Note from Jeremy: This is a guest post by Martine Fugère, Eric Vander Wal and Mark Vellend. Mark recently led an ecology discussion group on blogs in ecology, using Dynamic Ecology as one of the examples. I heard about it because of discussants following a link to us, and so I invited the group to do a guest post summarizing their discussion. I’ve talked a lot about why I blog and why I think ecologists should read blogs (and even written a paper on these topics). So I thought it would be interesting to hear some thoughts on blogs in ecology from folks who aren’t themselves bloggers (or in many cases even regular blog readers). Thanks very much to Martine, Eric, and Mark for taking the time to share their discussion.
At francophone institutions across Canada, such as the Université de Sherbrooke, communicating science in English creates an additional challenge for graduate students above learning their specialty in biology. Here at the UdeS, to exercise this skill an indomitable group of ecologists meet to discuss ideas in English. Much like some blogs, one purpose of his fortnightly gathering is to discuss diverse topics related to science.
This week the topic was “Blogs in Ecology”. Are they relevant? Who reads them? And what motivates someone to read them? What are the possible returns on investing time in blogging over other tasks, for example, writing a peer-reviewed article? Here is what came out from that discussion.
Did anyone in the group read ecology (or evolution) blogs? 3/20 of did – hardly a sample size large enough to detect demographic trends. To prepare for the discussion, however, pretty much everyone skimmed the suggested blogs. Nearly everyone enjoyed the entry about field gremlins. To capture the attention of new readers, humour appeared to be a key factor, albeit one that did not necessarily maintain interest. But if you’re not Stephen Leacock, a blog at least needed to be written in a casual style that offered respite for eyes too tired to continue reading journal articles, but not yet sated on science for the day. As a result the blog itself needed to capture a sense of the general in an idea, somehow relating to natural world and the processes that shape it.
Other possible roles of a blog we could think of included communicating a research group’s dynamic and congenial lab atmosphere. Or a blog could be used to spread new ideas about teaching methods, or lab exercises, and their outcomes among students and faculty. The group, however, questioned whether there was a role for the blog as a popular essay in ecology; a tool to communicate results of research out beyond the walls of academe, common in economics.
Ultimately, the cost of blogging in is borne by the writer. Is it a ‘trade-off’ against more traditional measures of success in science? A number of examples were cited. Of note Fox’s blog entry that was converted into a TREE article, which was likely an exception rather than a rule. But the value of the blog as a sounding board for ideas and the possibility of its extended and casual reach were generally appreciated, even among those who were unlikely to dedicate time to reading them. In the end, whether they are or are not relevant correlated more closely to one’s proclivity toward reading blogs than to the contents of the blog itself.