Following up on my recent Ideas in Ecology and Evolution article (open access) on the role of the blogosphere in economics vs. ecology, I decided to tally up recent activity at a number of ecology blogs I keep an eye on. I was curious to see if there was any evidence of a (perhaps slow) increasing trend in ecological blogging.
Not so much. Indeed, many established ecology blogs seem to be slowing down, especially over the last few months:*
The EEB and Flow: 43 posts in 2011, 30 in 2012. 2 posts in last 2 months (and founder Marc Cadotte essentially stopped posting long ago).
Jabberwocky Ecology: 33 posts in 2011, 20 in 2012. No posts in last 2 months.
i’m a chordata! urochordata!: 3 posts in last 4 months; used to be more frequent.
Just Simple Enough: Began in Jan. 2012, 13 posts in first two months. 3 posts in last 3 months.
The Contemplative Mammoth: 21 posts in 2011 (in 6 months; blog founded July 2011), 23 in all of 2012.
Deep Thoughts and Silliness: No posts since Oct. 2012.
I present these numbers not to criticize my fellow ecology bloggers or shame them into posting more, or to make Dynamic Ecology look good by comparison. Seriously, that’s totally not my point–it’s up to each of us to decide how to allocate our time. For instance, Jarrett Byrnes (i’m a chordata! urochordata!) and Amy Hurford (Just Simple Enough) both started new faculty positions this fall, and that brings a lot of new demands on one’s time. And more recently, Jarrett’s blog apparently was hacked, which certainly will take a toll on one’s posting! I’m not out to criticize anyone else’s time allocation decisions, I’m just trying to get a sense of any broad trends.
On the other hand, some ecology blogs have been keeping up their established pace or even increasing it. Sociobiology (which isn’t really an ecology blog sensu stricto, but overlaps enough with Dynamic Ecology that I’m going to count it) has maintained a pace of about 6 posts/month for the entire 18 months it’s existed. Theoretical Ecology slowed down a bit early in the fall but seems to be bouncing back to its usual pace of several posts/month. Biological Posteriors (34 posts in 2011, 35 in 2012) is holding steady.
Of course, I’m not showing data from every ecology blog here, though I do think I’ve included many of the best-known ones. And I’m not showing data on things like the pace at which people are founding new ecology blogs (like the brand new Lab and Field, ace commenter Jim Bouldin’s Ecologically Orientated, or the very active large-group blog Early Career Ecologists), or the pace at which old ones are going dark (like Theoretically Speaking). I freely admit I’m making no effort to be systematic or do rigorous trend-detection here.
So I guess what I’ll say is that, if this is just a blip, to do with different unique circumstances at different blogs, I hope it doesn’t become a trend. And if it is a trend, I hope it reverses itself. It’s hard to see blogging becoming a key way in which ecologists communicate ideas with one another if existing blogs (especially established ones) wind down. And since there’s a stronger incentive to blog once a “culture of blogging” exists, but not before, a field can’t really develop a culture of blogging in the first place unless there are some “early adopters”, pioneers like the folks who write the blogs listed above. If the early adopters themselves give it up before enough other folks have followed their lead, it’s hard to see how you ever get a critical mass.
UPDATE: Keith Kloor of Discovery Magazine blog Collide-a-Scape suggests that ecology blogging hasn’t gotten off the ground because blogging was invented too late. Had blogging been around in the early-to-mid 1990s, US political fights like the one over the Endangered Species Act, the rise of conservation biology as a self-consciously distinct subdiscipline, and many other ecology-related news events and trends would’ve promoted the growth of a vibrant ecology blogosphere. Nowadays, he suggests, climate change and energy issues suck all the media oxygen, so there’s lots of climate-related blogging, but not much on any other ecological topic. I think Keith is probably right. As I noted in my IEE piece, one big reason why economics has a vibrant blogosphere is the financial crash and subsequent severe global recession. The economic crisis prompted a lot of academic economists to start blogging. In contrast, this blog, like all of the other ecology blogs I listed, doesn’t really concern itself much with climate change, which is indeed the issue of the day (or at least we all feel we have to say that it is). As important as issues like good teaching practice, good statistical practice, and, um, whether ecology is like billiards are, they’re not urgent in the same way as climate change, and they’re certainly not the focus of any significant fraction of the world’s collective attention. Which may explain why there aren’t all that many blogs like this one, and why those that do exist often show signs of not lasting that long. One test of this hypothesis will be when the global economy recovers. When that happens, will the economics blogosphere mostly fade away along with the urgency to discuss and debate economic ideas?
*I’m considering here only blogs written by individuals or groups of individuals, not those associated with journals, scientific societies, or other organizations. Nor am I counting folks who blog mostly as a way to keep notes to themselves, like Carl Boettiger and Steve Walker, though I admit that not counting such folks is debatable.