Science blogs: ur doin it wrong.

| 65 Comments

An open access paper just out looks at science blogging. According to the abstract, the paper

… focuses on one of the ICTs [Information and Communication Technologies] that have already been adopted in science communication, on science blogging. The findings from the analysis of eleven blogs are presented in an attempt to understand current practices of science blogging and to provide insight into the role of blogging in the promotion of more interactive forms of science communication.

Bora has a critical look at it, as does Cosmic Variance. Panda’s Thumb is one of the 11 blogs examined in the paper.

One of the main conclusions of the (pretty chancy) analysis is that

To become a tool for non-scientist participation, science blogs need to stabilize as a genre or as a set of subgenres where smaller conversations may facilitate more meaningful participation from members of the public. Science bloggers need to become more aware of their audience, welcome non-scientists, and focus on explanatory, interpretative, and critical modes of communication rather than on reporting and opinionating.

The author goes on to suggest that

An interesting practical experiment would also be to reverse the roles of writers and readers and invite the so called “ordinary persons” to create and publish science blogs, i.e., to engage them in the practices of science blog writing rather than reading or commenting.

Hm? Why would that be interesting? And, for that matter, “ordinary persons” have the same access to blogging software as do scientists; nothing (except disinclination or disinterest) is stopping “ordinary persons” from blogging about anything they wish.

The author clearly has a particular model in mind as a referent, implicit in the title of the paper: “Science blogs and public engagement with science: practices, challenges, and opportunities.” That’s tantamount to “blogs as an extension of science education.” But while many of us are interested in science education, that’s an institutional goal while blogs are, by and large, personal vehicles. It seems to me that institutionalization is not a state to be desired. (After writing this paragraph, I found that Scholarly Kitchen made much the same point.)

(I invite my PT colleagues to comment. This post is based on a fast read-through with contractors waiting to abduct me to force a decision on the color of house siding.)

65 Comments

As a non-scientist who frequently blogs on Evolution and the political debate concerning pseudo-science I am not sure I can do the job as well as scientists do it – when it comes to blogging. I frequently link to Science Blogs posts because the level of detail is sometimes beyond me – as I would expect when things start getting into the weeds.

So why do I blog? The debate is not truly about the validity of science but about the political and public relations aspects of the various pseudosciences. Since I am a parent, and grandparent, and had my kids educated in public school, I am one of those constantly targeted by groups like the Discovery Institute. They know they are not going to convince actual scientists of their position – so they aim at school boards, church members, and parents to make their case. If there was validity to their scientific claims then why is their apparent chief spokesman (by volume) a lawyer (little casey luskin) or their supposed scientist actually a philosopher (Stephen Meyer). Even one of the few scientists involved, Michael Behe, has yet to publish any actual scientific work supporting ID. The less said about Philip Johnson and William Dembski the better. I figure if they target me, then I have the right to respond.

But do not ever expect me to reach the levels of the posters on various science blogs. I hold a Master’s Degree in IS, not Biology. Now if you need a new computer program to help with some aspect of biology research, give me a call – but past high school frog dissection, I am pretty well gone :-)

BYW, what are you using for your spellchecker? I need to incorporate one into a web app and like the simple interface yours has.

Thanks, Ted

[Enable javascript to see this email address.] http://sciencestandards.blogspot.com

Ted Herrlich said:

BYW, what are you using for your spellchecker? I need to incorporate one into a web app and like the simple interface yours has.

Thanks, Ted [Enable javascript to see this email address.] http://sciencestandards.blogspot.com

Thanks for your comment, and for the link to your blog. Reed or Wesley will have to address your question about the commenting spellchecker. They do the nuts and bolts.

Dammit! I just missed being site visit # 10,000,000 by about a minute (I got 10,000,024)

Is there a consolation prize?

I can’t say that I’m enormously impressed by an article where the first page is full of multisyllabic jargon, and proceeds to commit an utterly basic grammatical error at the top of page 2!

The author has clearly failed to survey a sufficiently large set of blogs and so has not realised that there is a wide range of blogs with differing aims and intentions. She (?) has obviously not stop to consider the point that the various bloggers are using a particular available “technology” and that in a few years time, the various blogs studied might well progress in different directions.

I note that the author is a graduate student in “library and information sciences” and so from some peoples’ point of view isn’t a “proper” scientist. The article is certainly weak on “hard” statistical analysis; it is very anecdotal.

An interesting practical experiment would also be to reverse the roles of writers and readers

What a terrible suggestion. I cannot imagine how the quality of this site would be improved by allowing FL or IBIG to post header articles and having (folks like) RBH comment on them. Do the article writers also suggest that the GOP “improve” their web site by allowing liberal commentators to post articles on it, or vice versa?

Its also a completely unnecessary suggestion. Posters like FL and IBIG can, and often do, come here and post links to their sites, which we are then free to visit and post on. Thus the “role reversal” they suggest already occurs, just through links rather than as ‘front page’ articles.

