What are blogs (vertebrates) good for?

Judith Curry had an interesting post over the weekend: What are blogs good for anyways? In it, she draws our attention to a seminar given by one Franziska Hollender based on her masters thesis. Professor Curry says this:

“The premise behind this study was an interesting one, although the study (focused on the comments for a few posts at WUWT) was rather limited. The key conclusion of the presentation is that “Finally, it is concluded that the climate change discourse has been stifled by the obsession of discussing the science basis and that in order to advance the discourse, there needs to be a change in how science as an ideology is communicated and enacted.””

After exploring Ms. Hollender’s particular thesis, Dr. Curry adds her general perspective:

“A few additional comments addressing what I think blogs are good for. Blogs allow for much more rapid discussion of breaking science than the conventional method of conference presentation, journal publication, and subsequent comments in the journal. Not only do blogs engage a wider range of scientists than the [sic] say a specialty conference, but they also engage the public on current research. There is also an increasing tendency to use climate blogs for propaganda…

…What do I get out of the climate blogs? They keep me up do [sic] date on the current literature and issues of interest to the broader public. Because of my blogging, I’ve developed a network with some fantastic people from around the world, with whom I would never have otherwise engaged. I’ve learned alot and broadened my intellectual horizons. And finally, blogging sharpens your written communication skills. To the extent that you engage in the dialogue (I did this more at ClimateAudit and Collide-a-Scape, prior to Climate Etc., than I do now), it sharpens your critical thinking and rhetorical skills.

And finally, its [sic]an opportunity to engage in discussing and understanding issues related to the social dynamics of science in the 21st century with social media, extended peer communities, etc. The internet is changing the sociology of science in ways that are rapidly evolving and poorly understood. Engaging in the blogosphere is a way to be part of that.”

A great list! You can get the full details on Climate Etc.

Reflection on what blogs are good for is valuable; more is certainly needed. In the scheme of human affairs, blogs are nascent, and their role is indeed evolving, both in response to blogs’ inherent nature and in response to social change. They have a great potential for good!

So…speaking of evolution, it might be worth stepping back and asking whether this question is much different in character from another:

What are vertebrates good for, anyways?

A moment’s reflection should convince all of us that vertebrates play all sorts of roles. Some are apex predators. Others are ruminants. Some are scavengers. Some, like tick birds or cleaner-fish, provide hygiene services for other vertebrates. Some are parasites. Some fly, some crawl, some swim. Vertebrates and invertebrates alike can fill similar niches in different ecosystems…and some play different roles in different ecosystems and at different times. We find them at all levels of an ecosystem food chain. Ecologists therefore tend to ask narrower questions: what is this particular vertebrate good for? What is its role in its ecosystem?

Presumably blogs can, do, and will continue to fill such a variety of roles across the communications landscape. Depending upon their provenance, their writers, their intended aims, and the communities who read them, they can probably serve almost any purpose, functioning in ways that range from something akin to a peer-reviewed journal or an IPCC process all the way across the spectrum to a major publication or newspaper.

Recall Judith Curry’s comment in the fine print above? “Because of my blogging, I’ve developed a network with some fantastic people from around the world, with whom I would never have otherwise engaged.”

Fantastic person? She’s one such herself. In fact, we’re told that we’re each created in the image of God. It’s therefore more likely than not that each of us is fantastic: special, beautiful, wise, insightful, valuable – indeed, irreplaceable – in some unique way.

And that brings to mind another purpose blogs serve. Flash back to a time when most communication was through a relatively small, non-diverse set of (largely) print media. If you had an opinion on a given matter, and took the trouble to write it up, you might or might not have the opportunity to share your thinking. But the odds weren’t so much in your favor. This reality prompted the poet Thomas Gray to note, back in the 18th century:

“Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

Today, with blogging, tweeting, and other social media, more of us get the chance to appreciate the ways in which you (Fill In Your Name Here) are fantastic.

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2 Responses to What are blogs (vertebrates) good for?

  1. Judith Curry says:

    Bill, I am humbled by your kind words. Thanks as always for your perspective on this issue.

  2. Sara Bridwell says:

    Bill — I am so delighted that you are among the bloggers contributing to / leading important conversations!

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