Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The state of science blogging

Why do we blog about science? For us at the bayblab, it was just an extension to our conversations about science that tended to take place in the "cool" bay of the lab, the only place with a decent sound system. It wasn't initially intended to be public, it was just an efficient way to share stories among us so that we could have some conversation fodder. In fact, back when we started, blogging in general was mostly about personal journals and pictures of pets, and the science blogs were few and far between.

Now there are thousands of blogs dedicated to science, yet only a few are popular. And strangely the popular ones are only loosely related to science. Just take a look at the top 5 science blogs (according to postgenomic):

1 Pharyngula (mostly about creationism)
2 Cognitive Daily (psychology research)
3 Living the Scientific Life (personal journal)
4 Sandwalk (some evolutionary genetics, and creationism)
5 Aetiology (pop science)

Of those only Cognitive daily is consistantly talking about peer-reviewed research. Why is that? Perhaps there is less appeal in discussing recent papers than bashing creationists. But bashing creationists is almost too easy, and not very constructive. It's been said before, you can't reason somebody out of a position in which they didn't reason themselves into. And it worries me because to the lay audience listening to PZ Myers (the 800lb gorilla), it would seem that science's purpose is to attack religion. In fact I suspect the blog gets most of its traffic from creationists. According to technorati, his top tags are "Creationism, godlessness, humor, kooks, politics, religion, weblog, weirdness", so should it really count as a science blog?

If you examine the elephant in the room, ScienceBlogs, the trend is maintained: politics, religion books, technology, education and music are tagged more often than biology or genetics. This suggests that their primary motives are entertainment rather than discussing science. Why? Because it pays. Seed Magazine and the bloggers themselves profit from the traffic. That's right, Seed actually pays these bloggers for their posts. And the whole ScienceBlogs thing is a little incestuous, they really like linking to each other, but not so much to the little blogs. I'm afraid gone is the amateur blogger, and in is the professional gonzo science journalist. Might as well read Seed magazine.


62 comments:

rob said...

Awesome post that needed to be posted.
You mentioned Sandwalk, which for me is a classic example. I love the science content on the blog, however Larry is constantly trying to pick fights with creationists which for me is tiring to read. The scientists who read your blog already agree with you Larry. Also the other mentioned blogs often have good content but there so much of it is not science related. I want science on my science blogs! I'll go elsewhere for politics and religion.
It is always tempting to engineer a post to attract hits by trying to be controversial. However if it is attracting people that aren't interested in the rest of your content, you aren't attracting the readers you would like to read your blog. Then you end up posting more stuff that isn't what you want to post about.
I also find it strange that so many scientists post about politics when their specialty is science not politics. It is true that science and politics often cross paths and it is important to blog about those issues perhaps, but most political issues can be explored on political blogs. I also find that the Scientific American podcast, for example, which is a great podcast, also has too much political opinion mixed in. Why? So all the agreeing scientists can nod with approval? Does forming a unifying political stance with your audience form reader/listener loyalty?
I'll admit that I'm guilty of blog trolling our own blog from time to time. ie stephen harpers white cowboy hat comment. So I don't mean to say that all science blogging should be 'pure' or something, and still... hats off to those blogs who have done so well.
Let me toot some bayblab horn and mention our top tags:
cancer research, science and graduate school

Bayman said...

Very well said. You might also have entitled that post - "How ScienceBlogs Is Killing Blogging".

You've opened quite a can of worms here.

First, on scienceblogs and blogging in general. I would note that the only blog in the top 5 above that I like enough to read regularly is Sandwalk. I mostly ignore the creationist bashing, but there's enough solid science posted (with some interesting conversation) regularly enough to keep me coming back for more. Incidentally, it's the only one on the list that doesn't belong to scienceblogs. Hmmmmmmm....Well I suppose there are some worthy exceptions, like Palazzo's Daily Transcript, again because he sticks to science and his life as a post-doc. But again he's not one of the more popular ScienceBlogs. He's the exception that proves the rule I suppose.

Anyway taking a pay-cheque for blogging is just silly. More importantly it robs bloggers of their power to contribute something original to culture. These professional science bloggers just end up being cheap second-rate writers for an online second-rate version of/advertising for Seed magazine. They are robbed of individuality by the homogeneous webpage design and writing too much of the same crappy stuff. Like you said it becomes really incestuous. Point in case, a recent fad seems to be ScienceBloggers on a crusade to save the the world by getting Jim Watson fired from the Seed board of directors. Typical blogging as a self-indulgent power-trip type of attitude.

One more thing on this topic. If I'm reading your blog, I don't want to see your face. At least not your real one. And definitely not a close-up glamor shot of you striking a model pose. I just want to READ your unique perspective on science. Thanks. Isn't there already enough wannabe movie-stars and models in the world of mainstream media? Get someone else to stroke your ego.

Speaking of stroking egos, this rant has grown way too long. I was going to add my two cents on creationist-bashing, but that'll have to wait for another post or maybe next podcast.

iayork said...

I'm also not much interested in the non-science part of science blogs, and I agree that the Science Blogs set are becoming quite homogenous.

There are a number of blogs that are consistently interesting and consistently talking about science. I'd point to Darin Naish at Tetrapod Zoology (http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/) as someone who stays interesting through sheer power of enthusiasm.

T. Ryan Gregory is consistently focused on science and consistently interesting; I think more so at his original Genomicron (http://genomicron.blogspot.com/) than at his newer column (http://www.scientificblogging.com/dna_and_diversity) but both are good.

The Michael Palm HIV Basic Science blog (http://tagbasicscienceproject.typepad.com/tags_basic_science_vaccin/) is very solid and interesting.

In Science Blogs, Aetiology is much less science based than she used to be, but still has a reasonably decent ratio of science to fluff.

Carl Zimmer's The Loom is very high quality science reporting and manages to stay focused.

