Pharyngula

Blake Stacey, who is a good guy to have by your side in a firefight, has a wonderfully complicated post on this thing called science blogging. He’s mostly stating the obvious: it’s anarchic, it’s very hard to pull out, say, introductory material on a specific topic in science, there are problems of accountability, we don’t produce anything as coherently useful as a basic textbook, etc. Well, yeah. This is a general problem with solutions that bubble up from the ground rather than being defined from above — they do something very, very well, but it usually isn’t the something that a planner would design, and they often won’t easily do something else that you think they ought to do. Blake is entirely aware of this, obviously.

Nobody is acting as the central regulator of online science writing, though some would like to try. The interactions and evolutions we see are the result of the incentives at work, playing themselves out. If we want to change the way science blogging happens, or if we want our loose community to start generating something new, central decrees are no good: we have to make our desiderata the natural products of volunteer enthusiasm. Furthermore, science blogs are not a central authority for anybody else, so if we want to change their behavior, we have to find ways to put new ?motivator units? in place.

He’s pointing to a real problem, and we’re aware that establishing a central authority is not going to solve anything, and I’d say it would even ruin everything. Incentives have to come from somewhere. My answer is…don’t worry, be happy, the solution will come from somewhere where you least expect it.

As an example, blogs themselves. I kept a web page for a long time, since the early 1990s, when all we did is write static html. When blogs started to emerge, I didn’t quite see the point. I could see exactly what they were: they were nothing but web-based front ends for personal databases. That’s all they are still. I couldn’t quite see the point — the data being stored was rather idiosyncratic, and personally, I couldn’t imagine myself writing enough stuff that it would warrant database tools to manage it. But then something odd happened: it turned out to be very useful to be able to compose something, and have it stored away in a manner that made it easy to access again. And then populating the database with useful stuff started to become an end in itself, the new motivator unit, and as the database grew, it became more useful, and that in turn made it more compelling to put more stuff in it, and so on.

Feed forward loops are powerful forces, people.

Then the other big force was Google. Google is the one significant tool we have for poking around in other people’s personal databases. That’s another powerful motivator, that we find ourselves able to plumb other people’s words and experiences fairly easily, and what do you know, other people are interesting, so we want to look more, and we want other people to find us interesting, so we stuff more and more goodies into our own databases. Feed forward, feed forward, feed forward.

However, and this is the limitation that Blake bemoans, the motivator is too general: all we’ve got is a criterion based on how many people find a particular database entry interesting, which is terribly vague. We want to know how many people find an entry informative, and even more, what kind of people (novices, experts, whatever) find the entry useful, and in what way. Google is terrible at this. I’ll be the first to admit that Pharyngula entries rank high in the Google indexes not because they are necessarily the best at explaining overall, but because they tap into subjects and attitudes that are popular. If popularity were synonymous with accurate or useful or expert, then America would have been created 6,000 years ago by a magical giant with a long white beard, and everyone in the world would be a porn star.

So right now we are waiting for the next piece of the toolbox to fall into place, adding new metrics that will feed forward into new capabilities. We can’t design them — design is a terrible paradigm for adding unexpected newness and potential (which any evolutionary biologist would tell you). What will happen is a surprising and unpredictable side-effect of something else on the web. It could be something like social networking software adding a new criterion, like whuffie, that focuses people’s energies on productive contributions — only it won’t be the social networking software as it is now, and it won’t be whuffie, and it will have multiple effects, some of which may not be desirable. We will be surprised. It will take time for it to take over and become useful. In the early stages, almost all of us will be scratching our heads and wondering why anyone would find that interesting (cf. Twitter), and many of the solutions that are promising early on will fail. We are waiting for something new to evolve, and the best way to promote that is to encourage diversity and look at everything sideways, not by pushing for a specific solution. You don’t get emergent properties by forcing a result, or they wouldn’t be emergent properties.

