Over at Gene Expression, Razib spins an interesting question off my call for blog posts: why are there so many biology bloggers?
As I said in comments over there, I think there are two main reasons why you find more bio-bloggers than physics bloggers. The first is that there are simply more biologists than physicists– we’re expecting an unprecedented 13 senior physics majors next year, which is forcing some frantic re-organization to handle the load, but a class that small would be a major crisis for the Biology department. The second reason is that biology is really the main front of the “War On Science,” with all sorts of nonsense being peddled by people opposed to stem cells and genetically modified organisms, and evolution, and all that. That sort of political strife leads to a larger number of people wanting to vent, and blogging is a natural outlet for that. If there was a well-funded and coordinated attack on quantum mechanics underway for political reasons, you’d probably see a lot more physics bloggers.
Does anyone agree that some parts of physics are over-represented in terms of bloggers – most bloggers do theory (esp. high-energy/string theory/cosmology). Some experimenters, thanks to quantum diaries – but mostly high-energy/nuclear experiment. Whatever happened to condensed matter guys – both theory and experiment? Nanoscience, correlated systems, low-T, scattering, scanning probes, optics? In most physics departments those represent at good 50% of students/faculty, but in terms of blogging it’s more like 10%.
(More after the cut…)
Here, I think the answer is even simpler, and has to do with the nature of the work that people in different fields do. In low-energy experimental physics, progress is pretty strongly correlated with the amount of time spent in the lab. It’s not a perfect correlation– after about twelve hours straight, I’m more likely to damage something than to make a dramatic breakthrough– but if you’re not physically in the lab, you’re most likely not getting things done.
That sort of work isn’t terribly conducive to blogging. On those rare occasions when I post new content during the day, it’s usually because I find myself in my office waiting for something. On days when I manage to block out time to be in the lab, I barely manage to keep on top of my work-related email, let alone write and post new articles for the blog. The longer pieces I write are mostly done during the evenings and on weekends, when I get the chance to play around with the computer for a while.
The physics sub-fields that are well represented in blogdom– string theory, cosmology, quantum information– are mostly things that you do in an office with a computer. There’s still a correlation between time spent working and research progress, but the work environment lends itself more readily to reading and writing blog posts. The same is true of experimental high energy and nuclear physics, where the amount of time spent analyzing data is much larger than the amount of time spent building apparatus. There are a lot of experimental high-energy physicists who are better at writing C or Fortran code than a lot of atomic and molecular theorists– it’s a very computing-intensive business. And if you’re spending time with a computer anyway, it’s easy to slip into blogging.
So, as an experimentalist who blogs, what am I, crazy? Maybe. I’m also at a small college, rather than a research university, which means I spend a fair amount of time teaching and dealing with students. I get a lot of reading done during my office hours, and while waiting for students to show up for appointments.
I’m also just the right sort of geek to find reading stuff on a computer monitor to be a good source of relaxation. I got into Usenet back when I was in college and grad school, and I migrated into the weblog world back in 2001 or so. To quote a guy from Usenet, “This is my hobby.” Some people knit, I rant at people on the World Wide Web…