Within the geoblogosphere at least, the reaction to Casey Luskin of the Discovery Insitute’s unauthorized hijacking of the BPR3 icon (Mike has the full saga) has morphed into a much broader and more interesting debate: about the ResearchBlogging project itself, about how it fits into peoples’ ideas of science blogging , and even about what the term ‘science blogging’ actually means.
Maria kicked things off* when she found herself rather underwhelmed by the whole affair – and not just because ‘Discovery Institute tries to apply scientific gloss to religious biases’ is not exactly ‘Man bites dog.’
None of what I’m doing is incompatible with the goals of the BPR3 project, but the boosterism and the use of the icon I’ve seen has been so relentlessly serious that me and my light tone find it difficult to identify as a member of the tribe.
It’s hard to know at this early stage how the aggregation system will evolve, but my attitude towards the project is a little more positive: at the very least, the fact that the system generates a proper citation, with a doi if possible, gives it one up on the press-release factories such as EurekaAlert. Also, since blogging of this sort is quite often in reponse to bad media coverage of a new paper, having a single port of call where the interested layperson can go to find the responses of actual experts to the latest claims to have disproven gravity or found the God/immortality/Brad Pitt gene has huge outreach potential.**
That said, I can see what Maria is driving at: namely that there is a risk that blog entries sporting the magic icon start to be perceived (by authors and audiences) as somehow ‘better’ than entries that do not. I’ve certainly interacted with some people who feel that science blogging should be all about serious discussions of serious research, and would buy into this perception quite heavily. But as Brian pointed out (echoing Julia’s comments a few months ago), the phrase ‘science blogger’ covers a multitude of diverse styles, topics and attitudes.
it seems to me there are two kinds of science-related blogs:
(1) blogs about science
(2) blogs by scientists
These types are fluid. That is, one blog can exhibit traits of either type from post to post. Some blogs switch back and forth a lot, some stick to one type or the other most of the time.
I’d say that there is quite a complex taxonomy within this broad division. There’s blogging about the results of science, the process of science, about the experience of being a scientist, about the interaction of science with politics and religion. You have scientist and non-scientist science bloggers, writing for the general public, other scientists, or a particular social group. I believe that this variety, in itself, has an intrinsic value – rather than the public seeing some sort of monolithic edifice of Science, they see the diverse, smart and ever-argumentative group of people that we actually are. In many ways, getting non-scientists to understand that is at least as important as getting them to understand our research – you could even say that the former is a necessary condition if the latter is to even have a hope of succeeding.
Furthermore, you can write about science without writing about the peer reviewed literature. Since I got back from my Christmas break, I’ve used the ResearchBlogging item with one post. Is that the only post I’ve written in that time with juicy geological content? I’d like to think not. When you’re writing about basic science, references to the peer-reviewed literature are sometimes neither necessary nor appropriate.
I think it is probably a truism that we all blog because we find it rewarding to do so. However, our aims and approaches are almost certainly all quite different, and it is important to recognise that this a good thing. All these different angles and ideas are complementary to each other; no single approach is going to successfully engage or interest everyone, so we shouldn’t start creating some sort of hierarchy where certain forms are considered to be ‘proper’ science blogging, and others aren’t.
For myself, when I find myself discussing a particular paper in detail, I’ll probably submit my post to the ResearchBlogging aggregator. I also hope that it will grow to be a valuable internet resource. But I’m not going to go out of my way to blog about peer-reviewed research just so that I can use the icon, or pretend that using it will impart any particular legitimacy on my blogging. That comes from actually writing stuff that people are interested in reading, just like scientific legitimacy does not come from having a peer-reviewed paper to your name, but from that paper actually influencing other scientists’ own ideas and research. It seems that whatever the medium, the Discovery Institute makes the same mistakes. Hopefully, we all have too much sense to follow in their wake.
* Not typing ‘Yami’ still feels weird. Darned real names.
** It will be especially interesting to see whether the bloggers who use the system will closely follow the “embargo-release-huge bruhaha-rubbish bin” model of science reporting in the mainstream media, or whether we’ll start seeing discussions of older papers, or updates on how last year’s alleged blockbusters have stood the test of time, as well.