The only answer is to keep playing. Don’t worry about it. Expect and embrace serendipity.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    June 29, 2008

    To coin a phrase, perhaps serendipitous emergence favors the prepared mind.

    As I said to Tom Swansont, it’s a widespread belief among science bloggers that mainstream science journalism is broken. Many people in this community also think that science education in the public schools is falling hopelessly short; we hear a lot about the creationists screwing up biology class, so I figured I could take that as given and spend a little time talking about the disasters at the physical-science end. Hopefully the result is at least a little amusing. On top of that, I tried to point out that the same problems which beset science blogs also affect anything else which runs on the same basic incentives. We might rely on Wikipedia to complement our writing, for example, but it is also the cumulative accretion of small bits of volunteer labor, and likewise for subject-specific efforts like RationalWiki.

    I’ll be the first to admit that Pharyngula entries rank high in the Google indexes not because they are necessarily the best at explaining overall, but because they tap into subjects and attitudes that are popular.

    I’ll be the first to curry favor by praising Pharyngula’s merits, but again, I think Wikipedia suffers from the same problem. Popularity means attention means contributions — the rich get richer. (To the website that has shall be given more.)

    I kept a web page for a long time, since the early 1990s, when all we did is write static html. When blogs started to emerge, I didn’t quite see the point.

    I think it’s important to remember that the nature of the blogosphere is not carved in marble. A few years ago, it didn’t exist. It just is the way it ended up being. When we want something different, it’ll change. Right now, doing anything other than what we normally do might be like hammering nails with a screwdriver, but when every other tool in your toolbox is broken and getting rustier by the day, you start to wonder how you could modify that screwdriver. . . .

    Evolution, after all, has a long history of using old tools for new purposes.

  2. #2 PAP
    June 29, 2008

    I have more than one job, schooling, and a family. I really don’t have time to go through all of the books I’d like to in a given week or month. But jumping on the web for 10 minutes to check out a blog works out fine for me. I do not always have ready alternatives to blogs for the quantity and (at least for a few out there) quality of info. I have a feeling I’m not the only one for whom this is true. Thanks.

  3. #3 Al
    June 29, 2008

    I think that blogging is a good way to understand one of the fundamental points of science: that one shouldn’t have hierarchies, nor central authorities. One’s argument should be accepted on the evidence one uses, not on whether you’re a Nobel Laureate, or a professor, or how many books you’ve written. I agree with a lot of what you say, but if you state an opinion I reserve the right to disagree with you, unless you’re facts back up what you say.
    My first job as a postgraduate was with a very respected professor, with a knighthood for services to science. My first day on the job I asked if I should call him professor, or sir X. He told me “Call me X. That’s my name, and if you have a point of view you should express it. Don’t be afraid to disagree with me, because if you have the evidence to support what you say, I am wrong.”. My dad could never understand this, and I think it is a huge problem with the popular view of science – people think that an expert knows everything. People, scientists and laypersons alike, should realise that the most distinguished scientist can be plain wrong. If people read a science blog and think “That’s not right”, then they are following the most basic tenets of science. Question authority, don’t take things for granted, accept only evidence, not authority.

  4. #4 novaraz
    June 29, 2008

    Its an interesting post, but I feel there may not be a need for “a freshman bio textbook in blog-sized chunks.” I think if the blog proprietor writes interesting enough blurbs, it will encourage people to go learn the basics, which need not be taught in blog form. Besides, one of the the best ways to learn new topics (in my experience) is the learn to swim by diving in method. You might not understand things for a while, or make some silly comments, but its not long before you’re caught up. Of course, my point may be bias because I do have a BASIC understanding of most science topics, but I’ve learned the basics of politics from reading political blogs, and filling in the holes with wikipedia or some-such. Same with cars and mechanics.

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    June 29, 2008

    novaraz:

    I think if the blog proprietor writes interesting enough blurbs, it will encourage people to go learn the basics, which need not be taught in blog form.

    Yeah, advertising the real goods is a nice thing to do. . . but books are expensive, and they don’t talk back when you have questions.

