Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Keep Them Posted: How to Set Up a Blog about Science

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Keep Them Posted: How to Set Up a Blog about Science

Article excerpt

Online updates are now an essential weapon in researchers' armoury. Matthew Reisz reports

Scientists who want to raise their profiles, build their careers and help ensure that policymakers and the wider public have access to genuine research findings now need to be effective bloggers.

Yet there are many challenges. What are the best ways of setting up a blog, gaining a following and measuring your impact? How should one deal with material that is genuinely difficult or controversial? And how can one cope with trolls and "deniers"?

Many suggestions appear in a new collection, edited by Bethany Brookshire, Jason Goldman and Christie Wilcox, called Science Blogging: The Essential Guide. Even now, they admit in the preface, the internet is "still very much a frontier for science communicators. It's the Wild West. Each time the scene threatens to become too settled, someone or something new arrives, keeping us all on our toes."

Yet there is really no choice. In her own chapter, Wilcox, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii, notes that "start[ing] the conversation yourself" can help "make sure your research is talked about". Yet "if your research is already being talked about widely, you definitely want to be blogging" - to correct misconceptions and keep some control over the debate.

It is also highly useful for expanding scientific networks and for demonstrating key skills: "while it's easy to say you're a good writer, hard-working or committed, showing it is much harder to do - and so means a good deal more".

Science writer Ben Lillie, who has a background in theoretical high-energy physics, argues that scientific bloggers should beware of "default[ing] to a writing style [they] know", namely the detached, analytical style appropriate to journal articles. Instead, it is often worth trying to engage readers through "personal storytelling".

Taking on the trolls

"Make sure we know how you're feeling," he writes. "Narrative" may be "incredibly difficult to get right, and fraught with the dangers of oversimplification", but "it's also how we, as human beings, relate best to each other".

Kate Clancy, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, considers the specific problems faced by female science bloggers. Although she admits that she has suffered from writer's block, spent days dealing with "a single drive-by rape tweet, and been slowed by internalized sexist bullying from women", she is also confident that it is possible to tap into a support network: "You will very likely develop a posse. …

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