The dawn of Scientopia and the evolving science blogging ecosystem

A post by Chris RowanWhilst I was rock hunting in a region where whisky is far more readily available than wifi, the rapid reorganisation of the science blogosphere has continued with the unveiling of a shiny new blog collective: Scientopia.

Largely the brainchild of Mark Chu-Carroll and Scicurious, Scientopia aims to be “a collective of people who write about science because they love to do so.” Several friends from Scienceblogs have joined the community, including Janet of Adventures in Ethics and Science, GrrlScientist, Zuska and PalMD of White Coat Underground.

Two important things should be noted. Firstly, this new collective is not solely composed of ex-Sciencebloggers looking for a new home; it has reached out and recruited other cool bloggers, such as Skulls in the Stars, Proflike Substance and Candid Engineer. Secondly, not everyone who has left Scienceblogs has ended up at Scientopia. In other words, those who are thinking “here comes the new network, same as the old network”, are a little behind the curve here. Rightly or wrongly, former denizens of Scienceblogs have a certain amount of influence on the way that the science blogosphere evolves in the future, and it is exciting to see that we are not looking inward, but outward; building and growing new communities, either in groups or separately.

I write this because there was a bit of chatter on Twitter earlier in the week about the lack of geobloggers on Scientopia. I know for a fact that this isn’t for lack of trying. I was actually involved with some of the initial discussions as the shape of the new community was being thrashed out, and I know a few other geobloggers were asked if they wanted to participate. In the end, Anne and I both felt that our current aims – to promote the geoblogging community, and to encourage more earth scientists to actively participate in online discussions – were potentially in conflict with the aims of the Scientopia community. Indeed, for all its many virtues, the clear dominance of the biomedical fields at Scientopia just highlights how far we still have to come before online engagement becomes an accepted and commonly used means of engagement and discussion in earth science.

So, the main reason there is not (yet) any geoblogging under the Scientopia banner is that the people who were invited have other plans, and different paths to follow. This is as it should be. I think it is important that we move away from the ‘one network to rule them all’ model. Science blogging is bigger than any one network, and hopefully we are now entering a phase where the online ecosystem more fairly reflects this: ‘a redistribution of energy flow’, as Brian nicely puts it (for further musings, Bora is, as ever, also required reading). The next challenge is to cultivate links and discussions between all those new communities, something which us ex-Sciencebloggers, with our shared connections, are well-placed to take the lead on, even if the technicalities still need thrashing out.

Hmm, maybe there’s the kernal of a session for ScienceOnline 2011 here…

Categories: bloggery, public science
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Comments (27)

  1. Maitri says:

    … the clear dominance of the biomedical fields at Scientopia just highlights how far we still have to come before online engagement becomes an accepted and commonly used means of engagement and discussion in earth science.

    But, if self-proclaimed _science_ blog collectives are primarily biomedical-focused, what about the responsibility of making them representative of other sciences? In other words: two questions: 1) Will Scientopia encourage earth science blogs? and 2) How come they get to take the names Science Blogs and Scientopia and we qualify our blogs as Geo This or Geo That? Make sense?

    • Chris Rowan says:

      1) Yes.
      2) You can call your blog/collective what you like. So can we. So can they.

      You seem to be missing the fact that they asked people who declined the invitation to join. That’s hardly the Scientopia folks’ fault, and neither is the fact that the science blogosphere as a whole is dominated by biomedical blogs. They can only recruit from what’s there, and for all its growth, in terms of numbers and visibility, the geoblogosphere is probably about at the stage that biomed blogs were three or four years ago.

      I’d say the Scientopia name reflects an honest aspiration to be comprehensive, and they are trying to recruit on that basis. But it’s not their job to fix the underlying race/sex/disciplinary* imbalances on the internet. That’s everyone’s.

    • Maitri says:

      I guess I don’t understand why the aim of this blog is “potentially in conflict” with Scientopia’s, then. There is absolutely nothing that says you have to blog under the Scientopia auspices, but how does housing the blog there prevent you from furthering the aims of promoting the geoblogging community and encourage more earth science discussion online? It’s not an either-or kind of thing, is it? I mean, is the state of earth science blogging that dismal?

      Just trying to figure out your rationale, that’s all. :-)

  2. drskyskull says:

    Thanks for this post; it covers what I was similarly thinking of writing.

    I can’t speak for the whole collective, but at least personally I hesitated to invite more geobloggers outside of those initially invited (who eventually declined) because I was aware of the geoblogosphere’s own nascent goal to built a dedicated community, and didn’t want to try and “poach” too many people before the geo community had decided its own plans.

