So, Blake wrote a post on What Science Blogs Can’t Do
Deedle dee dee-dee
Brian at Lealaps weighed in
If you know absolutely nothing about evolutionary biology, physics, ecology, or any other discipline you care to name you are not going to find the equivalent of a college course here on the science blogosphere. That doesn’t mean that it is not possible to gain some science education from the continuing efforts of so many writers, however.
Doddle da da-dum
Deedle dee dee-dee
Chad at Uncertain Principles responded
The mistake Blake is making is the flip side of the mistake in the most recent Ask a ScienceBlogger. The questioner in that case erred by thinking of blogs as a research tool, while Blake is erring in the opposite direction, by thinking of blogs as a teaching tool. In reality, they’re neither primarily about research, nor about teaching.
Doddle da da-dum
(End banjo/guitar parallel before the squealing starts)
I agreed with a lot of what Blake said. And I think that both Brian and Chad make some good points. And it’s a good thing I’m not running for office, lest someone call me a flip-flopper, but I think the real issue is everyone is arguing somewhat different points and there is not so much disagreement as all that.
It occurs to me I should also say that I’m not insisting that agreement be required here. Agreement is boring. Everybody is entitled to their opinion — and this is largely a discussion of opinion — and there’s a lot to be learned from looking at things from another perspective. So while I enjoy the saying “Opinions are like assholes: I don’t want to hear yours,” it’s not an actual maxim I apply.
Here’s more of what I would have written had I had more time the other evening, and what I have in response to the other posts. There are some closely-related but still distinct issues being addressed here: what roles do science bloggers play, what roles should they play, what role can they play and what roles do they want to play. And the answers will be different, depending on which question you are asking.
Last one first — the role you want to play. That’s part the issue of why you blog in the first place, and also speaks to the motivation, or lack thereof, to do elementary science posts. You’re probably not going to blog about things that are uninteresting to you, especially if you aren’t getting paid (or getting a token amount) to blog. Life’s too short and there’s more fun to be had doing other things.
What role do science bloggers play? Are we/they effecting change? Educating people? That’s some of what Blake was addressing. Are science bloggers not educating because they’ve failed at something they set out to do, or was it just not a goal in the first place? I’m thinking it’s the latter, for many of the reasons that have been discussed in these posts. Changing the world is a little different issue; if you’re ranting about some injustice or burning stupidity, it may just be for the therapeutic effect, but you’re probably hoping to make someone else aware and perhaps make a difference and change some minds. The problem with that approach is that the bulk of readers are likely already in agreement. You may catalyze some action, but I don’t know how many minds you’re going to change. People who fervently disagree with you aren’t reading in the first place, and the exceptions to that are the ones trolling your comments section. The best you can hope for is grabbing a few “undecideds,” and make them aware of whatever the cause du jour happens to be.
Of course, the role that we play doesn’t have to be because it’s what we set out to do. You can get people interested in science just because you’re some combination of enthusiastic, informative, entertaining, attractive or whatever and people like reading your posts, and there need not be a connection between your motivation and the end result.
Now it comes down to what roles can science bloggers play, and what roles should they play. The role they should play probably the least interesting question, because it’s up to the individual bloggers. Maybe you’re Charles Barkley, and and don’t see yourself as a role model. Maybe you see yourself as a shining beacon. I doesn’t matter. I don’t see that anyone has a responsibility to blog about anything in particular.
As far as what role can bloggers play — is education a role that can be embraced? I think it’s the wrong medium for that. Education — especially science education — is interactive. It’s not like reading a story in literature class, or your history book, where (at least at the introductory level) you’ve gotten most of the information you need from reading, assuming your reading skills are up to the task. That doesn’t mean that blogging isn’t or can’t be informative, but it’s extremely limited as far as getting bi-directional interaction in an efficient way. There’s also a question of the credibility of various blogs. What’s the value of a blog as a primary educational conduit if you can’t trust the information presented is accurate?
A lot of this has been hashed out in the comments of the various posts, so I don’t know that I’ve ended up adding anything to the discussion, but then, that doesn’t matter, does it?