard Ladle (both coming from my academic home of Oxford University) offer an evenhanded analysis of the environmental science blogosphere, both recognizing its potential while criticizing the proliferation of inconsistent and inaccurate information.
Accurate representation of environmental science is vitally important for the current and continued support of public policy. Currently, there are roughly 400,000 weblogs featuring discussions on environmental and conservation-related issues, which makes it difficult to assess the general quality of scientific information on weblogs. To provide a snapshot of scientific representation in the blogosphere, we explored current predictions for global extinction rates as cited within 30 sites. There is still uncertainty, but the scientific consensus puts the maximum predicted rate between 74 and 150 species going extinct every day [27,000 to 55,000 per year]. Roughly 40% of the sites we examined indicated that extinctions are occurring at rates greater than 200 per day (73,000 per year). The daily extinction rates ranged from one to several thousand per day!

Although such data could lead one to disregard the blogosphere totally as inherently inaccurate, the authors present this as an example of why environmental scientists should become more involved in the area. The report describes what would basically be a top-down approach to improving the credibility of the blogosphere, with established scientists creating their own blogs and encouraging their students to do the same:
Environmental scientists should actively engage in blogging to increase the presence of informed opinions in the blogosphere. Research supervisors should encourage students to blog while providing training in science communication and dissemination. Senior scientists should set up their own high-profile weblogs to help allay fears that blogging is somewhat disreputable. Blogging should be part of a portfolio of public engagement activities, even to the extent of including blogging as part of a researcher's job specification.

Although I don’t know how likely things are to play out in this way exactly, it is clear that the involvement of more top scientists would be a good thing for the blogging community and the science in general. The article describes several roles blogs can play in environmental science, including discussion ideas and research findings, reviewing the science literature, reporting from conferences, and encouraging aspiring future scientists by reporting from the field.

Most significantly, blogging in the article is portrayed as an exciting and necessary addition to the future scientist’s collection of tools and responsibilities—a way of life, even—that will allow scientists to better engage the public and hopefully break down a few communication barriers.


  • hi i love your blog
    come visit my two blogs that usally have flash movies on em
    FYI my blog do not relate to math in any way and tell all your friends about my blogs!!!
    bye bye and have a nice day

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Apr 15, 08:00:00 PM  

  • I guess I can't be as silly as the above comment, but I will say that the scientist as blogger is a great idea, either in a field of expertise or as commentator on the scientific stories of the day. And there is also room for those who understand science to counter blogotific excesses with rational thought, like you're doing (and as I hope I'm also doing on my own blog).

    By Blogger Helen Stavrou, at Mon Apr 17, 05:36:00 AM  

  • As a lay person, yet apiring student of the physical and biological sciences, blogs such as this and other various forums have become part of my essential weekly reading. It helps to get an inside look at how the sciences are being thought about and portrayed by students, professionals, and others within or without the scientific community, "factual" info. aside.
    When I announced my decision to change my major from fine arts to either environmental geology or environmental geography, reasons being the simularities between the arts and sciences;
    Science striving to discover the fundamental truhts of the universe.
    Creative arts, philosophy, religion striving to discover the fundamental truths of ourselves within the universe.
    I got into a discussion with a friend about the definition of truth. In his opinion the sciences have become bloated with discoveries prematurely disguising themselves as truths or facts, only to be diproved or small incosistancies discovered opening up channels of criticism and discredit by policy makers and other non-scientific peoples of public sway (i.e. the Bush adminitration's stance on global warming). It seems to me fault of the media and lack of public relations and openness from the science institutions themselves. Blogs are a good step toward rectifying this, especially if there were more high profile professionals involved to shed light on the various "truths" and pseudo-sciences entangled on the web. Thank you for the inspiration.

    By Anonymous Jenellen, at Mon Apr 17, 07:07:00 AM  

  • Thanks for the kind words. As someone who doesn't really blog much about the details of the science--especially not from an expert's point of view--I can really appreciate those who do. Experts blogging in their fields perform a very important service, and I hope the suggestions of this Science article are borne out in reality.

    By Blogger Nick Anthis, at Mon Apr 17, 09:14:00 AM  

  • Hey Nick,

    could you please send me the Science article (PDF or text or whatever format) as I am in the process of writing a post in this very topic.

    By Blogger coturnix, at Mon Apr 17, 02:34:00 PM  

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