Should scientists be bloggers?
Many congratulations to Shirley Wu and Russ Altman, who won Nature Network’s Science Blogging Challenge and have secured a spot at SciFoo this summer! (They’re also getting all expenses paid from Stanford to Mountain View – just down the Caltrain line – but lest you think Nature is being cheap, they’re using the money they saved by awarding the prize to Google’s next-door neighbours to allow people from developing countries to be able to make the trip.)
But, honestly, other than the prize incentive, why should more senior scientists blog?
That was what was in the back of my mind when I wrote my previous post about Penfield and Cone. One of them would have made a great blogger, but the other one would have certainly refused if asked. I didn’t ask anyone to start a blog as part of the challenge, no matter how badly I would have wanted a chance at the prize, because most of the scientists I know are of the Cone-type. Great at research, but hate writing.
The 1920s didn’t do much active science outreach, but there’s that as well. Most scientists I know hate outreach, and probably wouldn’t like blogging either. Why do they hate outreach? The same reason they hate teaching. I have observed someone go from the most eager student ever to the kind of professor who complains about teaching. Creepy. That’s one reason I don’t ever want to be in that position. I love teaching and writing and talking about science, and do not want a job that could turn me into someone that complains about all these things.
So, why do PI’s hate outreach and teaching? It takes valuable time away from research, and research is what brings in the funding, and funding is what keeps the lab afloat. There is no incentive to do anything on top of that. They reluctantly teach to fill contract requirements. They’ll do outreach to please a higher-up. They write, because they have to. There is no way I’m influential enough to tell someone to sacrifice their valuable spare time to write a blog about science. I can’t tell anyone why it would be good for them to blog, I can only say what good it has brought me, and those things are all in the area of science communication – the thing I love that most PI’s hate. They wouldn’t think my writing gigs and contacts in science communication were anything desirable at all. They’d see them as just more wastes of time!
Most scientists simply aren’t bloggers. In a literal sense, that seems to have been the drive behind the challenge: there are more non-blogging scientists than blogging ones; let’s get more to blog.
But, most scientists simply aren’t bloggers in the sense that they aren’t the blogging type. And is that a bad thing? Should they be bloggers? Or: should they be bloggers, as opposed to the enthusiastic writers who already are?
I’m not asking rhetorically, or even sarcastically. I really would like an answer: Why do (more) senior scientists need to blog?