Five years as a science blogger – my experiences and how it began
Establishing intellectual friendships, meeting interesting people, fighting fierce academic debates – when I was invited to join the German SciLogs team in 2007, I had no idea what to expect; nobody had. Now SciLogs has merged with Nature Blogs and suddenly I realize that five years of science blogging have passed. A new beginning: time for a reflection.
Thursday 26th July saw the launch of SciLogs.com, a new English language science blog network. SciLogs.com, the brand-new home for Nature Network bloggers, forms part of the SciLogs international collection of blogs which already exist in German, Spanish and Dutch. To celebrate this addition to the NPG science blogging family, some of the NPG blogs are publishing posts focusing on “Beginnings”.
Participating in this cross-network blogging festival is nature.com’s Soapbox Science blog, Scitable’s Student Voices blog and bloggers from SciLogs.com, SciLogs.de, Scitable and Scientific American’s Blog Network. Join us as we explore the diverse interpretations of beginnings – from scientific examples such as stem cells to first time experiences such as publishing your first paper. You can also follow and contribute to the conversations on social media by using the #BeginScights hashtag.
According to recent polls, only 7% of internet users in Germany read blogs at least occasionally (Busemann & Gscheidle, 2011). For the US, 32% have been reported (Pew Research Center, 2010), for Japan an astonishing 80% (comScore, 2011). When Carsten Könnecker, editor in chief of Gehirn&Geist Magazine, the German edition of Scientific American Mind, told a couple of others and me in 2007 about the preparations to launch a blog portal on philosophical, psychological and neuroscientific topics, I belonged to this huge majority of internet users hardly visiting blogs.
Why should one spend time blogging anyway?
Because I enjoy writing and also discussing these topics with others I was stupid enough to set up my own blog – “stupid” because I was in the middle of my PhD period then, where one would expect not to have too much spare time for other activities. Besides, when you already spend much of your time sitting in front of a computer screen and analyzing neuroscience data or thinking about their philosophical implications, who then would voluntarily agree to spend even more time on these topics? Compared to today, and I suddenly realize that almost five years have passed since since I published my first post on the influence of genes on behavior on September 27 2007 (Die Macht der Gene?), I would have to say that I still had relatively much spare time then compared to my academic duties as an assistant professor nowadays. While I managed to write one post every one or two weeks back then, now I often can only write one per month, or even none at all.
Nevertheless, multiply this by five years and you can get the 129 posts with 3442 comments in my German blog Menschen-Bilder (loosely translated as human images) most of which received somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000 hits, with some outliers like the guest post on epigenetics and the inheritance of acquired properties by a German biology professor that already received more than 13,000 (Epigenetik: Wie erworbene Eigenschaften vererbt werden können). My primary motivation used to be and still is to share my thoughts with others and ideally also to learn from them if they point out some flaws in my reasoning.
I might be a bit more pessimistic on the outlook of the latter possibility after these more than 3,000 comments (actually about two per day on average), because most people rather seem to reinforce their own views instead of openly reflecting those on others, particularly on such rather philosophical issues such as causal determinism of the universe or the neuroscientific reduction of mind and psychology. I should add that what I wrote about “most people” perhaps also applies to myself, but in case that you shall continue reading my future posts and discussions in Psychophilosophy (for a motivation of why I chose this title, please see this about page), you will be able to draw your own conclusion.
When I started blogging and probably still today some academics in Germany, particularly in leading positions, regarded public communication as a waste of time. Even worse: A scholar who has time for this extra activity might not be a good scientist at all, for he or she could have spent this additional time on research, right? With the increasing importance of public relations and acquiring research funds, some of those people might eventually change their mind, but from the compliments that I got for my blogging activities in these five years, few came from colleagues. Perhaps this might also be explained by the fact that similar to German internet users in general, only 8% of scientists read blogs at least occasionally (Studie Digitale Wissenschaftskommunikation, 2010-2011).
However, my own blogging activities motivated me to take a look at what others blogging in related as well as different fields are doing – and there, indeed, a couple of helpful thoughts and references has been dropped and a couple of inspiring high-level discussions occurred. I also found it an interesting opportunity to offer people with whom you disagree to write a guest post for you (Guest posts in Menschen-Bilder, German) – a more direct invitation to challenge one’s own views. So look forward to similar initiatives here in my new English blog.
Let's have fun and gain new insights!
Finally I would like to express my gratitude to the supporting team that made writing for the German SciLogs platform such a nice experience, notably Lars Fischer (see his German blog Fischblog, one of the most read German science blogs overall, if I am not mistaken), Martin Huhn, Carsten Könneker (see his German blog Gute Stube), Richard Zinken and also the other ones who have helped us less visibly but not less importantly. One of the traditions they established and which have significantly contributed to making the SciLogs experiences worthwhile have been the yearly meetings in Deidesheim (e.g. Sci12: Sie wählten nur den Bundespräsidenten, wir den Blogger des Jahres), a small village well-known for its wine tradition. I hope that we will be able to have similar meetings among the bloggers of the new portal, though, admittedly, traveling might become a bit more difficult and expensive.
I hope that all bloggers, commentators, and passive readers alike will have a lot of fun on this new platform, and that all of us will be able to increase our knowledge and gain some new insights.
Credit: Thanks to Merja Mahrt and Cornelius Puschmann for providing us with the figures on blog publicity and Germany beyond at the Deidesheim Meeting 2012.