Just how important IS blogging?

Just received an e-mail and a link from Jason Samenow, the Weather Editor for the Washington Post, and leader of The Capital Weather Gang. He was passing along a tweet from Roger Pielke, Jr., who cited a link to the effect that “Blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now”.

Too good to resist.

The quote comes from Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson, two social scientists affiliated with the London School of Economics Public Policy Group, which is running two blogs and scheduled to start two more over coming months.

Here is some of what they had to say on the importance of blogging to (social-science) academics.

“…One of the recurring themes (from many different contributors) on the Impact of Social Science blog is that a new paradigm of research communications has grown up – one that de-emphasizes the traditional journals route, and re-prioritizes faster, real-time academic communication in which blogs play a critical intermediate role. They link to research reports and articles on the one hand, and they are linked to from Twitter, Facebook and Google+ news-streams and communities.  So in research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.

But in addition, social scientists have an obligation to society to contribute their observations to the wider world – and at the moment that’s often being done in ramshackle and impoverished ways, in pointlessly obscure or charged-for forums, in language where you need to look up every second word in Wikipedia, with acres of ‘dead-on-arrival’ data in unreadable tables, and all delivered over bizarrely long-winded timescales. So the public pay for all our research, and then we shunt back to them a few press releases and a lot of out-of-date academic junk.”

They add

“Blogging (supported by academic tweeting) helps academics break out of all these loops. It’s quick to do in real time. It taps academic expertise when it’s relevant, and so lets academics look forward and speculate in evidence-based ways. It communicates bottom-line results and ‘take aways’ in clear language, yet with due regard to methods issues and quality of evidence.”

“… Academic blogging gets your work and research out to a potentially massive audience at very, very low cost and relative amount of effort. With platforms like WordPress (which we use here), you can set up a blog and have your first article online in no more than 10 minutes. Recent research from the World Bank has shown that blogging about an academic article can lead to hundreds of new readers when before there were only a handful.

Terrific points. And Dunleavy and Gilson go on to add more detail and supporting background. Well worth the read. You might particularly enjoy their comments about the difficulty of sustaining single-author blogs and their three “sure-fire” tips for would-be bloggers.Blogging in multi-author blogs is a great way to build knowledge of your work, to grow readership of useful articles and research reports, to build up citations, and to foster debate across academia, government, civil society and the public in general.

But it seems to me they’ve left out a couple of real pluses for academic bloggers…or for that matter, almost anyone…the daily discipline of cupping one’s ear and listening to the world…becoming much more alert to what and who people care about, and why…and examining one’s own work for relevance to those concerns.

Learning to ask two questions: “what do people need?”…and “have I anything to offer that might help?”

Jason and Roger…and many other bloggers…are doing that for thousands of people on a daily basis.

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2 Responses to Just how important IS blogging?

  1. Michael Cunningham says:

    Spot on. Blogs have led me to read a wide range of academic papers, and to regularly buy books, which I would not have known off. Your point, tapping in to the input from the vast range of – often informed and well-educated – bloggers helps to keep academics in touch with a broader reality, and to bring valuable perspectives from other fields.

    • William Hooke says:

      Thanks, Michael…
      Well said, as usual! Time was, when I’d go to scientific conferences, maybe 2-4 times a year, I’d find myself stimulated and challenged by the great work that had been accomplished by my peers…and humbled at the same time. I’d realize that I’d allowed my preoccupation with my own work to lead me to think of it as more significant than it really was, carrying more import than it really did. These days, with the connectivity of the web, the stimulation is daily, hourly, not once a season. And that unhealthy over-estimate of what I’m doing? That no longer has so much chance to fester.

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