Bora Zivkovic wrote a post this week about an article in the Journal of Science Communication that suggested that science blogs may not be doing enough to engage non-scientists in discussions about science. (Or something like that. I'm not a scientist.) Bora questioned the methodology. But he also said something that seemed rather obvious to me:
Most bloggers write for their own amusement and not with a specific goal of popularization of science, and, after a while, tend to adapt to what their audience actually is. Thus, a knowledgeable audience will result in further posts being written at their level of interest and understanding.Similar sentiments -and more - came from Sean Carroll, Richard Hoppe, and PZ Myers. I liked this - Bora linked to it - from Science Kitchen :
Different blogs serve different purposes, but one common justification for science blogging is that it can serve as a way for scientists to speak directly with the public, as a tool for engaging non-scientists, keeping them up to date with current discoveries and promoting the enormous value of research.
A recent study in the Journal of Science Communication, however, points out that science blogs are failing to provide this useful service (link found via A.J. Cann, thanks)
Is this really a failure or is it an unrealistic expectation?
I think it's an undeserved knock. To me, criticizing science bloggers for not being accommodating enough toward non-scientists on their blogs is a bit like turning down a dish of homemade apple pie because it didn't come with ice cream. Sure, I'd like the added bonus of someone stopping the discussion and explaining quantum physics to me, but let's just agree I'm not going to get it and move on.
Scientists deserve their own online community like any other group of people with similar interests. The science blogging community is large and diverse. It has its ups and downs, its rivalries, its own jargon, and so on. It's like any other community. There shouldn't be a need to defend the practice of discussing issues and ideas within one's own community.
More importantly, I think all these science bloggers are implicitly acknowledging we can't expect other people to learn about the importance of science by reading their blogs.
If scientists want other people to understand the importance of science, they need to go to them and talk with them wherever they are. And when that doesn't work, they need to go to them again. And again. And again. Never stop trying.
Social media tools give scientists a direct line of communication with other people. Science bloggers don't need to change anything about their blogs, because that's not what they're for anyway. What's needed is a new dialogue, in a new place.
This can be done, people.