There are probably more I could mention, but that's a good start. Blogs, by their nature, tend to be inconsistent transient, and easily distractable, but hopefully these people will be around for a while.

Razib said...

1) i don't think you are fair to all the blogs on the list. aetiology, pop sscience? come on. when something comes out that is in tara's field she usually hits it when she can (she does have a job and family outside of SB).

2) yeah, there's a lot of politics and creationism. i get bored of it, so i don't read it (i am one of scienceblogs' resident "conservatives," so i certainly am not too taken with all the political chatter, but no one is forcing me to read it). but people are interested in that stuff, and people are people so they have opinions.

3) i am willing to bet that even PZ doesn't get paid minimum wage if you divide the money he gets from SB by the hours he puts in. i'm not dissing SB here, they pay the market wage, there's a lot more punditry supply out there than demand.

4) so people are doing it for the love, by and large. i've seen this meme, excuse the term, that SB is big-money pro-blogging or something. it is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. there are 70 blogs now on it. but none of us are professional bloggers, this is a sidelight that all of us are doing to get the word out on the topics that we're obsessed about. sometimes that's science. sometimes it isn't. but really, it isn't about the money at the end of the day.

5) as for the incestuous nature of the blogs. well, it is an empirical reality that a disproportionate number of prominent scienceblogs are located on scienceblogs.com. trust me, we don't give preference to other sciencebloggers in any conscious way. i link mostly to john hawks or anthropology.net, for example. pz is pretty generous to links all around.

6) i started 'just science,' so obviously i have some opinions as to regarding what science blogging 'should be.' that being said, at the end of the day no is being forced to read it, and no one is making a living wage, let alone a killing, over science blogging. if you want to make $2000-$3000/month blogging do what my friend jacqueline passey did and blog constantly about random shit and take out poker advertising.

Razib said...

oh, for the record, i blog at scienceblogs.com at 'gene expression.' i realize that the blogger login might not indicate that. not trying to deceive anyone ;-)

John Wilkins said...

I blogged before I was invited to Sb. I will blog after I leave. I get the grand total of enough money to buy one book a month for what takes many hours. I do not attack creationists more often than I blog on science and the philosophy of science. In fact, almost everything you say about science bloggers at Seed fails to apply to all but a couple of bloggers there, and they are a fair representation of that point of view. Oh, and I don't use a glossy photo either, or at least not of me...

Do you do your science by cherrypicking examples that way?

Julia said...

AC, I had been wondering if I was the only person who felt the same way. Not so much about the individual blogs, but for quite a while I've been concerned about the great amount of linking between SB blogs and lack of external links. Now, two blogs I read very regularly, Highly Allochthonous and Tetrapod Zoology are definitely not guilty of this, but my heart sinks every time a new "SciBling" (really dislike this word...) joins because I know there'll be half a dozen posts in my feed saying "Go say hello".

Am I bitter and twisted because I haven't been invited to join the "ScienceBorg"? Possibly (although in a "huh, so you don't think I'm good enough then?" kind of way). But I also decided that I was unhappy with the idea of being assimilated into a larger site, especially if money is involved, and that it certainly wasn't an ambition of mine to join. Basically because owning my own domain, and running my own blog, means I have total intellectual freedom (and I can drop as many f-bombs as I like). I just don't know how much freedom they have on ScienceBlogs. There are back forums, and I do get the impression that it is decided that something needs to get mentioned, and a large number of people do so, as Bayman says with reference to the James Watson incident.

FWIW, my top tags appear to be science and cool organism Thursdays, followed by climate change, nanowrimo, blogmin and scientific literacy.

My husband and I have discussed what the difference is between a community and a clique, and I'm leaning more and more towards ScienceBlogs being the latter. You need an invitation to join, there does seem to be a genuine lack of willingness to link to smaller blogs (is this because the "best" blogs are all on ScienceBlogs?!), and until you posted, no one else had had the guts to criticise the institution. This setting up of a "special" community within the greater science blogging community does seem a little counterproductive, but it could have been great for everyone concerned.

Now watch me get flamed myself...

Dave Munger said...

So... the most popular science blogs cover the most popular topics related to science?

You also seem to be saying that you wish these bloggers would write about less popular topics. But that would make them... less popular. And then other science blogs would become the most popular. Then you could complain about those blogs.

At least you'd have something to write about.

Bayman said...

You also seem to be saying that you wish these bloggers would write about less popular topics. But that would make them... less popular.

Yes I suppose this is one of the questions we're asking here. Should the main goal of a group calling itself "ScienceBlogs" be simply to get the most hits possible and win a popularity contest by any means necessary, or to further the cause of science in popular culture?

We all know there are some pretty simple ways to grab attention on the internet. Most of them don't encourage the use of higher cognitive function, to say the least.

My wish would be to see a rich community of scientist bloggers writing about topics yes, that might be less popular initially, but who write with the creativity and persistence to make them more popular. In short, use the opportunity of blogging to exert a scientific influence on popular culture. If you're a scientist you just need to express yourself honestly without resorting to cheap thrills and gimmicks. Fortunately many are already doing this, but not nearly enough.

PZ said...

Hang on...you're citing the James Watson incident as an example of Sb groupthink?

You do know that Watson was on the editiorial board of Seed, right? And that the consensus output from the Seed blogs was basically a howl of outrage that put the administrators in an awkward position? Do you really think there was a push in the backchannel from the management for us to go out and criticize them?

At least in my case, I can say that you're accusation that we form some kind of self-referential clique is also completely backwards. Sure, we'll all say hello to anyone new who joins the group there...but then I tend to take them for granted, and fail to link to them as much as I could because I assume most people will just find them through the main portal page anyway. And then on top of that, I maintain a blogroll of over 500 sites, and have open enrollment days when I encourage the small blogs to advertise themselves.