    And, purely from an egomaniacal point of view, I want life to be as easy as possible for science bloggers. If I’m writing an entry on some physics subject, or Brian Switek is writing something about big honkin’ theropod dinosaurs, we’ll likely want to include a link to a prerequisite topic — the definition of a technical term, or something like that. Where do we look for that hyperlink? Any worthwhile scientific exposition runs on a thousand tiny wheels, and right now, we usually have to reinvent most of them ourselves.

    (If anybody asks about that “firefight” remark, well, I can’t tell you the story until Ben Goldacre coughs up the photographic evidence.)

  6. #6 SC
    June 29, 2008

    Expect and embrace serendipity.

    And anarchy.

  7. #7 BobbyEarle
    June 29, 2008

    I started out on local BBSs, then into the Usenet and Fidonet cultures, the flame wars of the early ’90s, and here we are. Motivations for whatever you might find on the tubes were (and are) varied: a desire to share information, or an opinion, perhaps just the need to reach out for some kind of contact, any kind…for good, or ill.

    I have been informed by the blogs, and not just in science. Politics, religion and the lack thereof, hell, you name it. I have been made to stop and rethink some of my positions and I have had some of my positions reaffirmed. I have been angered, entertained, humbled and enabled by the blogs in general, and by science blogs in particular. This can’t be anything but a Good Thing.

    I don’t know what the next Great Leap (or tiny step) will be, but given the track record, I have to say that it will be good.

    Thanks Blake, and thanks PZ.

  8. #8 JoJo
    June 29, 2008

    I like blogs. I can discuss all sorts of topics with everyone from experts to the congenitally stupid. Sometimes I’m an expert, sometimes I’m really stupid, most of the time I learn something I didn’t know before.

  9. #9 SC
    June 29, 2008

    “Blook” makes my ears bleed.

  10. #10 SC
    June 29, 2008

    So right now we are waiting for the next piece of the toolbox to fall into place, adding new metrics that will feed forward into new capabilities.

    I agree with this, as long as it doesn’t slide too far in the direction of leaning passively on technological developments to spur or enable change. New technologies might certainly arise spontaneously in other contexts that can be exploited for the benefit of science communication. But this process can also be more consciously directed, if people can come together to form goals and cooperate on advancing them. Then, useful technologies are probably more likely to be developed, recognized, and adapted in useful ways to concrete projects.

    Also, I think collaborative efforts can be broadened to include more groups: not just science bloggers and other professional communicators, but (more) educators at various levels, social movements, university centers and institutes working in these areas, librarians, etc. A lot of people could contribute to this conversation.

    I like the focus on serials leading to anthologies or other, longer works. One of the scientists I most admire, Peter Kropotkin, published most of his works in popular serial form before they became full-length books. Serial publication in periodicals was an important literary and scientific vehicle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its possibilities are now greatly enhanced by the much greater capacity for feedback and audience participation. Perhaps collective efforts in this area could be more formalized…

  11. #11 Arnosium Upinarum
    June 29, 2008

    A central (presumably controlling) “authority” for science blogs?

    What a disgusting possibility.

    Science blogs haven’t any ‘problems’. They’re BLOGS. Folks posting stuff for others to read. Bloggers don’t need to be responsible for providing people with particular info. They’re doing fine just blogging on whatever crosses their fancy. Blogs don’t have to be a comprehensively stocked clearing house of data. That’s for dedicated sites like encyclopedias and archives to offer, and if they do a good job, eventually they will come to them.

    If I need some particular info I go through the search engines and curse alot. Now THERE’s a problem, as P.Z. mentions.

    I’m with P.Z. – let it alone to do its wild thing. It could evolve some fascinating adaptations to one or another ‘pressure’, some of them even efficient, and others that nobody has even identified yet.

    But the notion that blogs have a problem is rather like looking at a virgin pairie field and seeing a problem – like saying that it’s a waste that isn’t properly cultivated. It’s completely wrongheaded.