Then again, I’m just opinionating which the article tells me is a no-no. Here’s an opinion you guys: get a proofreader. Its opining. Opinionating is not a word.

It just sounds like standard issue concern trolling to me, so much so that I have to ask if there is a hidden science denial agenda at work.

It’s interesting. I’m reading a good book about persuasion. But it’s critical to understand that persuasion techniques don’t work with people who have set up rigid defenses against a definitive conclusion, and who have invested their self-image into not being persuaded by you.

When you are dealing with someone whose intense emotional bias against you is such that they are constantly looking for an excuse to discredit you, it will never matter how obsequious you are.

Committed science deniers will always, always, always find an excuse to discredit rational critique of their position. No-one can walk on eggshells carefully enough to satisfy their demands for “civility”; those particular eggshells are rigged. “There is less than total disagreement between scientists on some issues, scientists present their data in a way designed to be persuasive and convenient instead of just publishing unedited raw data, someone who supports science said something mean to me, someone just published a new book that rehashes old rebutted arguments but you haven’t rebutted that exact book yet”, etc, etc, etc. Any of these lame excuses, and worse, will be used.

In fact, obsequiousness to creationists and their ilk will backfire. It will make third parties perceive creationism as “one equal side that is taken seriously in a debate”. And that is, of course, the very goal of the concern trolls.

Please note that I am strongly in favor of ACTUAL civility and persuasiveness. Efforts by concern trolls to trick critics into standing up for themselves so weakly that science deniers gain stature in the eyes of neutral observers should not be mistaken for sincere advocacy of civility or education.

What a terrible suggestion. I cannot imagine how the quality of this site would be improved by allowing FL or IBIG to post header articles and having (folks like) RBH comment on them.

Let’s try that next month…on the first, of course.

The whole thing looks like a paper by a social sciences/humanities graduate with little understanding of hard sciences. I say this as an archaeologist (as post-modern in its trends as any social science is likely to get) but at least one who has an educational background in hard sciences and who can recognise bullshit when it hits him in the face…

Does this mean FL will become a contributer?

Somebody get Keith a baby wipe.

There’s room for all types of science blogs. My first one was pretty tehnical and apparently of no interest to anyone but I’ve gotten a lot of interest in my current one which is aimed to fit in the the gardening blog/diy/Michael pollan set (but from someone who acually understands it). I think the approach I’m trying also is working bc I keep the posts really short and simple and only go into more detail when asked to.

Ted Herrlich said:

BYW, what are you using for your spellchecker? I need to incorporate one into a web app and like the simple interface yours has.

Thanks, Ted

http://orangoo.com/labs/GoogieSpell/

The whole thing looks like a paper by a social sciences/humanities graduate with little understanding of hard sciences.

Are we sure Matt Nisbet wasn’t a co-author of that paper?

Another populist doofus who thinks all opinions are equally valid. “Ordinary persons” DO create and publish purportedly “science” blogs - Uncommon Descent, for example.

I can just see “Fundamentalist Liar” (FL) or Robert Byers or some of our other poisonous friends from the past turned loose at the helm of PT. Karen’s right - the first day of next month would be appropriate.

I strongly second your most astute suggestion:

Karen S. said:

What a terrible suggestion. I cannot imagine how the quality of this site would be improved by allowing FL or IBIG to post header articles and having (folks like) RBH comment on them.

Let’s try that next month…on the first, of course.

i quickly glanced through this and have to wonder whether the author really constructed a meaningful statistical comparison:

Ichthyic said:

The whole thing looks like a paper by a social sciences/humanities graduate with little understanding of hard sciences.

Are we sure Matt Nisbet wasn’t a co-author of that paper?

I’m an “ordinary person” who comes to Panda’s Thumb (and Scienceblogs) to read discussions about science in the news. I can’t imagine why I would want to read something about a scientific topic by someone who doesn’t know anything about science. (Frankly, there is often plenty of that in the comments section of some posts.)

Paul Burnett said:

“Ordinary persons” DO create and publish purportedly “science” blogs - Uncommon Descent, for example.

I should have seen that one coming, but it still nearly ruined my monitor when I read it. Thankfully this keyboard is spill-proof.

This is one of your crowd you know. Its like the writer is saying just include the viewer more and education will happen better. Science is not for everyone. Its up to the person to come up to the level of human knowledge from over the centuries and not have the knowledge dumbed down for easy understanding. Creationism has had a influence on many to get involved in the areas of human knowledge who otherwise would not of got involved. Science is a unique endeavor and always its from different motivations from the ordinary that push people in. Its seen as a smart thing. So either smart people get involved or people who aspire to smartness get involved. Demographics in historic science are not a cross section of mankind or nations.

The reader should have to keep up and not the writer slow down.

Does anyone see the mind-numbing irony of Robert’s comments?

