Adventures in Ethics and Science

Five years ago today, I put up the first post on a blog that was mean to capture the overflow of discussions and ideas from my “Ethics in Science” class. Back then, I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d manage to maintain the blog through the end of the semester.

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It just goes to show you that you can’t always tell which of the things you try will become sustainable practices (although maybe the ones that don’t involve exercise equipment have better odds).

On the occasion of my fifth blogiversary, I’m reflecting on a question posed by BlogHer upon BlogHer’s 5th anniversary:

What are five opportunities you’ve gotten because of blogging?


Narrowing the list down to just five was tough, because blogging has presented me with one opportunity after another. These are the ones at the top of my head today.

1. The opportunity to put some of my work on ethics in science in front of the audience I really want to reach with it — the tribe of science.
Not that it’s not lovely having members of my own disciplinary tribe (academic philosophers) read my work, but I have this hope that some of what I’m working on here is actually relevant and useful to the folks doing science and training new scientists (or getting that scientific training).

2. The opportunity to speak to scientists and scientific trainees about the role ethics plays in doing good science.
My blogging has put me on the radar of scientists who are involved in ethics education (or at least in helping their trainees unpack the ethical implications of current events in their disciplinary communities). This resulted in invitations to give conference papers, to participate in conference panels, to talk at group meetings, and at sessions for students in undergraduate research programs. (Most hilariously, on the commencement day bus from campus to the stadium, I met a faculty member who oversees the summer REU program in a science department at my university. When I introduced myself, he said, “Wait a minute, you write that blog about ethics and science, don’t you?” Blogs: bringing the campus community closer together.) I find it a little interesting that my writing on the blog has so often been taken as enough to warrant an invitation to speak (since they’re not the same thing, although they draw on related skills). So far, though, it seems to have worked out OK.

3. The opportunity to help make talking about science less scary for parents.
Thanks to my blog, I was invited to participate in the Year of Science project last year. For each month’s theme, I came up with “Tips for Talking Science” to help parents of young children have conversations with their kids around the theme — not freaking out about dusting off their book learning, but working with kids’ natural curiosity about the world and how it works. This was a more challenging project than I thought it would be, but it was also a lot of fun. (You can check out the tips for Evolution, Physics, Energy Resources, Sustainability and the Environment, Ocean and Water, Astronomy, Weather and Climate, Biodiversity and Conservation, Geosciences and Planet Earth, Chemistry, and Science and Health — they’re in the left sidebar if you scroll down a bit.)

4. The opportunity to record for posterity more than four years’ worth of conversations about science with my own children.
Given that I am a big pile of FAIL when it comes to some of the standard mommy-record-keeping (like scrapbooks or baby books or videotaping developmental milestones), it’s kind of amazing that the Friday Sprog Blogging — something I started thinking it was a one-off — has become a regular feature. Someday, when the sprogs are no longer children, we’ll be able to sit down together and get actors to reenact the weekly transcript of what we discussed when they were.

5. The opportunity to make the case in my tenure dossier that blogging can be a scholarly activity.
This was perhaps the most unexpected twist of all on the long blogging journey to date. As I mentioned when I submitted that tenure dossier, my colleagues decided that the blogging I do here does constitute a kind of scholarly activity that ought to be recognized. A senior colleague wrote an evaluative letter about a selection of posts, and that letter and the posts were included in the dossier. The theory was that I had enough of the “normal” activities and achievements to earn tenure, and that blogging might be one direction that scholarship and teaching is moving. So, since my department had my back, I should put the blogging out there to get the traditionalists on the college and university level retention, tenure, and promotion committees acquainted with the concept and to help smooth the path for the cyberhip tenure candidates who come after me. Time will tell how much my case may have done to introduce a broader notion of scholarly work to the process, but including a section on academic blogging in my dossier didn’t sink my tenure case. That’s something.

Of course, blogging has also given me the opportunity to interact with you. Thanks for that. It’s been a blast, and it’s not over yet.

Comments

  1. #1 "GrrlScientist"
    February 10, 2010

    congratulations on your big number five! the odds against a blog surviving for five years are huge, so you should be proud of yourself. i also think that your colleagues’ support for your blog writing is absolutely priceless (and the source of envy among some academic/research blog writers) and they also deserve a round of applause.

  2. #2 Hap
    February 10, 2010

    Thank you for the blogging.

    As lots of others have said before, the “sprog talks” would probably make a nice book.

  3. #3 arvind
    February 10, 2010

    Congratulations Dr.Free-ride! And thank you, for five years of thoughtful, fun writing. Here’s to many many years more!

  4. #4 SciWo
    February 10, 2010

    It has been such a privilege to get to learn from you over the last five years. Thank you.

  5. #5 Isis the Scientist
    February 10, 2010

    Happy Blogoversay, Free-Ride!!!!

  6. #6 Comrade PhysioProf
    February 10, 2010

    w00t!

  7. #7 Physicalist
    February 11, 2010

    Happy Blogiversary; and thanks for your work.

  8. #8 P.D.
    February 11, 2010

    Congratulations on the nice round number. I think of you as one of the luminaries of the philosophy blogging world, because you get readers outside the narrow circle of your academic interlocutors. Most blogs, mine included, are more insular instruments. I would never claim my blogging as part of my academic productivity, but it seems entirely fair for you to claim yours.

    And, although I haven’t seen you face-to-face for several years, the blog gives me a chance to keep up with what you are up to. Which is nice.

  9. #9 Frank
    February 14, 2010

    Happy blogiversary! I’ve only been reading for a few years but I always save “Adventures in Ethics and Science” until last in my feed reader because I feel it deserves more time than anything else I read.