    In hindsight, that may or may not have made any sense on my part, but I would love (and I think Scientopia would love) to have a healthy geo representation in the community going forward.

    • Maitri says:

      I hesitated to invite more geobloggers outside of those initially invited (who eventually declined) because I was aware of the geoblogosphere’s own nascent goal to built a dedicated community

      Aaah, this is what I was looking for. Good to know the geoblogosphere speaks for itself, now if we can just figure out whose mouth(s) it uses.

  3. bsci says:

    I’ll note that unless a hugely disproportionate number earth scientists start blogging, there will always be many more biomedical bloggers. It’s worth noting that lumping everything relating to biology and medicine together and saying its bigger than a single scientific specialty is not shocking.

    That said, I respect the desire to form a within specialty community and the benefits that arise from it. Still, if a blogger has a broad public education goal and wants to target random eyeballs might come across a blog on a larger network, it’s losing out. I would have never come across your work if it wasn’t on a larger network (I do read, but I’m a less frequent commenter here).

    Perhaps there are hybrid solutions like a best of geo-blogging blog on a larger network or some geo-bloggers who have more interest in lay education reside on more diverse networks to provide a communication link.

  4. Brian Romans says:

    Chris,
    I agree — the science blogging ‘ecosystem’ is quite large now and it would be clunky and cumbersome to have a single, huge collective. It’s interesting to watch the various networks form and emerge.

    As for the geoblogging future … well, it’s simply up to those who want to be involved and those who are willing to put the work towards organizing/maintaining. Input from as many other bloggers and readers is highly valued, but at some point, whatever emerges will inherently be an outgrowth of those devoting their time and energy.

  5. Kim says:

    The discussion on Twitter bothered me because of the undercurrent from geobloggers of “they don’t like us, so we don’t need them anyway!” (Especially because it turned out that Scientopia had no desire to exclude geoscientists.) It got me thinking about geoscientists in general. (And it almost became a blog post, but I didn’t want my blog to go in that direction, either, so I dropped the thought.)

    Here’s my fear about the geoscience discipline and the people within it. There aren’t many of us. And, to keep up the evolutionary metaphor, we don’t propagate very effectively – in the US, big states like California and Texas don’t teach Earth Sciences to high school students, and I’ve gotten the impression that the UK has parallel problems. Undergraduates perceive geology as easy and as poorly paid (that’s from an AGI Workforce Currents article, I think). Geoscience departments at universities in the US have been cut or threatened to be cut, and we may not have seen the end of cuts in the US.

    And I’ve seen geoscientists (outside the blogosphere) respond to being ignored by turning inward. Science and Nature have too much biomedical stuff? That’s ok, geoscientists don’t read them much anyway. (And that “impact factor” stuff doesn’t matter to us, either. It’s so high-strung, like the pre-meds in my intro chemistry class.) And it goes on. My grad department was in a separate School of Earth Sciences. My undergrad department was proud to have been left off a (rather lame) Chemistry Department t-shirt (“Carleton chemists: biologists with brains, physicists with social skills”) – the Geo department was more fun than all the other sciences put together, anyway.

    The geoblogosphere seems to be separate already as well. The geologists have stronger social connections to one another than to other scientists, in a way that chemists or astrophysicists or evolutionary biologists don’t. I certainly felt it when I was blogging – I would far rather have been part of a collective of geobloggers than part of Science Blogs, and it really bothered me that some geobloggers thought I had been assimilated into another blogging club and had left them.

    So… I like geoscientists more than I like other scientists. But I worry that there aren’t enough of us (outside the blogosphere) to survive. And I worry that geobloggers will end up talking to one another rather than to other people (scientists and non-scientists). (I know that, as the geoblogosphere grew, my blogging started focusing on the people who were commenting, which meant that I talked more to geologists than to non-scientists. It took a lot of effort to try to write posts that my English-major friends would understand.) And if geoscientists end up talking to one another – well, it may be professionally useful for individual geoscientists to network with one another, and it would probably be more professionally useful than talking to the general public would be. But it won’t be outreach. And it certainly won’t be the multitude of Carl Sagans that Ron and Maria were promoting when I first started blogging.

    I don’t know what the future of Scientopia is, or whether it will be as important for reaching out to the general public as Science Blogs was. But I’m worried about the insularity of geoscientists, online and off, regardless of the future of specific blogging networks.

    • Maitri says:

      KIm, I love this comment of yours because, to me at least, it speaks volumes about how geoscientists need to embrace general science given the interdisciplinary nature of our work!