And yeah, it's true that I don't post as much science as I'd like right now. The science posts are much harder work, and some of that effort is currently being siphoned off into professional writing, Seed pays us a small amount for our blogs, but these are still entirely optional efforts for which we receive no acknowledgment or recognition from our real employers, who think our duties as teachers and researchers and committee members is our first obligation -- and they're right. When a few grad students with no knowledge of the demands on my time complain that I'm not writing a blog to their standards are set against the 120 students in my various classes who want me to put together informative lectures, guess whose needs win?

Bayman said...

John Wilkins said,
I do not attack creationists more often than I blog on science and the philosophy of science. In fact, almost everything you say about science bloggers at Seed fails to apply to all but a couple of bloggers there, and they are a fair representation of that point of view.

As you and others have pointed out, there are some great blogs (such as your own) on ScienceBlogs and elsewhere out there on the blogosphere.

The interesting point made in this post I think, is simply that many sites getting the most attention as "science blogs" do not write about science in any meaningful way. This despite the fact that many belong to real-life scientist who are more than capable of doing so.

Bayman said...

PZ said,
The science posts are much harder work, and some of that effort is currently being siphoned off into professional writing, Seed pays us a small amount for our blogs, but these are still entirely optional efforts for which we receive no acknowledgment or recognition from our real employers, who think our duties as teachers and researchers and committee members is our first obligation -- and they're right. When a few grad students with no knowledge of the demands on my time complain that I'm not writing a blog to their standards are set against the 120 students in my various classes who want me to put together informative lectures, guess whose needs win?

You're right of course. Writing well about science is time consuming. Teaching and research are important and so is paying the bills. Your 120 students are lucky to have a prof who's committed to teaching in this day and age.

Fortunately others who might not be so lucky have the opportunity to read about science through blogs like your own. How many people do so? I'm guessing more than 120. The crazy thing is PZ, whether it's a job you were looking for or get paid for, you're running a classroom whose students number in the millions...

greg laden said...

Interesting post, but I think your point of reference, or approach to measurement, could be different.

For example, you note that Pharyngula is not that much about science (or imply it, anyway). But if you take the Pharungula posts that are explicitly science, count them, and count the number of what I think you would call science posts on the typical science blog, you'd find that Pharngula is more productive than average, or at least average.

Also, you explicitly conflate blogging on peer review research and real science blogging. A lot of my posts are not on peer reviewed work, but they are still on science. Sometimes it is my own research. Also, I provide commentary on science news items.

Finally, the political side should not be discounted. Posts on evo-creo and such are posts about science. Scientists ignore the political side of what we do at our peril.

Have a look at Science or Nature .... is every word they print either peer reviewed research or about peer reviewed research? NO. Is it all about science? Yes.

Dave Munger said...

So you're saying that PZ should spend more time blogging about science to the neglect of his (much better-paying) primary job? And that he really shouldn't get paid at all for blogging? What planet do you live on?

<shameless self promotion>I have a better idea: Why don't bloggers blog about what they want to? When they do have the time and inclination to write about science (as opposed to, say, complaining about why more bloggers don't write about science), a central aggregator could collect those posts, so readers who are just interested in science don't have to sort through all the rants.
</shameless self promotion>

Bayman said...

So you're saying that PZ should spend more time blogging about science to the neglect of his (much better-paying) primary job?

No, just stating the obvious fact that more people read his blog than go to his classes.

he really shouldn't get paid at all for blogging? What planet do you live on?

I don't know, the planet where not all human activity is motivated by the prospect of monetary gain?

I had no idea so many people went into science for the money.

Independent aggregators are great.

rob said...

Dave Munger: we have posted about the research blog aggregator before and I agree that it is simply awesome. If I can avoid having to scan through bitter rants about how ignorant creationists are, I'm there.
People here are missing the point perhaps. Why are science blogs getting bogged down in tired discussions? These are easier to write and get more hits is probably the answer. Whether you are paid or not is perhaps irrelevant.
A person coming to scienceblogs may reasonably assume that scientists spend much of their time discussing reasons why creationists are misinformed. Is science blogging really reflecting what we all enjoy about science?
I'm never going to tell people what to blog about, and if you get tons of hits and that's what you are after that's great. The bayblab is just asking a larger question about the goals of science blogs, with the knowledge that the bayblab itself is not a perfect blog. (just exceedingly close)

Greg Laden said...

Just to set at least a tiny bit of the record straight: I was asked to be on Scienceblogs.com and decided to say yes before I knew that there was any renumeration.

(Though this all happened very quickly.)

I get paid to do a lot of things. The other day I gave a talk and got paid nothing. A month ago I gave a talk and got paid what Sb would pay me in two/three months. These are called honoraria, they vary, you take them when you can get them and you don't (unless you're Jane Goodall or whomever) insist that you don't open your mouth without getting paid.

I see the Sb renumeration as exactly the same as an honorarium. Except that speaking honoraria are way, way more lucrative for me and I'm at the bottom of the food chain in that area.

Small amounts of money are good. A beer does not cost that much.

ERV said...

Bayman-- I don't know, the planet where not all human activity is motivated by the prospect of monetary gain?

I had no idea so many people went into science for the money.


Upper right hand corner of this page--
Sponsors
INVITROGEN
These are the folks who help pay the bills, please click to pay them a visit! If you're interested in sponsoring the Bayblab, drop us a line at bayblab@gmail.com


*flips off Bayman*

Epicanis said...

I suspect a lot of the problem is just the fact that most people blog because they want attention, in the form of readers and commenters. When there is little evident attention to science posts and lots of activity on on the "Republicans are Evil" and "Creationists are Stupid" posts, it's natural that they tend to increase until they seem to dominate. I doubt being paid a token bonus to be on scienceblogs.com is really a factor.

I know if I was getting a lot of comments on my obscure little blog[1] it would influence what I posted and how often I posted it.