  12. #12 Blake Stacey
    June 29, 2008

    A central (presumably controlling) “authority” for science blogs?

    What a disgusting possibility.

    Thank you for reading the opposite of what I tried to say.

    I call something pointless, and ugly, and impossible, and people think I advocate it. How strange.

    They’re doing fine just blogging on whatever crosses their fancy.

    Maybe I’m the only blogger in the world who doesn’t think so? Maybe I’m the only one who tried to blog on whatever struck his fancy but discovered that the necessary resources didn’t exist? Gosh.

    That’s for dedicated sites like encyclopedias and archives to offer, and if they do a good job, eventually they will come to them.

    It’s possible the two years I spent actively editing Wikipedia articles gave me a biased impression of how that site worked and, often, failed to work. Looking for viable references to support and enhance blog posts for more than a year might also have embellished that bias.

    And, I suppose, it might merely be my inborn cynicism telling me that popularity doesn’t necessarily correlate with quality.

  13. #13 Jim Anderson
    June 29, 2008

    Since so much science reportage in the major media suffers from shortcomings, I rely on science bloggers to fill in the gaps, correct the errors, or point me to interesting concepts that are out of the “breaking news.”

    A blog is also a personal history, scattershot as it might be, good for reflective thinking.

  14. #14 watercat
    June 29, 2008

    “It could evolve some fascinating adaptations …”

    The internet is a tool of communication, like language, and there’s no question that both are evolving (in the non-technical sense of the term), and the post highlights some eerie parallels. There are serious attempts to apply the concept of evolution to non-biological systems like these. They bug me, since AFAIK neither languages nor the internet have alleles to mutate. How possible is it that some such unit could be found that made this more than just a metaphor waterboarding the notion of evolution?

  15. #15 Kel
    June 29, 2008

    You’ve got to take the good with the bad. Blogs have never pretended to be an authoritative source of information but while there are some bloggers that strive for truth and accuracy with a great deal of knowledge behind it, anything said needs to be taken with a grain of salt. there’s a reason why blogs aren’t considered valid reference material, it’s one’s own personal perspective, journalism without the accountability.

    Still, it’s a great medium to express ideas and communicate with the general public.

  16. #16 uncle frogy
    June 29, 2008

    good subjct.
    I once went to a lecture by Arthur C. Clarke concerning the future. As a preface to “attempt” to predict what it would be like in some time in the future I have completely forgotten what time period was involved in the prediction he asked, what were we over looking that in retrospect would be obvious but today was obscure. he went on and gave some failed examples of “future worlds” that did not come to pass. You can easily see many examples as he said that most of them fail for the same reason some are rather close and some fail spectacularly. All fail for the same reason, we tend to over look some details that later become very important. The question then is what is it we are not taking into consideration when we think of “what the future will be like”
    I have no concrete ideas about what it will be like but I too am also waiting and watching and trying to participate as best I can. It will be a surprise I am sure and an Oh Yah I did think of that was anything!

  17. #17 Longtime Lurker
    June 29, 2008

    Pulled this bit out of its context:

    “we don’t produce anything as coherently useful as a basic textbook, etc. Well, yeah. This is a general problem with solutions that bubble up from the ground rather than being defined from above”

    Problem is, “defined from above” these days seems to mean “approved by the Texas Board of Ed”.

    Scienceblogs won’t replace good old “Keaton & Gould”, but they serve as a sort of cognitive map for some really smart people, and allow cutting edge information to be disseminated quickly. As a spicy added bonus, the bloggers are free to jabber about their family lives, entertainment choices, and pet peeves, things that a central authority would tend to repress.

    Creotard bashing, tentacle hentai references, comic book musings, trophy wife bragging- all features, not bugs.