      I like geoscientists more than I like other scientists. But I worry that there aren’t enough of us (outside the blogosphere) to survive. And I worry that geobloggers will end up talking to one another rather than to other people (scientists and non-scientists).

      Geoscientists have a very important place in society, and that is in taking an active role in shaping policy and infrastructure. Just in this past decade, we’ve seen national problems arise from not understanding hurricanes and floods, levees and dams (soil & bedrock), buildings and bridges (again structural and soil mechanics), the risks of overpressurized deepwater environments (multiple geological subdisciplines), groundwater and nuclear-geochemical interactions. This is why, like you, I consider Brian’s work with KQED a huge step because it breaks geoscientific insularity and propels us way out to where we ought to be, way beyond geoscience and science blogs and academic departments, right in the middle of policy discussions in the media.

      So, I think we can (work to) kill two birds – Not Enough Geoscientists and Geoscientists Talking Amongst Ourselves – with one stone of geoblogging. Start a policy blog and talk geoscience (I have a personal-general-NewOrleans blog in which unsuspecting visitors have been fed heaping spoonfuls of science and geology – heehee*evil*heehee). Perhaps geoscience departments ought to start pairing with schools of public policy to offer courses like Science & Society or Science In The News (being done at UW-Madison) and then become a part of the curricula of engineering, sustainability and MBA programs. I know we all HEART rocks because they make sense and don’t talk back to us, and hate politics and icky, subjective humanities shite, but maybe that’s the problem. Look at all the traction we don’t have and how much we have to fight in this California Serpentinite brouhaha.

      But, before I go on too long and in keeping with the insularity of geoscientists, I live in the same town as another Keck school, we all miss Shelby Boardman and I think you went to school with my friend Britta.

  6. Kim says:

    I should add, after my long rant, that Brian Roman’s work with KQED might be stronger outreach than joining a multidisciplinary blogging collective.

    • Brian Romans says:

      And what attracted me to this is that it doesn’t require “moving” my blog there … it’s simply a weekly post w/in their current programming. I can keep doing whatever I want at my own blog. Win-win.

  7. Brian Romans says:

    Kim, I’m with you 100% — retreating inward would only exacerbate what sometimes feels like a collective, and self-imposed, inferiority complex. I’ve definitely been guilty of participating in the somewhat bitter and jaded geoscience-is-so-undervalued commentary. The message that’s it’s undervalued is important, but it can be done in a more positive way.

  8. Silver Fox says:

    I interact with other parts of the science blogosphere at least some of the time, by reading and by commenting irregularly. I find the commenting easier to do with some of the younger people, but that’s not a rule. I do this partly because I relate to the women-in-science blogs, learn from them, and hope I contribute some experience. My sidebar links to Other Science reflect this interest.

    A bit of my $0.02: most of us that consider ourselves part of the geoblogosphere and who care about community have links on our blogs to other geobloggers, and many of us have a live feed widget to either Allgeo or Geoblogosphere News or our own chosen links. These seem like minimal first steps that many of us already take.

  9. Chris Rowan says:

    So, I think we can (work to) kill two birds – Not Enough Geoscientists and Geoscientists Talking Amongst Ourselves – with one stone of geoblogging. Start a policy blog and talk geoscience

    Now here’s an idea – an open group blog with a geology/society theme. I like this a lot. And possibly something we could agitiate to be hosted at a place like Scientopia? If there’s enough people willing to possibly contribute I’m willing to do some legwork.

    Kim – you provide a lot of food for thought. There’s a kind of vicious circle involved here, in that a feeling of (relative) marginalisation drives a tendency to talk amongst ourselves. Breaking it is the issue, and probably requires a variety of approaches.

    • Maitri says:

      I’m all for it and am willing to contribute time to it.

    • Kim says:

      I like the idea of a geology/society group blog. I’d be willing to contribute, too.

    • Brian Romans says:

      Very interesting idea … I guess it would either be a blog with multiple authors/contributors, or could be some system that we post at our own sites and then tag somehow so they get aggregated elsewhere?

      Difficult to say how many posts I would contribute — maybe one every couple months (?) … but, I’m definitely interested in being part of it.

      • Maitri says:

        Brian, I think you’re already part of it. And I think cross-posting is a very useful and often-overlooked online tool. The point is getting the message out as much and to as many people as possible.

  10. Steve Gough says:

    My specialty is applied fluvial geomorph/restoration; I’d love to cover that. At least a post a month. I like Brian’s idea. I’m at Riparian Rap (lrrd.blogspot.com). I now focus a lot on our work because it’s interesting, but have done a lot of policy posts on flooding, climate change, river management.