On a tangent, I don't think every form of "linking to" another blog is necessarily helpful. How many people really look through a listing of 20+ links in a "blogroll" and decide to actually check them all out? (A link within a post with relevant commentary, on the other hand, is pure metaphorical gold I would think.)

[1] http://www.bigroom.org/wordpress

Bayman said...

ERV - Good call. I was wondering when someone would pick up on the ad. In this case, Invitrogen supported us by giving us a couple hundred bucks to by a high-quality, portable mic we could bring around to pubs to record our podcasts. We put the banner up there because we thought people visiting the site should know.

A lot of people seem to have taken offense to the AC's mention that ScienceBloggers get paid. I don't think the intention was to suggest that getting money is evil. Of course not. Money pays the bills and makes things happen. But in the world of blogging where independent expression is generally presumed, and indeed, exploited as an attraction, maybe it's useful to acknowledge who's paying the bills.

With regards to my comment that you were directly responding to, again I was not suggesting that there's anything wrong with receiving and using money. I was responding to an earlier comment that basically asked why should PZ do something he doesn't get paid for.

So yes, it's OK to do things for money but it's also worth doing a lot of things for free. And maybe it's also worth acknowledging what motivates us to make the distinction.

DrugMonkey said...

"My wish would be to see a rich community of scientist bloggers writing about topics yes, that might be less popular initially, but who write with the creativity and persistence to make them more popular. In short, use the opportunity of blogging to exert a scientific influence on popular culture. If you're a scientist you just need to express yourself honestly without resorting to cheap thrills and gimmicks."

This is hopelessly naive. Not to mention geeky. To put it in a way you can understand, which is the better teacher? The unbelievably well-informed, exacting pedant who can't lecture in anything other than a monotone? Or the exciting, imaginative teacher who goes to lengths to communicate (a slightly lesser amount of the) information with some decent lecture style?

I could write endlessly about the benzo and barb sites on the GABA receptor (subtypes!!), about pharm PK, about loss of tolerance and summated effects of independently acting drugs which affect a single outcome, like respiration.

It would take a very long time indeed for this to have the same real-world impact in communicating what drug abuse science can do for the public that a single post on a celebrity dying had.

There's a word for people who persist in canonizing the purity of method over reaching declared goals.

"Quixotic"

Matt Penfold said...

There is a mistake being made here, and it is the assumption that scientists who blog should write science blogs. It supposes that the only thing that interests scientists is science. Why should a scientist restrict themselves to blogging only about science when we would do, do not, expect that of bloggers who have different jobs. Would we expect an English teacher to blog only about English Literature ? Of course not, yet some feel free to criticise scientists who have interests outside of science and discuss them when they blog.

kamel said...

Interesting post. It's something I've been thinking about for a while. In fact, I have the exact same title written down in my notepad of potential stories. I don't agree with all of the criticisms of ScienceBlogs being made (or the criticisms of the criticisms for that matter).

Like others here, the only one of the blogs mentioned that I read with any regularity is Sandwalk, for the great science content not the anti-creationist rants. I visit ScienceBlogs on a regular basis, but just pick and choose my stories from the front page. To be sure, there's some great science content there but yes, there is also an abundance of political/religious/other posts. I'm not saying bloggers shouldn't be free to write about what interests them, but at what point does a blog cease to be a science blog, but become an anti-religion blog with some science? At what point does a paid blogger cease to be a blogger, but a hireling for an e-zine? Do we even need to make a distinction?

Bayman, you lament the lack of individuality on Sb, but also decry blogs that feature pictures of the bloggers in the profile. Should we take away that piece of individual expression from them as well? (and where are all these glamourous scientist supermodels?) I don't really care if I know who is writing the posts or not (obviously I post semi-anonymously here) as long as the content is good.

I do agree about the clique-y nature of Sb, but I think Julia hit that point pretty well in her comment above. PZ, I think the Watson incident was a fair example of Sb groupthink, as I've alluded to before. That doesn't mean it was "a push in the backchannel from the management."

I also don't think science blogging necessarily means blogging on peer reviewed research. Obviously not every post here is. We all have our interests and writing style. I tend to side with rob when he asks "Is science blogging really reflecting what we all enjoy about science?" Is it reflective of the science community? When I read something like "traffic is everything in this business" (from Chad Orzel's well-reasoned response to this post) then I have to wonder about motivations. Is the goal to generate hits, or to talk about science?

ERV, I was the one who brought in Invitrogen as a sponsor. They provided us with cash to purchase a microphone for recording our podcast, pay for hosting said mp3 files (and other small conceits like a handful of bayblab fridge magnets). We don't get paid per visit or click-through or anything like that. (And, in fact, when this was announced Bayman made it clear on the blog that he refused to 'sell out'). I don't think anyone here really believes that Sb writers are in it for the money, and I guess now we'll never be on the Sb payroll either. :)

Bayman said...

To put it in a way you can understand, which is the better teacher? The unbelievably well-informed, exacting pedant who can't lecture in anything other than a monotone? Or the exciting, imaginative teacher who goes to lengths to communicate (a slightly lesser amount of the) information with some decent lecture style?

Good point. I totally agree that we need to come of with creative new ways to educate people and get them excited about reaching a rational understanding of the world they live in.

We're talking about differences of approach here, not style. To use your example of education, what's the better way to combat ignorance about evolution? By teaching people about the undeniable facts of biology, or mocking them for being so stupid and making fun of their religion? This is the issue.

I could write endlessly about the benzo and barb sites on the GABA receptor (subtypes!!), about pharm PK, about loss of tolerance and summated effects of independently acting drugs which affect a single outcome, like respiration...

This is hopelessly cynical. I'm sorry you think your field of work is so boring. I think you underestimate how fascinating it is that we can know these things. But with that kind of attitude, you're not going to get anyone excited.

