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LOLcats and labrats – classification of science blogs

by Eva Amsen

LOLcats and labrats was the session I proposed as a session at Science Online London’s “Fringe Frivolous” on Friday:

The problem with science bloggers is that they’re scientists, and they can’t just blog and enjoy it, but they need to have meetings about it and analyze it. Analyze what, exactly? There are so many different kinds of science blogs, that we’re comparing apples and oranges, physicists and biologists, names and screen names, LOLcats and labrats. Before we continue having discussions about science blogging, we need to find out what it is we’re talking about and do some good old fashioned classification. In other words, sit around with a drink and collectively identify some common subcategories in science blogs. Because the real problem with science bloggers is the generalization that they’re scientists – they’re all different.

It was one of the two sessions voted for (the other was about PR for scientists) and a number of categories were thrown around. Erika Cule helped out by writing them all down, and this the result from the notes:

  • Personal rant blogs
  • Lab notebooks
  • Learning blogs – in the act of writing, the author learns something. (Common in computer programming)
  • Narrative – blogs by scientists which are not about science.
    • Anonymous
    • not anonymous
  • public engagement blogs
  • research blogging
  • science tattoos
  • Historical/fictional author (Charles Darwin)
  • Re-blogging historical diary/events
    • Samuel Pepys
    • NASA 40 years later
  • poems about science
  • comics (xkcd)
  • bad science
  • niche blogs within a particular field (eg. chemistry)
  • campaigning science (keep libel laws out of science, feminist science blogs)
  • semantic blogging + other technical aspects, blogs promoting adopting semantic approaches
  • non-humans (blogging or twittering machine-generated readings)

There are probably more, but there wasn’t enough time. Feel free to add other categories if you think of something.

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Richard P. Grant August 24, 2009 - 8:21 PM

Get orrrf mah internets!

Eva Amsen August 24, 2009 - 8:23 PM

[opens up secure network to neighbours]

Richard P. Grant August 24, 2009 - 8:25 PM

{sends death ping}

Eva Amsen August 24, 2009 - 8:26 PM

(In the interest of full disclosure: Richard is being a boring host at his own computer, so there is nothing else to do but blog!)

Richard P. Grant August 24, 2009 - 8:26 PM

I’m spotting tyops for you.

Richard P. Grant August 24, 2009 - 8:30 PM

Argh! Critical Cider #failure

Martin Fenner August 24, 2009 - 8:45 PM

Eva, I “blogged about something similar”:http://network.nature.com/people/mfenner/blog/2008/08/31/science-blogging-is-the-new-email after Science Blogging London 2008. You might want to add:
* metablogging (blogging about blogging, by far the largest discipline)

Kristi Vogel August 24, 2009 - 10:35 PM

– art/science blogs (e.g. Bioephemera, The Flying Trilobite)
– natural history blogs (could fall under niche or lab notebook categories)

Eva Amsen August 24, 2009 - 10:43 PM

Martin, which blogs do meta-blogging? I can only think of Bora’s blog that is very much like that. I don’t think I read a lot of metablogs, hmmm.
Kristi, I think art/sci blogs were briefly mentioned in the context of what is written down as science tattoos on the list (Carl Zimmer’s collection is but an example of the art/sci interface.) As for natural history, we didn’t really get to get into subdisciplines of science much. Erika pointed out after the session that nobody had mentioned “news blogging”, which is also a really big subcategory!

Cath Ennis August 24, 2009 - 10:51 PM

Good timing, Eva – just the other day I was trying to describe my NN blog to someone! Now I can just say “non-anonymous narrative”, although the common theme that I came up with (the application of my scientific training to problems and other situations that arise in my daily life) seemed to satisfy.
Realistically, we probably all cover several of the above categories in different posts. I’ve dabbled in bad science, poems about science, and bad poems about science, to name a few.

