Writing About Blogging About Science
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.