Why Brian is blogging

The first thing you need to know about me is I am a technological Luddite trying out blogging. Not in all senses – I have been a professional computer programmer in some fashion for 30 years. However, I remain rather old-fashioned in my view of technology as a mode of human interaction. My wife and I together own one cell phone which we leave in the car. I don’t twitter or Facebook. I reluctantly use Linked-In in a passive mode and think Research Gate is one too many of this type of thing. I think email was an evil invention (notwithstanding a few good uses like scheduling face-to-face meetings and interacting on things that are inherently written like draft manuscripts). But basically I think face-to-face interactions are the best followed by the phone/Skype and the internet is a distant third.

So why am I agreeing to try out blogging? Because I see blogging as possibly one of the few “good” uses of computer interaction. Academia is a field where you learn more and more about less and less. A corollary is that there are fewer and fewer people who are professionally interesting to talk to (who know the same more about the same less that you do). Its been obvious to me for some time that my main intellectual interactions are with like-minded people scattered around the world and not my colleagues down the hall from me (who are nice people and with whom I enjoy chatting about the weather and kids, teaching and failings of higher administration ). In the past, interaction with these few globally scattered intellectually like-minded colleagues has taken two forms: conferences/working groups and co-authoring papers with specific people launched at conferences/working groups. But these are both limited. Meetings are at most a few weeks a year. Papers as interaction are very narrow band (a few people on a specific topic) and rather formal. I wish for something more.

At its best, the internet is a tool for connecting like-minded people. eBay found such a niche in connecting people who agree that a putrid green lamp shaped like a moose is really valuable. I have become convinced that blogging will become a critical tool for academics, filling this same niche of connecting a few like-minded people scattered world-wide for serious, but informal scientific discussion. Other fields got there first – everybody who is anybody in economics has a blog. Political science too. And in these fields serious discussion and consensus building happens in the blogosphere (at a speed way faster than journals can do). To this end, there are a number of ecological blogs I enjoy. But Jeremy has really changed the game with his blog. It has become a go to place where there is lively discussion on intellectually important topics on a regular basis. He has done this through hard work and smarts and deserves a lot of credit. I am grateful for being invited to hitch a ride on what he has created.

So, what do I intend to blog about? The answer is probably more something to put in action and do than to talk about, but briefly:

  • Macroecology and more generally large-scale ecology. This is my core research area. Occasionally I’ll post F1000 “cool paper” type of posts but more often I envision reflective pieces on the state of the field (inspired by but no hope of matching John Lawton’s “Views from the Park” – also I know an inspiration for Jeremy). You’ll probably hear a bit about organism-climate interactions and climate change too.
  • Sustainability science and doing socially relevant science. My current job at the University of Maine is 50% based in the Sustainability Solutions Initiative. Anybody who compares ESA 2012 with ESA 2002 can see this is a direction the field is going in a big way. And I think it needs to (nb: this doesn’t mean abandoning basic research). But there are a lot of pitfalls and challenges. I hope to reflect on these.
  • Ecoinformatics and statistics – This is another big direction in ecology (very evident at ESA this year) with a lot of pitfalls and traps.
  • General career tips – I recently taught a graduate course in “Professional Skills in Biology” and found I had a lot of opinions about how to write a paper, find a job etc.

Enough meta-reflection about myself. Let the blogging begin!

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