Via Larry Moran I came across this article, from the journal Cell, about the growth of the science blogosphere:

There are close to 50 million weblogs or blogs for short. Blogs provide an online discussion forum for issues of current interest and are updated regularly with new short articles on which readers can comment.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project (http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP%20Bloggers%20Report%20July%2019%202006.pdf), an initiative of the Pew Research Center, reports that 8% of Internet users in the United States, or 12 million American adults, keep a blog and 39% read one. Most bloggers (37%) write about their life and experiences; politics is a distant second with 11% of bloggers; and technology, including science, comes in at 4%.

According to the Technorati blog search engine (http://www.technorati.com), there are about 19,881 blogs with a “science” tag. Most of these are “pseudoscience blogs, new age blogs, creationist blogs, or computer technology blogs,” says Bora Zivkovic, a Ph.D. student who writes A Blog Around the Clock (http://scienceblogs.com/clock). Zivkovic estimates that the actual number of science blogs is 1,000 to 1,200 and notes that such blogs are “written by graduate students, postdocs and young faculty, a few by undergraduates and tenured faculty, several by science teachers, and just a few by professional journalists.”

These 1,000 or so science blogs provide authoritative opinions about pressing issues in science, such as evolution or climate change, or aim to engage other scientists in open and frank discussions about the scientific literature or science policy. Because of their freewheeling nature, these blogs take scientific communication to a different level.

Interesting stuff!

Perhaps because we’re talking about Cell here, the emphasis is on biological bloggers. Lot’s of familiar names: Larry Moran, P.Z. Myers, Tara Smith and so on. No mention of any math bloggers! Another issue that comes up is this:

Myers not only writes about his brand of science, developmental biology, but often discusses politics and religion. “The blog would not be as popular if it was only about science,” he says. “I am popularizing science using political issues as a hook.”

The general issue is how you attract readers to your blog. I’ve noticed that around here, for example, my posts about politics and religion tend to get a lot more comments than my posts that are just about mathematics and science. However, I don’t know if number of comments is necessarily a measure of reader interest – sometimes a small number of commenters dominates a particular post, and if the Site Meter is to be believed there are a lot of people who read but don’t comment.

I think at this point the only way to really get a lot of readers to your blog is to get some big shots to link to you. That, at least, will make people aware that you are out there. To keep readers you then have to update frequently, have a fair amount of passion in your posts, and have a particular attitude that people either love, or love to hate. That’s my impression anyway.

All of this takes an enormous amount of time, of course, which is another issue raised by the article:

The age barrier is not the only thing keeping more scientists from blogging. The biggest impediment is probably lack of time. According to most bloggers, posts can take 30 minutes to a couple of hours to research and compose. That may not seem like much, except that a critical factor for a blog’s success is that posts are updated frequently, ideally at least once a day. “If I ever stop doing this, it is because of time commitment,” says Moran.

Blogging is definitely a huge time sink. In addition to the time spent actually writing the posts, there is the time spent trolling the internet looking for good blog fodder, and the fact that after investing a lot of creative energy in writing a long post you often just don’t feel like turning around and working on a hard math problem.

That said, I also agree with what came next:

In general, scientists who blog say the benefits outweigh the problems. Most believe they have become better communicators and have gained a broader appreciation of different scientific issues.

There are definitely days when I feel like I have to drag myself to the computer and search desperately for something to blog about. Most, days, however, I’m sufficiently fired up about something that motivation isn’t a problem.

At any rate, when I started this blog I never imagined it would turn into anything significant. I blogged in obscurity for about six months at a blog I called “Science and Politics.” The idea was to comment on any issue in which science and politics intersected in some way. I found, however, that most of my posts were focusing on evolution and creationism. I gave up the blog after six months partly because no one was reading it, and partly because of the time involved.

