01 September 2010

Why science blogs give me hope

Lately I've been watching the Democratic party implode because they've stopped talking about their plans and vision for the future, and they won't stop talking about whatever ridiculousness the other side dreams up.  Sadly, it's an all-too-common problem I see from companies facing PR crises - "Hi, I'm [name], and before I tell you anything meaningful about myself, I'd like to outline all of the criticism that's been leveled against me in great detail and then provide my lawyer-approved response."  

For a while now I've thought the online community of science writers was caught in a similar trap.  I heard (and sometimes still hear) bloggers complain about how the mainstream media gets the facts wrong so often. How critics stack the deck against science with false attacks cleverly planted on television.  And so on. This has concerned me because science is so critical to solving the world's most pressing problems, and science writers are the societal interface for the rest of us.  And you can see what this approach has done for the Democrats.

My inner flack keeps saying  "stop hitting back, start hitting first."  And it keeps saying "talk with the people you want to influence, not just yourselves."  And it keeps saying "just build a plan of attack and go do it. Get them to worry about you for a change."  (My inner flack is apparently a loudmouth.)

The past few weeks, though, have seen some things that really give me hope. While I can't claim to be the authoritative voice on the history of the science blogosphere - that's probably Bora - I can say this online community is really on a hot streak right now.   The community went from the perceived collapse of its most prestigious blog network in a scandal to the birth of three impressive blog networks - Scientopia, Guardian Science Blogs, and PLoS Blogs - and a science network aggregator Scienceblogging.org.   And you should really check out the aggregator to see just how much content is out there.  The rumors of ScienceBlogs' death have been greatly exaggerated.  There are other great networks out there as well.

Of course, most if not all of the bloggers in these networks have already been writing, as Ars Technica's John Timmer points out. But there's an unprecedented level of promotion and cross-talk, highlighting the writers and where they're going and what they're doing.  Most importantly, while the writing has always been generally good and credible, I'm sensing it's increasingly assertive and positive in tone.   The  new networks (and concurrent promotion) are positioning the writers to have influence far beyond their own community.

It's a very important step, one that I hope will be followed by a coordinated effort to build and leverage influence.

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