The world’s pre-eminent scientific journal, Nature, has once again taken notice of blogs. I say “once again” because Nature has consistently been out in front in recognizing that blogging has come to science, not just science to blogging. Senior correspondent Declan Butler has his own blog and was the first science journalist in a high profile journal to call attention to blogging, which he did in dramatic fashion by penning a faux blog set in the near future describing an avian influenza pandemic.
Declan has now produced a list of the top five science blogs and a supplemental list of another 45 popular science blogs. The Scienceblogs stable did exceptionally well, copping the top spot (PZ’s Pharyngula) and fifth spot (Nick Anthis’s The Scientific Activist). Sciencebloggers occupied eight of the top twelve spots (we here at Effect Measure are ninth on the list). Since others have discussed it, we won’t belabor the point except to say we were glad to be included.
Instead we’d like to discuss who wasn’t included. Ranking was based on the Technorati search engine which indexes over 46 million sites. Picking the science blogs from this list and then ordering them by Technorati rank is not an easy task, and Declan is aware he probably missed some. He compiled a preliminary list from Nature staff to supplement his own knowledge and blogs cited by other science bloggers and aggregators. He used a narrow definition of science blogs as those written by working scientists and about science. All such choices are arbitrary and we sympathize with the need to make them and the difficulty of doing so. But let’s explore it a little more.
Who’s omitted? If for some reason a blog wasn’t known to Declan or Nature staff or noticed in the of blogs and blogrolls or didn’t make it into Technorati for some reason, it wasn’t able to be ranked. More important, however, is the question of “working scientist.” By any definition the Reveres are working scientists. We collect and analyze data, publish papers, participate in study sections, we teach classes and supervise doctoral students, serve on advisory committees, edit journals. And we blog.
If you look at that list of things we do “as working scientists” — teach classes, participate on advisory committees, edit journals, review grants — not many are things that are really “doing science.” We exercise critical thinking, yes. We employ our scientific training and experience, yes. We make use of scientific knowledge to provide information to the public and policy makers, yes. We explain science to students, yes. We act as role models, yes. The life of professional scientists, especially at the more senior level, is taken up with these things more than collecting and analyzing data and publishing papers. But they are all things we do when we blog, too.
I don’t know why blogs like Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) or Genetics and Health are not on the list. They are both highly regarded by their peers, their many readers and come up high on Technorati searches. Nor are they the only omissions in that category, just the ones I thought of while sitting at the keyboard. Making any top-whatever list is a hazardous business. I just named two blogs out of a number I could or should have, slighting countless other worthy bloggers unintentionally. One thing I know for sure, though. The daily writing of blog posts is real labor, whether of love, ambition, obsession or our sense of duty as professional scientists. Writing a science blog is labor little different than the bulk of what we do as “working scientists.” Writing a science blog is working as a scientist.
There’s more widely read and admired scence blogs out there than found on the list, and Declan has acknowledged that. As science bloggers, whether on the list or not, we owe Declan a nod for showing what we do as science bloggers enough respect to be mentioned prominently in one of the world’s best scientific journals.