The main thing that got me back into it was the book Creationism’s Torjan Horse by Paul Gross and Barbra Forrest. Somehow Paul had seen some of my writing on the subject of evolution, and he mentioned my blog in the book. After that I decided I’d better get back to it. I changed the name to EvolutionBlog, and started focussing almost exclusively on that issue. Somehow I caught the eye of people like P.Z., who gave me a few links, and of the PT crew, who invited me to join them. After that things started taking off. Readership went up steadily, and then I got called up to the bigs by Seed. And the rest, as they say, was history.

Comments

  1. #1 wanderingprimate
    May 3, 2007

    Excellent & encouraging post for us science based blog “newbies”. Glad you got back into it.

  2. #2 les
    May 3, 2007

    Don’t underestimate the audience for the math stuff–I find it fascinating, but it’s a lot harder for me to comment on than the political/cultural stuff. Keep it up.

  3. #3 PC
    May 3, 2007

    Jason, I think this following brief article might be of interest to you since it may stir some debate on your blog.

    Materialism is the current hypothesis entrenched over science as the nt hypothesis guiding scientists. Evolution is a subset of the materialistic philosophy. Materialism asserts that everything that exists arose from chance acting on an eternal material basis. A hypothesis in science is suppose to give proper guidance to scientists and make, somewhat, accurate predictions. In this primary endeavor, for a hypothesis, Materialism has failed miserably. Let me briefly illustrate where materialism has led scientists down blind alleys in the past.

    1. Materialism did not predict the big bang, Yet Theism always said the universe was created.
    2. Materialism did not predict a sub-atomic (quantum) world that blatantly defies our concepts of time and space, Yet Theism always said the universe is the craftsmanship of God who is not limited by time or space.
    3. Materialism did not predict the fact that time, as we understand it, comes to a complete stop at the speed of light, as revealed by Einstein’s theory of relativity, Yet Theism always said that God exists in a timeless eternity.
    4. Materialism did not predict the stunning precision for the underlying universal constants, for the universe, found in the Anthropic Principle, Yet Theism always said God laid the foundation of the universe, so the stunning clockwork precision found for the various universal constants is not at all unexpected for Theism.
    5. Materialism did not predict the fact that the DNA code is, according to Bill Gates, far, far more advanced than any computer code ever written by man, Yet Theism would have naturally expected this level of complexity in the DNA code.
    6. Materialism presumed a extremely beneficial and flexible mutation rate for DNA, which is not the case at all. Yet Theism would have naturally presumed such a high if not, what very well may be, complete negative mutation rate to an organism’s DNA.
    7. Materialism presumed a very simple first life form. Yet the simplest life ever found on Earth is, according to Geneticist Michael Denton PhD., far more complex than any machine man has made through concerted effort. Theism would have naturally expected this.
    8. Materialism predicted that it took a very long time for life to develop on earth, Yet we find evidence for photo-synthetic life in the oldest sedimentary rocks ever found on earth (Sarah Simpson, Scientific American, 2003). Theism would have expected this sudden appearance of life on earth.
    9. Materialism predicted the gradual unfolding of life to be self-evident in the fossil record, The Cambrian Explosion, by itself, destroys this myth. Theism would have expected such sudden appearance of the many different fossils in the Cambrian explosion.

    Isn’t a hypothesis such as materialism is suppose to give proper guidance, Why has the presumption of materialism missed the mark so badly? Could it be a wrong presumption to begin with?

  4. #4 Kevin
    May 3, 2007

    PC,

    I wonder who is going to go through your list of self-imposed errors and will-full ignorance to correct your falacious arguments.

    who would be willing to do it when, if you had any real interest in the discussion, would have found out the refutations to your points very easily.

    Oh well, I’ll take 9. for $200. Each phyla represented in Cambrian strata has precursers in earlier layers and the diversification of life during the Cambrian lasted tens if not hundreds of millions of years.

    Theism predicted six days.

    go read talkorigins and then come back and paste the standard refutation and THEN show how that rebuttal is incorrect. Then we can post for real.

  5. #5 Ginger Yellow
    May 3, 2007

    Don’t feed the cut and paste troll.

    Jason, I’m in much the same boat as Les. I’m not qualified to comment on most of the maths threads, but I’m certainly interested.

