John Wilkins recently announced that he has an article about science blogging in press over at Trends in Ecology & Evolution, and many congratulations to him. The piece is definitely worth a look, appraising science blogs in terms of how they impact science communication and may benefit historians, but there was one aspect of the paper that bothered me. While many science bloggers are graduate students and researchers (as mentioned in the paper) there are many, like myself, who do not have such ties to academic institutions. Indeed, there are many bloggers who can write eloquently and effectively about science who do not have higher degrees, yet this does not mean that their work should be taken any less seriously.
I’m sure that reading Peter Larson’s account of what happened during the fight over “Sue” in Rex Appeal has increased my irritation with the tendency to forget or marginalize people who are not affiliated with universities, but I’ll try to keep things in perspective. As someone with a relatively poor academic record at a university ill-suited to my interests blogging is just about the most valuable thing I can do (outside of finishing my degree to get the hell out of Rutgers). Blogging has given me more motivation to keep up on new research, put information in the context of other finds, and work on my writing. I could sit in my apartment and read papers 24 hours a day but if I didn’t write about them vanishingly little would probably stick. (And any misunderstandings I had would not be corrected.) By writing about science I am forced to take it in, think about it, and try to accurately discuss it in a place visited about 700 times each day, the result being a better understanding of a topic than I typically receive in any college course.
Indeed, even though my college experience has been atrocious science blogging has opened up opportunities that otherwise would have remained closed to me. This blog has put me in contact with a number of professionals and experts in several fields, allowing me to start making connections within paleontology. What’s more, if I was not a blogger I doubt that I would have made the proper contacts or gained enough experience to contribute to the Dinosaurs: A Historical Perspective volume, and I have begun working on plans with another blogger for a paper that might appear in Evolution: Education and Outreach. Hell, in the space of a year I went from being virtually unknown to interviewing some of the most prominent paleontologists in the field (with plenty more on the way), so I don’t think that there’s much question that I have overwhelmingly benefited from my work here.
It has been a struggle to earn the respect of professionals, blogging about science often being seen as irrelevant or even as a waste of time, but I do feel that what I do here is valuable. (And don’t get me started on the narrow-minded folks that feel that I have “no right” to discuss science because I don’t have a PhD.) That is one of the great benefits of science blogging; anyone with an interest can participate and become engaged in discussion. Although it can certainly be said that I lack experience and that I still have much to learn, the proof of whether I have truly understood something or not is in my writing. It may be easy to dismiss what I do in general as unworthy of consideration but I do feel that my writing speaks for itself, and for other writers like myself science blogging is an excellent way to make contacts and gain valuable experience. Science blogging is not something only undertaken by scientists, nor should it be, and I hope that more students are able to use the new opportunities presented by this new kind of internet soapbox to their advantage.