Science blogging: an exploratory study of motives, styles, and audience reactions

Via sekrit, in the Journal of Science Communication, comes a deeply flawed article, Science blogging: an exploratory study of motives, styles, and audience reactions by Merja Mahrt and Cornelius Puschmann. The flaw, you'll be unsurprised to learn, is that it doesn't mention "stoat". I'm not sure that all the rest of it is too interesting either.

This paper presents results from three studies on science blogging, the use of blogs for science communication. A survey addresses the views and motives of science bloggers, a first content analysis examines material published in science blogging platforms, while a second content analysis looks at reader responses to controversial issues covered in science blogs. Bloggers determine to a considerable degree which communicative function their blog can realize and how accessible it will be to non-experts Frequently readers are interested in adding their views to a post, a form of involvement which is in turn welcomed by the majority of bloggers.

I was pointed at it, because it provides some insight into what I was told was the "Connolley Question" but which one might call the Appell Question: what determines the numbers of comments on a blog or a blog posting? Its been clear to me for some time that the more tightly scientifically focussed my postings, the fewer comments I get. And indeed, that's not too hard to understand: if you discuss a problem in depth and provide the answer, there isn't a lot to speculate on in the comments. More open-ended posts get more comments. And you get most comments for threads that spiral out of control. A similar effect is visible across blogs. Or perhaps more fairly: many blogs seem to attract a regular readership, and these readers get used to talking to each other in the comments; and they seem to like having the same conversations again and again; you know what I'm talking about I'm sure.

So, from the study (very lightly paraphrased, because cut-n-paste from pdf is irritatingly broken):

Linguistic complexity is related to the amount of feedback a blog post receives from readers; the more demanding it is to understand a post, the less comments can be observed. By contrast, the number of comments is only moderately associated with the number of page impressions. On average, each of the 289 science-related blog post received 9.6 comments by readers, but these were found to be very unevenly distributed. Thirty-seven percent of the posts received no comments at all within a month after publication, another 33% received between one and five comments. At the other end of the spectrum, two posts received over 100 comments (more than 400 and 800, respectively). Both stem from the blog ‘Respectful Insolence’ (hosted on and deal with controversies about the benefits and risks of vaccinations.Three more posts from this blog, two of which also discuss vaccination, received over 50 comments. This level of reader response was only achieved by three other posts, two from (one about media coverage of climate change and one originally about the role of the null hypothesis in research - Three more posts from this blog, two of which also discuss vaccination, received over 50 comments. This level of reader response was only achieved by three other posts, two from (one about media coverage of climate change and one originally about the role of the null hypothesis in research.

37% of blog posts getting no comments at all is eerily similar to a statistic I have in mind, that 50% of papers are never cited.

Irrelevant picture: the vertical-axis wind turbine of the Mullerhutte:


More like this

When you hear SciBlings mention "our Seed Overlords", they are talking about Ginny, our new Commander-in-Chief and Royal Cat-herder. At the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago, she herded (almost) 20 of us in Real Life to take the famous group photo. Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock.…
As you may know, I love the Journal of Science Communication. It publishes some very interesting and useful scholarly articles on a wide array of issues pertaining to the communication, education and publishing of science. I wish more science bloggers (and non-blogging scientists) read it and…
As usual, I'm late to this particular party. Over at BayBlab, a blogger calling himself “Anonymous Coward” offers up some choice words for the all-powerful, all-consuming, resistance-is-futile ScienceBlogs combine: If you examine the elephant in the room, ScienceBlogs, the trend is maintained:…
A blog is software. Importantly: a blog is free software. Everyone can use it in any way they want. If there are 100 million blogs out there, there are 100 million blogging styles and 100 million ideas what blogging "is". And anyone who dares tell others how to do it incurs the wrath of the other…

“Science blogging: an exploratory study of *motives*, styles, and audience reactions”.
Here’s a motive I don’t understand:
What is the motive of atheists blogging about science or anything else? Even if they rationalize some kind of “motive”, at the same time, if they were honest, they’d have to admit their motive has no meaning. They want to convince others of the rightness or wrongness of such and such? Evolution, which all atheists subscribe to, has no such thing as right or wrong. Evolution is indifferent to life or to death; life is no better than death because there is no “better” in evolution.
Why do you blog, atheists?

[Your question is a commonplace; its similar to "atheists can have no morality", which is also a commonplace. If you want to have a discussion with someone who has thought about this, and who is aware of the arguments - rather in the way that if you want to talk about GW, you could come here - then I'd recommend someone like Paul Wright, from where I find for example For myself, the answer is "of course life has no ultimate purpose. So what?" -W]

By See Noevo (not verified) on 04 Oct 2014 #permalink

The pix is good.

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 04 Oct 2014 #permalink

Its been clear to me for some time that the more tightly scientifically focussed my postings, the fewer comments I get.

Exercise extreme caution in eliminating scientfic focus.