    And whuffie… it’s like Jack Vance’s “strakh”

    http://www.myths.com/pub/fiction/science-fiction/vance/MoonMoth_01.html

  18. #18 Inoculated Mind
    June 29, 2008

    Sounds like some bloggers need to start some wikis! Try http://www.wikispot.org

  19. #19 Tim Fuller
    June 29, 2008

    If popularity were synonymous with accurate or useful or expert, then America would have been created 6,000 years ago by a magical giant with a long white beard, and everyone in the world would be a porn star.
    ——————–

    Everyone? Can we rethink this bit of allegory? How long before I can get the Tammy Faye Baker porn images out of my mind? Don’t you feel a bit of remorse for creating this dilemma? Some things can’t be unseen.

    Enjoy.

  20. #20 Ichthyic
    June 29, 2008

    If popularity were synonymous with accurate or useful or expert, then America would have been created 6,000 years ago by a magical giant with a long white beard, and everyone in the world would be a porn star.

    We have to have both at the same time?

    damn.

  21. #21 Costanza
    June 30, 2008

    I spend most of my time teaching physics @ the university level, and I volunteer my time tutoring home schoolers. Science blogs perform a valuable service (at least in my less than august opinion) – they provide a marvelous entry point for discussions concerning the methods of modern science, both good and bad. And since I have to moderate the discussions (in a manner of speaking), it keeps me on my toes as well and informed about areas outside my own bailiwick.

  22. #22 John
    June 30, 2008

    design is a terrible paradigm for adding unexpected newness and potential (which any evolutionary biologist would tell you).

    Grad-student-type future evolutionary biologist, here. How ya figure? I thought that it was evident that design wasn’t the way nature did it, but not necessarily that design was a bad way of going about it.

    The only thing wrong with design, as far as I can see, is that it requires a designer, and a designer is something that’s never existed before humans came along. But we’ve got the capacity to design, now. Wouldn’t it be far better to do so, and dodge the billions of years of evolutionary dead-ends and screw-ups? Wouldn’t it be far more efficient?

  23. #23 Jolly Bloger
    June 30, 2008

    I liked the web tools presentation on the last day of TAM. He hasn’t really put anything up yet, but check http://skeptools.wordpress.com/ for tips on how to use said web tools in science and skeptic blogging.

  24. #24 Ichthyic
    June 30, 2008

    Wouldn’t it be far better to do so, and dodge the billions of years of evolutionary dead-ends and screw-ups? Wouldn’t it be far more efficient?

    How could anyone accurately answer that without knowing all variables involved for the “design” of any given trait, let alone an entire species?

    design could be a great answer to any specific question, if one has true omniscience. “Dead ends and screw-ups”, however, are entirely relative. We likely owe our existence as a species to one of those dead ends or screw ups, somewhere along the line.

    OTOH, the few times we’ve experimented with organismal design, either intentionally within in any given ecosystem, or unintentionally via genetic crossover events, haven’t usually worked out too well, or at least have had unintentional consequences ranging from minor to serious.

    In a strictly controlled environment, with all relevant variables known, design works great.

    see re: the many thousands of fruit fly genetics labs.

    past that?

    I think we’re still a ways from knowing enough to conclude we could do “nature” one better on a large scale.

  25. #25 Nan McIntyre
    June 30, 2008

    #17 from Longtime Lurker:
    Scienceblogs won’t replace good old “Keaton & Gould”, but they serve as a sort of cognitive map for some really smart people, and allow cutting edge information to be disseminated quickly.

    Agreed. But ‘cognitive map’? I don’t even know if it’s even that high-falutin’; I read the Pharyngula community of blogs as a fellowship of scientists, very very focused and attractive minds who get a lot out of their work, and, like everybody who is enthusiastic about stuff, like to share. Thence we lurkers catch the overflow – and it’s never boring.

    Side-effects of this tag-team noise from those with a clue have indeed been, in the words of a recently moribund Australian minority political party “keeping the bastards honest”. The Abrahamic theopatriarchy one step back from the school door? Three cheers for blogging’s help! There’s always a Ben Goldacre in any mob of medicos, and blogging appears to have speeded up the investigation of UK funding of faux treatments, but I fancy you’d be sticking your neck out if you wanted to claim that blogging was the main agent of change there or in US schools.