Kristi Vogel August 25, 2009 - 12:01 AM

“Science tattoos” didn’t immediately make me think of the art/science interface, but I wasn’t there, so obviously I’m lacking the context of the discussion. I write this as a person who appreciates many tattoos as art, and who has what could be categorized as a paleoanthropological-inspired tattoo.
Also, I view natural history more as approach than as subdiscipline. For example, both museums and magazines described as “natural history” include zoology, botany, ecology, geology, astronomy, paleontology, evolutionary biology, environmental science, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and other disciplines.

Martin Fenner August 25, 2009 - 5:06 AM

Eva, with meta-blogging I mean something like this blog post. Or in what category would you put it?

Eva Amsen August 25, 2009 - 7:52 AM

Conference blogging?
I guess I was thinking more in terms of overall style of one entire blog. For example: XKCD is always a comic, even though the topics of the comics can be engineering or philosophy. And Charles Darwin’s blog is always written as if Darwin came back and observed modern day society.
And natural history blogging could be a blog about recent research in the field, or a blog reporting on “one particular project”:http://thebeagleproject.blogspot.com/
That’s kind of the distinction I was hoping to make. You can’t compare a post explaining research with a post that’s more along the lines of “this is what we are doing” – and I think those two subgroups are the most commonly found in the realm of science blogging. And either category can be divided into being more like notes, or more like a well-told story. It’s fuzzy.

steffi suhr August 25, 2009 - 4:42 PM

Should we all just embrace fuzziness?

Frank Norman August 25, 2009 - 5:00 PM

I sense there is going to be a photo of a cat coming along soon.

Richard Wintle August 25, 2009 - 5:13 PM

I refuse to be categorized into any of them. I have two blogs. One is a personal blog that occasionally contains science, but is mostly just -crap- ramblings. The other is a science blog that is notionally about the “Tools of the Trade” (plug) that we use, but is mostly -crap- ramblings.
But seriously, why on earth would one want to sub-categorize science blogs, or any other kind of blogs for that matter? Seems like an exercise in futility, or in coming up with a topic to talk about over drinks.
P.S. Keep Grant away from the keyboard after he’s been drinking, amusing though it is.

Richard P. Grant August 25, 2009 - 5:48 PM

Up yours, Wintle.

Eva Amsen August 25, 2009 - 5:54 PM

_”But seriously, why on earth would one want to sub-categorize science blogs”_
Because at conferences like this, people often start saying things like “We should use blogs as indicator of academic activity” or “more people should blog” and those discussions depend a lot on what everyone actually has in their mind as a “blog”. Should more scientists blog to explain the research in their field to “the general public”? About how they run their lab? Blog their lab notes? It helps to make that clear.

Richard Wintle August 26, 2009 - 2:38 PM

Ah. So we should categorize science blogs in order to make it easier for people to discuss them at conferences about science blogging?
My meta-filter is clogged.

Richard Wintle August 26, 2009 - 2:38 PM

P.S. Possibly with something stuffed into it by RPG.

Eva Amsen August 26, 2009 - 10:17 PM

_”to make it easier for people to discuss them at conferences about science blogging?”_
Or newspaper articles/journal editorials etc. There are a number of places that mention “science blogging” as something that is useful or not, worth paying people for or not, etc. – and I think people have a particular _type_ of blog in their head when they defend either view.

Austin Elliott September 4, 2009 - 3:43 PM

I think what Richard (Wintle) was saying largely goes for me, too. Apart from anything else, personal blogs are.. well, personal. So they tend to be a mix of things. Even people that start with a view of “I’m going to blog about X” tend to “diversify” and personalise as they go, IMHO.
I have certainly blogged much less about my specific professional area of science than I probably intended to do when I started blogging. A bit more musing about this can be found “here,”:http://draust.wordpress.com/2009/08/29/road-trip-in-a-minor-manner-of-speaking/ though it is (appropriately given the comment?!) lost in a lot of other random meandering.

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