It would take a very long time indeed for this to have the same real-world impact in communicating what drug abuse science can do for the public that a single post on a celebrity dying had.

Impact over accuracy. Sounds like the same kind of crap they show on FoxNews.

There's a word for people who think the ends justify the means.

"Bush-otic".

By the way loved your take on the Heath Ledger thing. Would have benefited from some GABA receptor schematics though...:)

kamel said...

DrugMonkey says: which is the better teacher? The unbelievably well-informed, exacting pedant who can't lecture in anything other than a monotone? Or the exciting, imaginative teacher who goes to lengths to communicate (a slightly lesser amount of the) information with some decent lecture style?

That's a fair point, but which is the creationist bashing (which seems to be the issue here)? Is the relentless bludgeoning of the same points/mockery the well-informed, monotone pedant or is it exciting and imaginative?

Matt Penfold says: "There is a mistake being made here, and it is the assumption that scientists who blog should write science blogs"

What about an organization called SCIENCEblogs? Is it still an unreasonable expectation? I wouldn't expect an English teacher to only blog about English Literature, but I might expect a site called LitCrit to be limited to literary criticism.

David Crotty said...

I recently gave a talk to the American Association of Publishers that discussed some of the issues raised in your post. I've put it up online here:
http://tinyurl.com/2lbc5k

It's a bit lengthy, so I'll summarize. 1) Scientists already have very efficient ways of sharing their primary research, from arXiv to publishing papers, to speaking at meetings to e-mail. Blogs serve much more as a meeting point for non-specialists and non-scientists. That's why you see more blog posts about things that are fun and interesting to discuss and debate, rather than just straightforward data dumps.
2) The world of science blogging is highly circular and self-referential, and this is the case both within and outside of the Seed blogs. A very large part of the audience for science blogs is made up of other science bloggers, who usually leave comments and then write their own blog entries about other blogs. It creates the illusion that there's some huge movement going on in the mainstream when in reality, it's a small minority that constantly reinforces itself and its own beliefs.

Matt Penfold said...

"What about an organization called SCIENCEblogs? Is it still an unreasonable expectation? I wouldn't expect an English teacher to only blog about English Literature, but I might expect a site called LitCrit to be limited to literary criticism."

I guess I have found the problem. Your expectations of what to expect are not the same as those who either own or write atScieneBlogs. Since it is the people who own and write at ScienceBlogs who decide the policy then I will defer to them on what the bloggers there should blog about, rather than you.

The solution is really very simple. If ScienceBlogs annoys you, don't visit the site, don't read the blogs. That way those of us who do like can continue to do so with the sound of bleating.

Matt Penfold said...

I would also add that ScienceBlogs has several bloggers who are not scientists. Ed Brayton, Matt Nisbett, and Chris Mooney are not scientists; one is a professor of communications and the other two are journalists. Now I doubt those three would be able to blog about peer-reviewed research with any authority so in that regard they cannot be called science bloggers. However they do blog about how science intersects with politics, and in that regard I think they science bloggers.

Of course Kamel will have problems even accepting they are part of ScienceBlogs.

Anonymous said...

Matt,
I'm not sure where to respond to you since you've spammed the same comment to every site reacting to this. I'll leave it here since it seems to be ground zero. From scienceblogs.com about page: 'ScienceBlogs is the largest online community dedicated to science.' It goes on to talk about science communication.

Perhaps you should take your own advice about the bleating.

Hank Roberts said...

Then there's the spookily-named "scienceblog.com" -- whoever's behind that. Anyone know?

Bayman said...

If ScienceBlogs annoys you, don't visit the site, don't read the blogs.

Thanks but no thanks Matt. I like a lot of the blogs so I'm going keep reading them. I like discussion and critical thinking so I'm going to keep saying what I think, critical or not. I hope bayblab visitors will continue to be skeptical and critical of the content of my posts as well.

I would also add that ScienceBlogs has several bloggers who are not scientists.
No kidding. I'm guessing that's because they write about science. Also, you forgot Carl Zimmer. I love his stuff. Better science writing than most science bloggers, myself included.

kamel said...

Matt Penfold says: Of course Kamel will have problems even accepting they are part of ScienceBlogs.

Go back and read my first comment here. I read and enjoy Sb content, and I don't think science blogging is limited to peer-reviewed research. I'm more interested in what constitutes a science blog, what motivates people to blog about science, does the anti-religion help or hinder stated goals, etc.

Epicanis said...

And here I was hoping when I reloaded the thread that the conversation would be getting interesting, but it looks like it's devolving into "shut up, stupid, we can do whatever we want".

I don't think the original post was supposed to be a personal attack. I thought the central thesis of the original post was really just that scienceblogs.com, being the overwhelmingly dominant collection of blogs which are labeled as being about science, spends a lot of time blogging about religion and politics (outside the subject of science, that is - I at least can certainly see that there are plenty of places where those topics DO overlap with science, and don't think they should be ignored.) The complaint, as I read it, is that the overwhelmingly dominant scienceblogs give the impression that all science bloggers do is pick on religion and complain about right-wing politicians. Not that posters on scienceblogs.com should be forbidden from posting certain things, nor that they should be told what to post, nor that they shouldn't be allowed to get any money for it, or even (despite the wording in the original post that makes it sound this way) that science-blog posts should only be discussing peer-reviewed papers.

That said - I'm a regular if not constant reader of the RSS "combined feed" at scienceblogs.com, so I went and looked at it. Leaving aside the issue of the popularity of individual blogs, I just went through looking at the topics in the last 20 hours or so and it based just on that, it looks like bayman...
...is mistaken. At a glance, I'd say roughly 2/3 of the posts are obviously related to science or technology ["applied science" if you prefer], and most of the remainder look like they are at least related to what scientists do (posts from people about getting ready for conferences and the like), or if they are bare "hey, go read someone else's blog" posts they're at least often pointing to science-themed blog-post "carnivals" and whatnot.