    However, if science blogging only ever prevents – or at least retards – burnout in teachers, by giving them a forum that’s wider than boozing with the faculty (however enjoyable the pints may be) at the local – then that’s more than enough of a contribution to education in itself.

    Vote +1 to retain the anarchy.
    Purely for its entertainment value, you understand – if I want “useful” I can always go and make it myself.
    Thanks so much to all you energetic teachers.

  26. #26 Monado
    June 30, 2008

    I keep a list of science links, or rather a couple of related lists, and I’m happy to share them; but if I want to know something from the Web I like to search afresh for tutorials or new links. Schools have notes, universities have lectures and research, companies have samples and demos. And if I want a textbook I can get a used one.

  27. #27 Hean Y
    June 30, 2008

    I am a fresh blogger. I blog about chemistry. I am looking for a good community website that is for chemistry.

  28. #28 Nick Gotts
    June 30, 2008

    Ichthyic@24

    I don’t think John was talking about redesigning organisms or ecosystems, but institutional systems, which in industrial societies at least, typically result from a combination of top-down design and bottom-up emergence. Organisms, as the result of long series of random mutations subjected to natural selection, are nothing like the product of a design process (such as a car or computer). In the latter, the designer typically tries to avoid unplanned side-effects and cross-scale interactions, because they are unpredictable, with the result that altering what appears to be one component can have all sorts of unexpected effects. Institutional systems are intermediate between organisms and machines in this respect.

  29. #29 Stephanie Z
    June 30, 2008

    IGGY, smile when you say that. Or at least check the research first:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/05/how_much_science_does_a_scienc.php

    PZ’s first comment on the post is well worth reading.

  30. #30 Stephanie Z
    June 30, 2008

    Back on topic, I think science blogs are a great place for getting general science education but a lousy place for finding it. My ideal means for finding science content in blogs would involve reference librarians sorting and indexing posts in roughly real time. There would be a general framework of topics in place with posts listed underneath to highlight gaps and to make browsing easier. Users would have the opportunity to rate the posts on clarity and level of prior knowledge required and the ability to sort on those ratings. There might even be a class of user allowed to rate posts on authority.

    In my little utopia, blog posts from self-identified science blogs would be reviewed automatically, but there would be a mechanism for submitting posts from other blogs or even informative comments like those frequently found here.

    It isn’t a ground-up solution, since it relies on librarians, but I think we all tend to underestimate how much we rely on them anyway.

  31. #31 Donnie B.
    June 30, 2008

    “Feed forward”, eh? That’s not a term I’ve run across, though the intended meaning is clear enough.

    As an engineer, I’d express the concept as “positive feedback” — or, as we say in the lab, “letting the smoke out”.

    In fact, that’s not a bad analogy for the effect of blogging (in general) and science blogging (in particular). The smoke can get pretty acrid, but at least you can see where the problems are.

  32. #32 Jim A.
    June 30, 2008

    Stephanie Z- As somebody who works in a science library, I don’t see this happening. Formal cataloging does make things easier to find. While catalogers DO occasionaly add MARC records for Blogs and web pages, there is simply WAY too much material out there for the relatively small numbers of Librarians who do original cataloging*, especially in the sciences.

    My competing vision would be to take advantage of the hypertextural and linking nature of the Web. If you could get bloggers to briefly rate(accurate, well written, level appropriate) sites in a standardized way when they link to them, users could choose which bloggers they trust as freelance editors and prioritize results according to those bloggers. This would, to some slight extant mirror the peer review system. But of course this would also allow little creationist/free energy/time cube ghettos to create themselves, and crosslink each other. At the end of the day, science has to compete in the marketplace of ideas, and it can’t really “brand” its way to victory.

    At some level, you can’t spell authoratative without authority. And in science, all ultimate authority resides in the world around us.

