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Time to take stock of the Science blogging revolution

The past year has seen change and growth in the science blogosphere, which is now believed to be better established than ever. But what is the impact of this revolution and, particularly, how is science blogging contributing to engagement and dialogue?

Bloggers from around the world gathered at Science Online 2011 held in North Carolina, USA in January 2011 to try to answer this question and others. As is clear from the Guardian podcast covering the event, the mood was highly optimistic about the positive impact of science blogging.

Science journalist Maryn McKenna commented, “blogging gave me a chance to... walk out of that exquisitely even-handed, third-person, not-very-excited-about-anything tone that newspaper journalists are obliged to have, into a first-person, passionately engaged personal voice”. Furthermore, instead of just reporting on the latest reports and findings, blogs allow journalists and the public to genuinely engage with the scientist, to have conversations which would previously only have happened in private letters or emails.

Behind much of the excitement was the assumption that, by injecting enthusiasm into science journalism and by making scientists and their work more accessible, science blogging is engaging a broader range of citizens in dialogues around science. However, recent research on science blogs that examined 11 of the most popular blogs found that those writing and commenting on articles were largely made up of those already engaged in science. The report concluded that, far from being an enabler of wider public engagement, science blogs were ‘a virtual water cooler for graduate students, postdoctoral associates, faculty and researchers.’ They may help to connect similar people with similar interests more effectively, but they are not, on the whole, connecting with more diverse groups.

Science blogging has the potential to make a significant contribution to public dialogue. However, to do so, it will need to reach out to new audiences, by striving to be accessible, jargon-free and, most importantly, by creating a culture that welcomes and encourages contributions from non-scientists.


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