My colleague David Crotty has a rant at Bench Marks wherein he suggests that Nature’s blogging advocacy is just a shallow attempt to get more content for Nature Blogs, and that scientists blogging is just a fad that can’t replace mainstream media coverage of science and won’t amount to much otherwise. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but I think there’s another way to see things and I’d like to present a counterpoint to his Nicholas Carr-ying on.
When I hear people complaining about blogger bias or twitter banality, my response is that they’re reading/following the wrong people, so let me help him out here:
Steve Koch is pioneering the field of Single-molecule genetics and has interesting stuff to say about the life of a young assistant professor.
Cosma Shalizi has been blogging since before the term was coined about complex systems.
Mark Chu-Carroll makes math and programming fascinating, and he works for Google.
Ben Goldacre certainly fills a niche that mainstream journalists either can’t or wont fill – that of debunking pseudoscience.
Michael Nielsen‘s post on Statistical Machine Translation was written as he’s learning, making it a perfect intro for someone else wanting to learn about the area.
Though certainly not free of opinion, Bart Laws has one of the best and most accessible explanations of sensitivity and specificity I’ve ever read, and lots more about health policy.
Blake Stacey writes entertainingly about string theory (no mean feat) in his blag.
Sean Carroll got 241 comments on his short post about Garrett Lisi’s Theory of Everything, including active participation from the author of the paper under discussion, and also wrote this post about why scientists should blog back in 2006.
Just about everything Ian York writes (not including the pictures of his kids) is not only accessible, but fascinating and relevant to my own work, as well.
Then there’s the Bayblab, who may be just a bunch of degenerate graduate students, but cover science news better and more in depth than all of the mainstream media science writers put together.
I’m going to have to stop here before I repost my whole blogroll, but I think you get the point. Stop whining, start reading.
Now, I can’t speak towards Nature’s motivations for encouraging blogging, but I do think they have something to gain from a more efficient peer-review process, and are sufficiently incentivized to encourage anything that looks like it might help. I made a comment on one of the Nature blogs regarding peer-review reform and someone found it and emailed me to ask if they could put it in the print issue as a correspondence, which is suggestive, at least, that someone there agrees with that sentiment. At any rate, Sean Carroll’s post had plenty of company when he wrote it back in 2006, so I trust he’s clear of the aspersions Mr. Crotty is casting.
Dispassionate and accurate journalism from people who studied journalism is all well and good, but as they’ve mostly abdicated their responsibility to educate the public on scientific issues (vaccines, evolution, and global warming are but recent examples), someone needs to step up, and if actual scientists can’t fill that gap, I don’t know who will.