I have to stand up and talk about blogging about research on Saturday, and it’s about time I wrote my talk. I guess a natural way to compose my thought (and receive feedback) is to write a blog post on the topic. All cooments are, of course, welcome. Particularly if you have some good examples of what I’m describing, or if you think I’ve left something out.
First, something I won’t be talking about is blogging about literature – I guess that will be brought up elsewhere and the short version is go here.
I guess the first questions that need tackling are why blog about your research, and what sort of things could be blogged about. As I don’t have any over-arching theory, I’ll just pick on a few examples that illustrate the genre.
One reason to blog about your research is the same reason I’m writing this – to get your ideas in order. John Wilkins, Aussie philosopher of science and general wit, sometimes uses this strategy. The visible output of his work is just words anyway, so it is possible for him to write a paper over several blog posts, and get feedback from his readers as the successive parts appear. That way, his ideas are refined your arguments and literature discovered with the help of the blogosphere’s hivemind. Eventually an academicized version might get published, so John gets a professional benefit, and his readers get the usual benefits of reading his posts.
One reason I have blogged about my research is that I have done something that isn’t publishable (it either too obscure or less than the Lowest Publishable Unit), but which is still worth putting “out there”. One example comes from an obscure statistic called DIC. Last year I realised why I and other people had been getting some odd results with it. The reason was already in the literature, but tucked away at the start of the original paper on DIC. I played around with the idea a bit, because I wanted to understand it, and then thought that it was worth pointing uot to the wider community that the problem was there, and here wre my thoughts. But I hadn’t done enough to get something publishable, so instead, I blogged what I had done, and then emailed a link a discussion list which most of the people who would be interested probably subscribe to.
As a result of this post, I received a couple of emails from people, including one manuscript describing a general approach to solving the problem, as well as a few other comments about the post. Making people aware of the problem was my intention, so blogging it worked. But it is probably not enough at the moment just to write a post – most scientists don’t read blogs, and of those that would be interested in one of your posts, most probably don’t read your blog. Some selling is going to be important: send a link to relevant newsgroups, bulletin boards etc. and see what happens. Even if there is no direct benefit, you do get yourself better known in the community you are trying to be a part of.
These first two examples are about, respectively, writing for yourself and writing for your peers. But sometimes writing for a more general public is called for. This is going to be trickier – science is technical, and blogging about what you have done whilst bringing people up to speed.
One approach is not to focus on the science, but instead on the human aspect. For example, blogging about things going right, or wrong, or just plain silly. Off-hand, I am not aware of many post about the actual doing of science: the closest I can think of is Andrew Gelman’s blog, where he often answers questions from people who have emailed him. His audience seems mainly to be statisticians and others interested in quantitative social science, rather than the general public.
Blogging about our the actual science we do seems to be much rarer, but maybe open notebooks will change all that.