Robert, science is not for those who cannot learn and understand. You cannot learn and understand. Science is not for you.

Robert Byers said:

This is one of your crowd you know. Its like the writer is saying just include the viewer more and education will happen better. Science is not for everyone. Its up to the person to come up to the level of human knowledge from over the centuries and not have the knowledge dumbed down for easy understanding. Creationism has had a influence on many to get involved in the areas of human knowledge who otherwise would not of got involved. Science is a unique endeavor and always its from different motivations from the ordinary that push people in. Its seen as a smart thing. So either smart people get involved or people who aspire to smartness get involved. Demographics in historic science are not a cross section of mankind or nations.

The reader should have to keep up and not the writer slow down.

One response to Byers per thread is enough, folks. Thanks!

To play devil’s advocate a bit, I actually do think there would be some value in a Daily Kos style science site with reader diaries/blogs. I certainly don’t think all or even many science blogs should be like this, but it would serve a useful news/research aggregation function and could even in principle help with science activism. Quite what this would have to do with science education, however, I have no idea.

Let me state straight away - I am not a scientist, however I know that any comments I make here will be welcomed as long as they contribute in a positive fashion, and like a previous poster, I come here to learn from people with a proven track record of study, I know I would probably bypass anything relating to genetic drift, or population dynamics, or many other things if the writer was me, so I don’t see that as a positive teaching or learning mechanism. On the other hand, a simplification or step by step lead through (especially on some of the probability related posts) would be helpful.

I’m an “ordinary person” who comes to Panda’s Thumb (and Scienceblogs) to read discussions about science in the news. I can’t imagine why I would want to read something about a scientific topic by someone who doesn’t know anything about science.

But if someone did want to do that, they could go to Uncommon Descent.

It seems to me that this is really more about marketing and PR. It is true that some scientists write in a way that is not accessible to the layman,and others are writing directly to their target audiences (atheists, cosmologists). But there exists writing talent within the scientific community to explain things elegantly and concisely as well.

The main problems, from a perspective of marketing, are twofold–some people are never going to buy your product. They are rigid ideologues, brought up on a notion that ideas outside their core beliefs are positively toxic. An analogous person might be someone who lives inside North Korea and who buys the fantasies of the North Korean propaganda state completely and without a whit of doubt. Personally, I would not expend one iota of energy attempting to cater to this demographic, since this market is already saturated with politico-religionist wharrgarbl.

Next, you are competing with a powerful corporate media which sells hysteria packaged in various forms, and which finds anti-intellectual rhetoric profitable. This anti-intellectual force is less rounded and complete, but its target market (having bought the idea that critical thinking is somehow seditious) doesn’t really notice that the component parts of this populist discourse do not all add up to the same thing.

I think that science could peel off a few scraps of this demographic, although I frankly think you’d be better off hiring a PR firm to do it for you.

Finally, the market (IMO) that’s going to give the best return on your efforts could be called Reasonable People and People who Can’t Be Bothered by Insane Political Drivel. I think the more elegant and concise style of scientific discourse is easily understood by these people, and that they would consume it if it were to cross their field of vision.

Ginger Yellow said:

To play devil’s advocate a bit, I actually do think there would be some value in a Daily Kos style science site with reader diaries/blogs. I certainly don’t think all or even many science blogs should be like this, but it would serve a useful news/research aggregation function and could even in principle help with science activism. Quite what this would have to do with science education, however, I have no idea.

You know what might be fun would be to sell solid science as a right-leaning, freedom-affirming, populist, libertarian discourse.

RBH said:

One response to Byers per thread is enough, folks. Thanks!

Less “caveat emptor” than “cave emptor” :)

Do you think that Mr Byers’ “contributions” are what the author of the JCOM article meant by “non-scientist participation”? The bit about “welcoming non-scientists” and “focus[sing] on explanatory, interpretative, and critical modes of communication” does seem a little ironic in this context.

Kevin B said: Do you think that Mr Byers’ “contributions” are what the author of the JCOM article meant by “non-scientist participation”? The bit about “welcoming non-scientists” and “focus[sing] on explanatory, interpretative, and critical modes of communication” does seem a little ironic in this context.

I doubt the authors thought about folks like Byers when they wrote their suggestion. But that’s the whole problem - they didn’t think through what would happen if a web page like PT actually implemented their suggestion.

As another “ordinary person” I also find the article a bit odd.

We’ve already seen plenty of examples (including our favourite one mentioned above) of how a “science blog” written by someone who has no clue quickly ceases to be educational in all respects other than demonstrating the inherent fragility of the human mind.

However I’ve never had any issues participating in and being welcomed on real science blogs as a non-scientist. Adhering to the principle of “don’t talk complete crap” seems to help out a lot.

Reed A. Cartwright said:

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This is such a blast! For the long line of comments…

Do you know that it’s the best time to receive the loans, which will make you dreams real.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on March 8, 2010 12:01 PM.

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