by Maryann Martone

A recent post at the London School of Economics Social Science Impact blog on “Finding the time to blog” reminded me that I wanted to write a blog about why I started to blog. The use of social media and its proper place in academic communications is being discussed in many circles. Over at FORCE11, we aggregate quite a few blog feeds like the one from LSE where these issues are thoroughly covered. I wanted, however, to share a personal perspective. Like many scientists, I suspect, I was at first reluctant to blog. I did write a few posts for the NIF blog when we started it up, but then stopped because “It takes too much time”. Each blog took me several weeks before I was happy with it and, as is well advertised, blogs don’t count towards academic promotion, etc. So if I was going to spend that amount of time, I might as well spend it towards something that does count: writing papers, giving talks, training, teaching, networking and, oh, doing research. Besides, who would want to hear what I had to say?

Well, the astute reader might have noted that many of our rewarded activities involve someone (funders, conference organizers, students) actually paying to hear what we have to say. And, the astute reader might also note that a blog is a much more effective communication vehicle than most of these for accomplishing these tasks. I started to blog for real when I realized that a blog is my communication with the world. A lot of money has been invested in me as a vehicle for knowledge acquisition and integration. The more I share that with the world, the better I do my job. A blog is not a learned treatise which needs to carefully consider all angles, acknowledge all references in a specified format and go through rounds and rounds of editing to craft the language so as to offend nobody with unsupported statements. A blog is a written yet highly interactive version of the type of conversation I engage in every day with students, colleagues, audiences. It is my thoughts on a topic, developed over a lifetime of active inquiry, open to correction and discussion. You can believe them or not, just as you choose to believe them when I am speaking to you in an informal or formal setting.

But unlike these other forms of transient communication, where my words evaporate into the air, blogs live on the net. They are searched by Google, so they can be found easily. And they are living things, open to comment, discussion, updating. Once I realized what a blog could be, I could fire one off in a matter of minutes. Do I get some things wrong? Sure. But isn’t that why we communicate with each other in science, so we can try to put our thoughts in order in a way where flaws can be exposed? It was a magical moment when I read over a blog that I had posted earlier and realized that I had left out a part of the argument. Oh no! But then I just opened edit and put it in. But what if I misrepresent some part of an argument or forget to acknowledge someone? Isn’t that why we have peer review? Well, if you want peer review, just read the comments. Usually, someone will correct you if they care enough. And again, you can immediately acknowledge that input and modify your posting or post a new one. So rather than blogging taking me away from my job, I actually think it lets me do it better. It is a freeing form of communication. Scientists generally are interesting people, but you would never know it from the articles they produce. But you do when you get them talking. And that, imho, is what a blog should be: scientists talking for everyone’s benefit.