Is it just that the science posts tend to be relatively specific in their subjects and therefore aren't nearly as noticeable as the seemingly off-topic posts about sports, non-science politics, and so forth (along with the intra-tribal "go read this other person's blog" posts), perhaps?

Simon said...

Thanks for this great post. Just wanted to drop a quick line to say that I agree with you here - science blogging should not be almost exclusively about creationism or politics. Let's tell people about the cool research that's being done as well!

DrugMonkey said...

"When I read something like "traffic is everything in this business" (from Chad Orzel's well-reasoned response to this post) then I have to wonder about motivations. Is the goal to generate hits, or to talk about science?"

The goal is to get as many people in the pool of the potentially-interested as possible reading your stuff. This is what Chad was probably trying to convey. If you stripped PZ's output down to the purest science, it would still be a healthy rate. His audience is unbelievably large because of the non-science stuff. How is this a bad thing that this audience is presented with the dev biology stuff? How would it be bad if every once in a while he directed some traffic to someone else's science? Isn't that exactly what you chaps are up to here with this post!?

"Impact over accuracy. Sounds like the same kind of crap they show on FoxNews."

actually FoxNews isn't all that interested in accuracy as far as I can tell. Impact with accuracy is my goal. It is not necessary to go into overwhelming pendantic detail to be "accurate".

"Would have benefited from some GABA receptor schematics though"

agreed. that would have been a more professional job. which you might expect from someone who gets "paid" for blogging. which would be justified if I was actually "paid" something like a professional rate. to which you would object... :-) see how that works?

John Hawks said...

Well, your list of the top science blogs on Postgenomic and Technorati are those that get lots of incoming links from other sites, not the ones that get lots of traffic -- although the two may of course be correlated.

So, if you would like mainly science-posting blogs to be higher ranked, why don't you, say, post links to them to increase their rank?

As for myself, I link to posts that cover original science content most of the time; if there's an inherent effect of my blogging on other peoples' rankings, it tends to increase the science quotient.

Matt Penfold said...

"Go back and read my first comment here. I read and enjoy Sb content, and I don't think science blogging is limited to peer-reviewed research. I'm more interested in what constitutes a science blog, what motivates people to blog about science, does the anti-religion help or hinder stated goals, etc."

I read you later comment:

"What about an organization called SCIENCEblogs? Is it still an unreasonable expectation? I wouldn't expect an English teacher to only blog about English Literature, but I might expect a site called LitCrit to be limited to literary criticism."

This indicates that you think ScienceBlogs should, and is, only about science.

Anonymous said...

Going down your front page and checking out the subjects you post on here, I find
- no blogging on peer-reviewed research
- two posts on "The Gospel according to Darwin," which are certainly intended to be taken as responses to creationism/ID
- several humorous bits only marginally involved with science
- several pieces on the intersection of politics and science
- several pieces on how other media or other parts of the blogosphere (including ScienceBlogs) are covering issues.
- relatively few links to other blogs

OK, so there's not much personal anecdote blogging. Otherwise, you seem to be covering much of the same territory as ScienceBlogs, but with less in-depth science coverage.

On top of that, you publish in white on black background, which is much more difficult to read for any period.

So, why should I bother to come back here, thereby increasing your blog's status?

chezjake (posting anonymously because your Open ID option is not recognizing my LJ url.)

Matt Penfold said...

"Thanks but no thanks Matt. I like a lot of the blogs so I'm going keep reading them. I like discussion and critical thinking so I'm going to keep saying what I think, critical or not. I hope bayblab visitors will continue to be skeptical and critical of the content of my posts as well."

Then you would seem to be one of those silly people who bitches because they like the sound of their own voice.

"No kidding. I'm guessing that's because they write about science. Also, you forgot Carl Zimmer. I love his stuff. Better science writing than most science bloggers, myself included."

Well your original post indicated you were in fact not aware of this.
Why did you totally fail to mention Ed Brayton, Matt Nisbett or Chris Mooney ? None are scientists and none write about science per se.

I suggest you do your homework before gobbing off in future. It will stop those of us who had never heard of you before from now knowing you as a clueless hypocrit.

Matt Penfold said...

Epicanis said:

"I don't think the original post was supposed to be a personal attack. I thought the central thesis of the original post was really just that scienceblogs.com, being the overwhelmingly dominant collection of blogs which are labeled as being about science, spends a lot of time blogging about religion and politics (outside the subject of science, that is - I at least can certainly see that there are plenty of places where those topics DO overlap with science, and don't think they should be ignored.) The complaint, as I read it, is that the overwhelmingly dominant scienceblogs give the impression that all science bloggers do is pick on religion and complain about right-wing politicians."

To my reading it did come across as a personal attack. It also came across as woefully ill-informed, and given the typical content of this blog, as rather hypocritical as well. The comment about bloggers at ScienceBlogs being paid is hardly news after all, and to me just smacks of jealousy. "You mean to say people who are actually any good at this can get paid ? Mwaaaahhhhh, why not me!". How the comments about PZ Myers can be taken as anything less than a personal insult escapes me. I suspect the author just wishes he had anything like the number of readers PZ does.

Abel Pharmboy said...

I'm having my discussion with rob over at DrugMonkey's place but here is at least a n of 1 retort to the accusation that bloggers at ScienceBlogs are insular:

Terra Sig linked early to and sang the praises of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival founded here at bayblab.

catcubed said...

The idea that SB bloggers are automatically biased towards hack writing by getting a bit of dough is silly. It's not like ScienceBlogs is some sort of indecent proposal.

Considering that SB is directly connected with Seed, whose tagline is "Science is Culture," I don't see what the big deal is with SB bloggers discussing whatever interests them.