  6. #6 Blake Stacey
    May 3, 2007

    I’m probably “qualified” to post on the math(s) threads, in that even if I’m not familiar with that particular topic, I have a strong enough math(s) background that I could learn the necessary material pretty quickly. It’s just harder to fire off a quick reply (not least because I usually want people other than myself and the blogger to understand what I say).

    I can live with a lower comment density for the math(s) threads — it’s still often higher than I would expect! What really galls me is the complete lack of equation-writing support here at ScienceBlogs. How do you live without any kind of TeX markup?

    Seriously. Get the boffins in the back room to take some lessons from Jacques Distler.

  7. #7 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 3, 2007

    Blake-

    I feel your pain. On the other hand, it’s a nice exercise to try to write math posts using almost nothing in the way of mathematical notation..

  8. #8 PC
    May 3, 2007

    Kevin,
    In regards to six days, I was told this verse “forget not one thing, with God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.

    I have looked up the cambrian explosion, and Dr. Paul Chein, who has the largest chinese cambrian fossil collection in America, states that there were more phyla at the end of the Cambrian than there is today, and he is very adamant about the suddeness of appearance of many different phyla, including the most complex phylum, at the very beginning of the cambrian explosion.
    I’m not saying all the points are ironclad, but I find it is not as easy to dismiss these predictions as one would think a-priori.

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    May 3, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse:

    Yes, but at some point, the problem becomes akin to writing a novel without the letter E. . . .

  10. #10 Crudely Wrott
    May 5, 2007

    Jason, I frequent the science blogs because I like the mix of real science and socio/political argument. The two are both instructive yet a study in contrast. On the one hand, objectively productive insight and uncertainty; on the other, subjectively edifying insight and certainty. If nothing else the one offers an unexpected perspective of the other.

    Though I don’t understand the inner mysteries of the mathematics, I can apprehend the relationships and intricacies of numbers and the expression of mathematics in the real world. I was running a Mandelbrot generator on a PC-XT over twenty years ago. I also assembled and devoured a respectable library on physics, astronomy, cosmology, relativity and so on because I found it intellectually satisfying. Does that make me an authority, and expert. No. But I can hold up my end when talking about stellar evolution and the number of sub-atomic particles in the universe (thank you, Dr. Asimov).

    Though I don’t understand the inner mysteries of politics, or professional shmoozing, as I prefer, I can comprehend the relationships and intricacies of alliances and betrayal in the real world. I was watching Waler Cronkite and Huntley-Brinkley over forty years ago. I also have followed the campaigns and debates (though with less vigor than mentioned above) and have found it all to be distressful, dismaying but mostly just disappointing. Does that make me an expert or an authority. I’m tempted to say yes but that would just be flaunting my cynicism so the answer is no. But I can hold up my end in a conversation about the Constitution and the difference between a democracy and a republic. And a few other topics if I try hard.

    Inasmuch as I don’t consider myself particularly different from the other billions, I assume that there are many of them who enjoy this new combining of nearly certain knowledge, which is scientific, and hopefully certain conviction, which is political or just wooic. Insight is a treasure and it seems to be more easily found in these blogs than in those that focus more narrowly.

    But then I think that many of my familiar blog-o-maniacs will one day soon be graduating, getting new assignments, moving to new homes, goin’ through them changes, you know. And what will happen to their home pages? There will come the day when I will not be able to click the bookmark and that seems daunting. It makes the future seem uncertain, vaguely threatening.

    Then I realize the folly of my fear. I’m thinking of all those freshmen and sophomores full of curiosity and inventiveness and stamina and an uncontrollable desire to tell someone, anyone! about this neat shit they just learned. Their enthusiasm is future-blog in ovo.

    So I’m not worried. A thousand blogs today, ten thousand in a little while. I can’t keep up already.

  11. #11 Kevin
    May 5, 2007

    The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang
    by Stephen C. Meyer, P. A. Nelson, and Paul Chien

    oh please….

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