Carried to the limit, such an editorial policy risks winning a Bloggie.

Certainly if I've had trouble moderating the comments on a particular post, I simply post something new with an equation in it.

By ...and Then Th… (not verified) on 05 Oct 2014 #permalink

I find the same as you, William. The more work I put into an article the fewer the comments. Explaining science takes the most work in my case.

Snarky articles that focus on silliness or bad behaviour usually get the most comments. I find them much easier to write and they arguably demonstrate laziness on my part. Or lack of time. They aren't nearly as interesting as science though.

Thanks for the link to the Stephen Maitzen article. I’ll take a look.

As to your answer - "of course life has no ultimate purpose. So what?" – I would just say that a person with such a view as no basis whatsoever for telling anyone or even suggesting to anyone anything about right and wrong. Oh, you may have feelings, and even alleged thought, about right and wrong. But in evolutionary terms, these are no more than random genetic mutations that lead one person to favor vanilla and another person chocolate. But soon your tastebuds will be dust, and it won’t matter worth a damn whether you liked vanilla or chocolate, or favored “good” over “evil”, for there are no such things.

Believe what you will, but don’t believe that you can preach morality or what one should or shouldn’t do. For you to do so is contradictory to your evolutionary view and is ridiculously hypocritical.

[You're just putting forward the std.naive theist view. I've heard it all before; unless you're very young, so have you -W]

By See Noevo (not verified) on 05 Oct 2014 #permalink

If indeed 50% of papers are never cited, one potential reason is that they’re crap.

The other 50% are cited in publications read only by those who publish the publications and a few handfuls of PhDs who might be interested for their own self-interested purposes. Well over 99% of the rest of the population couldn’t care less. And really, most of the poor uncited 50% shouldn’t care either, because the significant majority of scientists are atheists. To paraphrase the belief expressed above: “If no one reads (or comments about) my paper, SO WHAT?”

By See Noevo (not verified) on 05 Oct 2014 #permalink

“So much of what passes for academic writing these days is really a kind of guild-mentality gnosis, an impenetrable code intended to empower and elevate a priesthood... as keepers of a truth the rest of us are too addlepated to grasp.”
– Jonah Goldberg of National Review

Amen, Jonah.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 05 Oct 2014 #permalink

If religion makes one look on Jonah Goldberg favorably, I'll take atheism please.

I think the more personally people take the post, the more comments there are. So if you're obviously wrong, or your comments go against my deeply held prejudices, I'l be more likely to post. If you explain something clearly, any posting is likely to be a 'thank you'. In some blogs, the posts are really a type of social networking, and have little to do with the post. As for the poster who is perplexed by people who act as if there is meaning to their activities when this does not go with his (assuming this, of course) understanding, I suggest approaching this with an anthropological perspective. Maybe there's something your picture is missing?

Marc, the paper didn't mention my science blog either! :-(

There is a meta-concern that has not been addressed, to wit, is it a good or bad idea to even have a comment section? I vaguely recall reading another paper (can't remember the citation) that demonstrated that comment sections tended to cause readers, even those not commenting, to become confused and even to reject well reasoned articles... that the comments subtracted from, rather than added to, the value of the paper, article, essay, etc. For this, and other reasons, I elected to turn off commenting on my blog:

By Kay Brown (not verified) on 06 Oct 2014 #permalink

William - If you think Maitzen's article is compelling you are, frankly, not very smart. Of course, you think Mike Mann is a great scientist too, so I guess it adds up.

[Why are you making things up? -W]

The most moral people I know are atheists. It follows that if you don't think there's some magical "elsewhere" you are obliged to make the best of it here and now.

I should behave, but can't resist weighing in on the atheist question. Before I get started on that, though, I'd mention that it's important to make a difference between understanding and belief. Science understanding is not belief as it is understood (gah) by people who employ "belief" as an accusation. It is a cumulative trust that the method works, an at least partial understanding of how it works, and a deep skepticism that allows a walk through a world that we probably know is not solid in the physics sense. I'm getting myself in trouble here, perhaps I should say including but not limited to ...

I suggest using understanding rather than belief as a description of one's attitude towards science and particularly the science and observations pertaining to global warming.

Anyway, I bridge the gap between faith and science in my person, having had the usual, if somewhat overdone, experiences of a child of my generation and spent a lot of time in religious communities before I decided good people bring their goodness with them and don't get it from their belief or not in something other, or their need for same. In general, most religions appear to construct their gods in their own image, and even if they didn't start out that way, are exploited to exert power and control and excuse behavior.

However, I couldn't resist linking to this, though I find the article a little less straightforward than I remembered.…
"Imaginary friend, who art in heaven"

By Susan Anderson (not verified) on 08 Oct 2014 #permalink

Another blog post on this article. It includes the dataset and some more information from the survey not disused in the article, such as what scientists write about. Hint: not their own work (you would also have to be enormously productive for that).

By Victor Venema … (not verified) on 17 Oct 2014 #permalink