You'll notice that the comments on our site appear right on the main page, that's because we believe that the conversation about science is more interesting than the posts. We believe that through reason and introspection blogging can become a kind of meta-conversation, a way to further knowledge and foster discussion. Recently we've been discussing science blogging a lot in the bay and came to the conclusion that the landscape is in transformation. We also realized that we had many diverging assumptions as to what constituted science blogging, and what role in can play in society. This is led us to wonder about who blogs and who reads blogs. And it turns out to be mostly the same people. This overturns one particular assumption that blogging is a sort of soapbox, a type of lecture with a speaker and many listeners. No, I postulate that blogging is mostly a conversation.
This in turn made us think about who controls the conversation, and I think that increasingly, in the small world of science blogging, ScienceBlog is a dominant figure. What happens when the conversation is dominated by a group of vocal individuals under a collective banner? What happens when the group is a commercial entity? Is independence preserved?
This led us to devise a simple (and unscientific) blogging experiment. We wanted to see how scienceblog can polarise a discussion on the science blogosphere. This of course meant that we would have to capture their/your interest. We decided to ask what science blogging is, and word the post in a controversial way so that it would elicit a response from top bloggers, and more specifically ScienceBlog bloggers.
We then made predictions. Does being part of a group stunt the ability of members to be introspective and question the motives of their own organisation? would any form of criticism stir things up and spread rapidly across Scienceblogs with a uniformed voice. We were also wondering if reasonable scientists would turn into raging commenters spewing ad-hominem attacks. Finally we were wondering if top bloggers would post this story or ignore it, letting the smaller bloggers fight their fight.
Well we learned a lot from this small 24h study about what motivates people to blog, and how bloggers view the role of science blogging.
First of all, out of 33 comments (excluding ours), only 12% resorted to ad-hominem attacks, which shows a good degree of maturity and intellectual integrity.
Two thirds offered criticism of the ideas being expressed, sometimes constructive, sometimes not.
18% showed some kind of introspection, questioning their motives or challenging their assumptions.
Now lets see what happened on other blogs.
10 blogs linked to the story, and interestingly, of those blogs singled out in the post, only Sandwalk put up the post. [edit: so did pharyngula].
4 of the 9 linking blogs were hosted by ScienceBlogs. Of those, 3 were willing to critically examine ScienceBlogs.
1 Blog was created for the sole purpose of testing the idea that focused science blogging about peer-reviewed research in a particular discipline can attract readers.
2 blogs examined in dept what science blogging should be about. And they did an excellent job. Hopefully they won't mind me quoting them:
BPR3 says: "
But if that's the case, then why should there be any attempt to control the content of blogs? Isn't that what ResearchBlogging.org does? I'd submit that there's a critical difference: Bloggers are under no obligation to write posts that meet our guidelines. They are free to submit posts that they believe do meet the guidelines, but they aren't required to. You can sign up for an account at ResearchBlogging.org and never write a post that meets our standards. As long as you don't attempt to get your post aggregated, you can maintain your account indefinitely.
ScienceBloggers are actually required to produce a certain number of posts per week, and ScienceBlogs has the (rarely invoked) right to shut down blogs that don't meet that requirement. But ScienceBlogs has no restrictions on the type of posts its members write, which makes the first requirement less onerous
I think both commercial sites like ScienceBlogs and independent blogs are critical to the online dissemination of science. Independent bloggers are free from the restrictions of a commercial site, but they might not attract as large an audience. A large audience for science blogging is important not only because of the potential for bloggers to make money, but also because of the public service the science blogging represents. If commercial blogs can expand the readership of science on the internet (even if it also increases the number of political/religious rants), isn't that, on the balance, a good thing?"Omphaloskepsis says:
"Most science bloggers have other commitment apart from blogging. As one person said, the only way the justify blogging is by calling it outreach. And outreach should go beyond the people who would normally read peer reviewed science. Outreach involves reaching out to the people with a casual interest in science. Outreach involves producing content that would be of interest to people who don't normally read about science.
writing about creationists and kooks is important - when scientists say "intelligent design isn't science", the public needs an explanation. And debunking the latest nonsense is valuable. There was a time when people could wait for books to be published or for talk.origins to be updated. But blogging has become the medium of choice. This is even more important for a blogger like Orac - the amount of quackery in medical fields is overwhelming. A site like Translating Autism is great in that it bridges a gap from technical journals to the public, it only gets things halfway there. Orac is another step, but we need more to reach the Oprah crowd."
Thank you for your attention, sorry if I angered anyone, and I hope you continue commenting about the role of science blogging, and the motives of the ScienceBlog corporate entity.
Edit: even though the 24h has passed I decided to include PZ Myer's contribution to the debate. He is after all the 800lb Gorillaphant.