  11. Hypocentre says:

    I would be up for contributing as well. This year I shall be writing and teaching a geoscience and society module so I will probably have things to contribute from that.

  12. I like that this round of navel gazing appears to have turned productive. I could contribute an occasional post on water resources and society/policy to a group blog.

  13. Lockwood says:

    Oh, this is wonderful! I’d be happy to contribute to Chris’ idea from the perspective of a politically and geologically informed layman- with the intention of focusing on the science and implications of this vs. that policy decision, rather than my own biases (which I make no effort to conceal on m own blog).

    Also (and I ‘m surprised Ron hasn’t left a comment on this himself), he has proposed an online discussion of “Current Issues in the Geoblogosphere on Skype tomorrow at 13:00 EDT/17:00GMT. I can’t participate- I expect to be busy- but I think some great ideas are emerging, and I look forward to seeing what direction this ends up going.

    You are invited to join us for a group discussion on Skype of “Current Issues in the Geoblogosphere” on Saturday, 7 August 2010 at 1300EDT/1700GMT. E-mail rschott@outcrop.org to join. For a good primer to the discussion you’re encouraged to review the blog posts from July’s Accretionary Wedge and the comments that grew out of today’s post on Highly Allochthonous.

    I hope to record the conversation and release it later as a podcast for those who are unable to make it at this time. If all goes well this will be just the first of a recurring series of Skype discussions on this and related topics.

    http://ron.outcrop.org/blog/?p=960

    • Chris Rowan says:

      Note that the group blog idea was Maitri’s, not mine.

      But it looks like we have the numbers to get regular posts without too much time commitment from any one person.

  14. Jim Lehane says:

    I like the idea as well and would love to contribute some material. My schedule waxes and wanes, as with most people, but if there are enough people interested this project should be able be rather self sustaining.

    This is also a good idea to get people back their own respective blogs. I know I could use more traffic as I am sure more geobloggers out there could.

  15. Lab Lemming says:

    Kim says:
    “Here’s my fear about the geoscience discipline and the people within it. There aren’t many of us. And, to keep up the evolutionary metaphor, we don’t propagate very effectively – in the US, big states like California and Texas don’t teach Earth Sciences to high school students, and I’ve gotten the impression that the UK has parallel problems. Undergraduates perceive geology as easy and as poorly paid (that’s from an AGI Workforce Currents article, I think). Geoscience departments at universities in the US have been cut or threatened to be cut, and we may not have seen the end of cuts in the US.”

    Isn’t that to our advantage, though? Given that the demand for natural resources is increasing (or at worst flat), a decrease in supply of geologists should result in an increase in what we get paid. Here in Australia, in the past year we have had both the closure of a mining school and the advertisement of 6 figure starting salaries for geologists fresh out of university who are willing to work in coal. So from the cold, calculating economic point of view, reducing the number of people interested in doing geology increases our ability to negotiate phat contracts when working in industry. And the phatter our contracts, the less time we have to spend doing resource work before we can pay off our houses and do something interesting but less lucrative. By taking ourselves out of the industrial market, of course, we also reduce supply, to the benefit of our co-workers.

  16. Michael says:

    Having just got back from travelling, I’m only just catching up – and I see I have a lot to do!

    However, the idea of some sort of group geo-policy blog is a fascinating one and I suspect that it might stimulate an audience on both sides of the Atlantic. From my own point of view, the series of posts I did on the issues around the Louisiana sand berms and some summaries about oil-eating bacteria proved (and continue to prove) to be well-received. I guess that I’m firmly in the “outreach” camp of the geoblogosphere and this kind of group blog on topical subjects is something I would be delighted to contribute to.

    How to “market” it , to push it out to where it would be of most use? Would one the national/international geoscience organisations consider hosting it? Is that a good idea or not?

    Thanks, and I much look forward to the evolution of this discussion!

    Michael

  17. Cian says:

    I think the idea of a geo blog that includes science and policy is a great one. I think it’s interesting conversation among the geo crowd, and there’s also an audience for plain-language content aimed at the general public, especially when it comes to the intersection of environment and health.

    At this point the possibility of my jumping into the actual blogging side is still unclear; but if I do step into the blogging world, I would gladly contribute from the hydrogeo and contaminant fate & transport side of things.

    I’d like to put one idea out there: develop some common tags across the geoblogosphere. For example, if posts that address introductory concepts were all tagged “intro,” aggregated feeds could be used at someplace like all-geo to showcase the introductory posts on basic geoscience issues from across the geoblogosphere.

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