    *Most of the cataloging of the books in you local or college library was done by either LC or at a small number of research libraries. Your local library found the record in OCLC and downloaded the information into the local catalog.

  33. #33 Steve Zara
    June 30, 2008

    I have started seriously blogging recently, and seem to have been building up at least a small but regular audience. I have found the best use of a blog is as a place to test ideas and have discussion. I think it is rather like setting up a meeting-place such as a coffee bar. There has to be a style and a tone that regulars recognise. I don’t think blogs are a great place for regularly posting educational or in-depth scientific material. They aren’t structured for that. I like posts that are conversation-starters, that give a new (even if very offbeat) perspective. Personally, I find the best posts end with “What do people think?”

  34. #34 clear as mud
    June 30, 2008

    I suppose PZ’s answer is basically spot-on. Just thinking about our journey from NCSA Mosaic (or even just usenet) to this… well, alot of it was almost Brownian motion: people find this thing and that thing useful, someone comes up with a better way to search a web, another develops some cool app, a third realizes they can string some of these things together into a brand new beast, etc.

    The two possibilities, re: science on the net, I can think of are that someone (or some people) will specifically look for a way of honing the awesome power of yeast genet— the net for the express purpose of science education/information-sharing/etc. OR, the net will evolve, frankly, by natural selection (am I using that too freely in this case?), and suddenly we will find that things have become useful to us in ways we didn’t know were even possible.

    The bottom line is there are indeed limitations in the way things work now on the net. But I figure we should just keep our eyes peeled as each new web development comes. Heck, I visit lifehacker.com all the time for that purpose.

  35. #35 Stephanie Z
    June 30, 2008

    Jim, I agree that there are not currently enough research librarians employed that they could take on that task. I’d like to see that change too. I know too many librarians who are working in other fields. Living in the information age is only useful to the extent you can parse the information instead of being swamped by it.

    The blogger rating system is interesting and would likely be adopted by some of them, but as someone around Sb says, persuading bloggers to do anything collectively is like herding cats. I’d rather see the task in the hands of people who want the job.

  36. #36 Monado
    June 30, 2008

    We don’t ask theater critics to teach drama nor sports players to teach the sport to the audience in the stands. The buzz in science blogging is much more like shop talk than teaching. Reading a science blog is in some way like listening to the internal gossip of a specialized trade or sport: each has its jargon, techniques, heroes, jerks, legends, history, and so on. I see its purpose as getting people interested in learning more science and understanding the way it works and issues it faces. Science blogs aren’t schools and won’t replace them.

  37. #37 jck
    June 30, 2008

    As a lay reader with a longtime science interest, what I get out of science blogs is a chance to see an informed discussion on current topics and an unfiltered education by experts in the field(s). What I mean by unfiltered is that the discussion comes directly from scientists, without going through writers and editors who may not understand the subject.

    As far as the level of discussion, I don’t mind having to look up terms in a post. It helps with my own education. Posts that explain a subject, like PZ’s posts on genetics and evolution are very useful, however.

    I agree with the thought that science blogging should be left to evolve on it’s own, without any sort of top-down dictation. That’s what makes blogging fun.

  38. #38 PhysioProf
    June 30, 2008

    The only answer is to keep playing. Don’t worry about it. Expect and embrace serendipity.

    This is how all creative pursuits make progress, including science. The idea that one can predict ahead of time what are fruitful new creative directions is pernicious, and highly destructive to making progress if it is allowed to influence institutional planning.

  39. #39 sharon
    June 30, 2008

    Stephanie: perhaps your librarians need Pipes.

  40. #40 Stephanie Z
    June 30, 2008

    Sharon, if anyone decides to take on the job, they’ll need all the tools they can get (including some not yet created) to deal with the mountains of information. But Pipes looks cool. I’ll need to check that out some more.

  41. #41 Sal
    June 30, 2008

    Feed forward loops are powerful forces, people.

    Sorry, PZ, but don’t you mean positive feedback loops ?

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