Effect Measure

The Nature list of science blogs

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Abel Pharmboy
    July 8, 2006

    Revere(s), as always, a most thoughtful post on a somewhat contentious issue (esp for those omitted). True, there should be gratitude for the larger fact that one of the world’s best scientific journals chose to devote space to this. I suspect they will get enough comments on methodology and definition of a “working scientist” to assure a more representative top 50 the next time they take on this issue. Congratulations to you and all the others, as well as our very deserving colleagues who missed the list. They all raise the international stature of blogging as a scholarly scientific activity.

  2. #2 Hsien Lei
    July 8, 2006

    Thank you kindly for remembering Genetics and Health! I’m not too sad about being omitted since science blogs with important messages like Effect Measure are on the list. What I hope is that anyone going down that Nature list of 50 will find their favorites and explore the links given in posts and blogrolls. Then perhaps they could compile their own favorite list of 5 or 10 and really sink their teeth into some science!

  3. #3 Declan Butler
    July 8, 2006

    Thanks Revere for what I’d second as a very thoughtful and balanced post — as always :->. As you kindly point out, any attempt at a ranking out of some 45 million blogs is a perilous exercise. I was in no doubt, knowing the blogosphere, that I would be very quickly told of any major gaffes ;->, so I’ve been pleasantly surprized that the level of raw omissions has in fact been much lower than I’d expected.

    More problematic probably finally, as you note, is the working arbitrary definition of science blogs as by “working scientists” on science topics (and not their cat). This actually proved to be very valuable in weeding out hundreds of blogs that appeared to be about science, but in fact were not… or worse. But as you point out, it also inevitably led to some some anomalies.

    I initially thought the writers/scientists separation was a fair one as writers often have higher ratings due to their exposure, and my main interest was to show the impact of working — at the bench — scientists’ blogs in the overall blogosphere. But in retrospect, this distinction may have been a bit artificial, and finally less than useful.

    “Living the Scientific Life” was in fact number 6 in the science writers category with a T-rank of 6662; technically this classification was correct as the author is a former molecular evolutionary biologist, but currently a freelance writer. “Genetics and Health,” hosted by B5media, also made it into the top 10 writers category. But whether this distinction was in fact useful is another question.

    Another related problem I had in developing the ranking was filtering the sheer volume of commercial, and non-commercial, seemingly science-related blogs and sites but which were often dealing with what were purely medical or patient topics, or were basically news aggregators. I was keen to try to get a decent signal/noise ratio.

    The great thing about the blogosphere though is its rapid correcting mechanism — call it brutal peer review. In the hours since I published my rankings, many bloggers, including you, have pointed to blogs that they feel should have been included. Great stuff; those blogs that people feel were unfairly omitted have as a result probably got as much, or more attention, as those on the list, and I’ve also made a note.

    I’m keeping a list of blog comments on the articles here:
    http://www.connotea.org/user/Declan/tag/blogs+science?num=100
    and I will take these comments into account the next time I take on this issue.

    I hope that whatever shortcomings in this first effort, I’ve helped to give science blogging the greater visibility it deserves.

    Happy blogging all.

    atb
    Declan
    http://declanbutler.info/blog/

  4. #4 ugis
    July 10, 2006

    Posted on: July 8, 2006 7:09 AM, by revere:
    ” … blogging has come to science, not just science to blogging. …”
    I applaud the trend; the more the public learns of science from scientists, the more likely science is to become the basis of policy and, political (governmental) decision-making …
    [whoa, nelly! I'll stop short of actual "decisions" -- gotta bridle that optimism].
    But, this piece reads a bit like attending a meeting of any self-congratulatory society. Bloggers think that bloggers are special.
    I accept that “Writing a science blog is working as a scientist.”
    Q: where does this sit with the traditional bastion of science — academia?
    Does anyone know of a graduate university that overtly accepts blogging (or, anything else akin to informing the public at large) in a manner that scores points when it comes to the scientist’s record of publications, etc. with respect to promotion, advancement and tenure?

  5. #5 revere
    July 10, 2006

    ugis: Not yet, but it’s coming. I am not the only senior faculty member at our school (one of the largest private research universities in the country) who blogs, I was a dept. chair for a very, very long time and sat for almost two decades on our appointments and promotions committee. We had the same struggle for service (committees, community outreach) and teaching as criteria, not just publications. Blogging is much more academic than many things I do as a working scientist.

  6. #6 Bakret
    May 11, 2011

    Genetics and Health are very important facts. Thanks for remember it again. This is a continuous issues. There should be gratitude for the larger fact that one of the world’s best scientific journals chose to devote space to this. I suspect they will get enough comments on methodology and definition of a “working scientist” to assure a more representative top 50 the next time they take on this issue. I promise I will find the people for blogging in this types of good issue.

  7. #7 Bakret
    June 29, 2011

    I spread this blog to my many friends. And they loved it and found the best place to blogging. As they are also thinking about the environment. It will be effective for us.