ScienceBlogs is about viewing the world with a scientific cultural mindset. The posts don't have to be strictly about research because the culture of science is broader than just the research. Science also reaches into politics and sociocultural issues.

This is the broad view of science is what I love about Seed magazine and what I love about ScienceBlogs.

Mr. Gunn said...

Yes, Scienceblogs.com bloggers are self-referential. This is not surprising to anyone familiar with Livejournal, which has a similar dynamic.

More importantly, and remaining unaddressed, is the impression all the "creationists are teh stupid!!1!" posts are giving to the non-scientists who visit scienceblogs.com. They really are getting the impression that scientists are attacking religion. PZ's shrillness worries me too, but I don't think he could stop the train he's on if he wanted to, now. Gene Expression had a fairly lively community before they joined, so perhaps that's why they've remained interesting.

You put a voice to a sentiment I've heard from several other people who've declined to become a part of scienceblogs.com. I think the people you singled out are feeling a little attacked, which is unfortunate, but perhaps also a sign that your comments hit a little close to home.

kamel said...

Matt,
I was asking a question. To put it a different way: What are reasonable expectations for ScienceBlogs(tm) and science blogs in general? If we're going to pick on perceived flaws or level accusations about what is or isn't a correct assumption shouldn't we try to answer that question first (again, as I alluded to in my first comment).

Epicanis said...

To my reading it did come across as a personal attack.
I kind of got that impression...
If I can turn around a play Devil's Advocate here for a moment, I think Bayman's core complaint is valid, even if it may be wrong.
I think part of what he's trying to get at is that having an overwhelmingly well-known blog is a bit like having monopoly power over a market - one's actions in that case have much more impact. An obscure blog claiming to be about science could be nothing but a stream of extremely vile and off-topic obscenities, and yet have much less effect on how "science blogging" appears to the rest of the world than even the most minor editorial aspects of top-rated blogs like PZ Myers' at the most famous group of science-blogging sites that is "scienceblogs.com", which is obviously why that particular blog is being scrutinized here.
The question of whether a blog that seems to the poster to be primarily about politics and religion should be considered a "science" blog is a legitimate one I think, even if the answer is "yes, it should". Similarly, it's not entirely irrational to wonder if the fact that more traffic equals more money affects the content of the posts, even though at this point it seems like that concern is pretty well taken care of, too (i.e. it seems pretty clear that nobody's getting rich off of it, no matter how much traffic they're getting.)
"I suspect the author just wishes he had anything like the number of readers PZ does."
Who wouldn't? Heck, I know *I* do!...It may be a factor - the inter-connectedness of the scienceblogs.com tribe really does represent a high barrier to competing for attention by blogs outside the system - but I don't think it's really the primary reason for the original post here.

Lucas said...

PZ writes: "And yeah, it's true that I don't post as much science as I'd like right now. The science posts are much harder work, and some of that effort is currently being siphoned off into professional writing,"

I think this is exactly right. It's hard to post as often as PZ does, and produce an interesting blog about just science. It's well known that blogs which post less frequently get fewer readers, so I don't think that the phenomenon you describe is unexpected or even bad. Of course, I subscribed to PZ's RSS feed for a while, until I found that I got bored by the repetitiveness of it. I'm an atheist, humanist, and I certainly think that the theory of evolution is correct, but I don't really need these points driven home every time I open Google Reader.

I'm subscribed to about 30 science blog RSS feeds, and most of them post less than once a week. But I think the average interest to me is much higher than another creationist bashing. Of course, to each his own, so I say, who cares.

I highly doubt that most people would want to read my blogroll (mostly populated by either cooking blogs or fairly technical math and computer science blogs), but that's why it's mine. If you don't like most of the ScienceBlogs, then read something else.

Julia said...

So, finally making their way out from underneath the pile of "You're just bitter and jealous because you're not good enough to join ScienceBlogs and that's the only reason you're whining" complaints are some points that would actually be worth debating...

1. Seriously, given the set-up of ScienceBlogs, and particularly the terms and conditions of making posts, as highlighted in someone else's comment form (I can't see any SB member posting under Creative Commons, and the total handover of all intellectual property rights concerns me), does the presence of Seed magazine and a financial incentive based on traffic affect the content of the blogs? I personally get more hits when I talk about barnacle penises than I do talking about sauropod morphometrics. Does that mean I talk about barnacle penises more? No. Would I talk about barnacle penises more if there was an extra $10 a month for me? Hell yes. Whether or not you think there's too much science or too little science, this is a valid query.

2. Popular though the anti-creationism/anti-idiocy/anti-Bush posts are, do they detract from the science, whether it is the rational discussion of the above issues, life as a scientist in a particular political climate, or the hard science itself? And to an outsider, does the scientific blogging community as a whole look okay for it? Does the individual blogger look okay for it, or is there a chance, however small, that it might turn moderates off? As a hypothetical example - a blogger campaigning for pro-choice laws and greater accessibility to contraception will win no friends among the more liberal members of the Catholic church if they say that all Catholics are retards.

3. Almost in a self-fulfilling prophecy, any criticism of ScienceBlogs and its structure/ethos has been dismissed a priori as "sour grapes". But there is evidence that a fair few people have declined invitations. Doesn't that merit some discussion? By effectively stating that any critic wishes they were good enough to be on ScienceBlogs, a two-tier community within the science blogosphere is allowed to form. The perceived "upper tier" is all the "good" science bloggers on ScienceBlogs, and the perceived "lower tier" is all the "bad" science bloggers who aren't on ScienceBlogs. This makes ScienceBlogs not an aggregated community, but a seal of approval, which I am not wholly convinced correlates exactly with the quality of the blog.

4. There is a subtle difference between blogging about science and being a scientist who blogs (this has been mentioned before, on a number of ScienceBlogs blogs and non-ScienceBlogs blogs). The expectation from ScienceBlogs is that it will contain the former, but the reality is approaching the latter. What is the happy medium? Should ScienceBlogs (and science blogs) contain the entire spectrum, or is there a point at which one ceases to be a science blog? My husband occasionally blogs about climate change, colony collapse disorder and astronomy. Probably about 3% of his posts are on science topics. But he's not a science blogger. Is one a science blogger if one says one is? Or is there a rule-of-thumb percentage of posts? Or is it simply an editorial line? What is the definition here?

All of these are valid points, and points that regardless of your opinion one way or another, ought to be able to be debated without descending into ad hominem attacks on both sides. The very fact that the science blogging community is polarised on this issue shows that there is something worth discussing here. And calling someone a juvenile cumstain does no one on either side of the debate any favours.

PhysioProf said...

And calling someone a juvenile cumstain does no one on either side of the debate any favours.

Well, I don't know if I'm on a "side" in a "debate", but it sure made me laugh my fucking ass off.

monado said...

I'm writing the news that I'd like to read.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Talking only about peer-reviewed research limits your opportunities to connect to your readers. If I get to know you well enough through your blog to think we may be interested in some of the same things, I'm more likely to read your science reporting on topics I wouldn't have been gung ho about on my own. Perhaps you should look to your methods if you want to change your results.

Jennifer said...

Everybody just calm down and read Bad Astronomy for a while. The universe is very soothing.

Lee Harrison said...

There's a recurring theme in many of the comments so far that blogging on religion, creationism and politics have nothing to do with science. What utter bollocks.

I truly don't understand how a predominantly U.S. group of scientists and science communicators can still think that the advancement of science can be separated from the need to face the challenges of irrational religions (bit of a tautology, there...), cdesign proponentsists and political interference head on, with vigor and forcefulness.

Sometimes (often) a well worded 'rant' is necessary, and sometimes ridicule is the best option. There're only so many times that the obvious can be patiently explained to the oblivious.

muse142 said...

I made it about halfway through this thread and will read the rest later, but wanted to say that... about the evo/creo stuff, it's important because not everyone already agrees with it. I know that you and I will roll our eyes and scroll through it. But there are a lot of people who are genuinely interested in science, who also genuinely believe in the six-day creation. It's good to talk about it, and not just preach to the choir. But you all knew that. Right?

Anonymous Coward said...
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Anonymous Coward said...

By what mechanism does ridiculing a creationist advance the cause of evolution? Perhaps it can convince some poeple who are already on the line but at the risk of alienating a good number of poeple from science in general, which is much broader than just evolution. It's a difficult situation. I feel it's best not to resort to insults, stick with facts, explain and popularise science, teaching is arguably much more effective.

RBH said...

With a few notable exceptions, this thread (especially including the OP) is remarkably data-free for allegedly coming from a bunch of scientists. Interesting that a meta-thread on the supposed flaws of Scienceblogs should be so bereft of references to relevant data.

Campbell said...

I am coming to this late, primarily because I only even learned about this after "A Blog Around The Clock" - http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2008/02/what_is_a_science_blog.php - linked to us in his response, but part of the issue is you're using a rather narrow field of 'science blogging.'

Certainly by Technorati or postgenomic (which uses Technorati and only seems to include a few independent blogs and then all of scienceblogs.com) it looks dire if you want science to be science.

I don't know how many readers the bloggers on LiveScience have, for example, but I bet it is a lot. Like them, since we do not write for other bloggers but instead the public (most of whom are not linking to us in Technorati) our nearly 2 million articles read this month, none of which have to do with politics, religion, sex or music, are pretty sizeable chunks of readers.

Likewise, NatureBlogs does not break out individual bloggers but, in looking at their roster, they are pretty darn outstanding.

Let's not begrudge anyone at scienceblogs their success in the blogosphere. There are some writers there I would put up against anyone in the world. But they are not the extent of science blogging, much less science writing ( or "the Borg" as he good-naturedly referred to them in his response to this article) - I think they do a ton of good and PZ Meyers and Tara Smith and Shelley Batts and others there genuinely believe in the science community.

They are getting it done every single day for a long period of time in a way that, really, is beyond impressive in scope.

I mentioned this same thing over there but it deserves to be repeated. There IS a culture war regarding science and if they are fighting it, that means you (and we) don't have to.

Dave said...

Bayman, I think this post is a little disingenuous, as if you expect blogging to be substantive, scientists to be purely scientific, and substantive science to be popular.

There is some market for science talk among scientists, engineers, and educated professionals. However, they constitute a minority of the general population, of blog readers, and of community college students.

The most lucrative market for scienceblog advertisers, science news providers, and low-grade science education are barely literate culture warriors bent on sticking it to the nearest redneck bible-thumper.

When someone like PZ is speaking ex cathedra on social and cultural topics, that's like mother's milk to the insecure and ignorant idealist who needs a little "science" to shore up his ego.

Suicyte said...

Excellent post, could have been mine :-)
But seriously, there are relatively few scientists out there, at least when compared to the blog reader in general. While the average guy in the net has no problem understanding ID bashing, really appreciating blogs like Mystery Rays (my favorite science blog) is something completely different.
I wouldn't feel too disappointed to only see pop-science blogs among the top-scorers. If I am reading a good blog, I don't care if thousands of others are with me.

Treat Cancer said...
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Doppelganger said...

RBH wrote:
"With a few notable exceptions, this thread (especially including the OP) is remarkably data-free for allegedly coming from a bunch of scientists. Interesting that a meta-thread on the supposed flaws of Scienceblogs should be so bereft of references to relevant data."

Indeed, and perusing the archives show very few purely scientific bloggings here.

kinds of cats said...

well there is some market for science talk among scientists, engineers, and educated professionals. However, they constitute a minority of the general population, of blog readers, and of community college students.