Why science blogs are worth your time

The science blogging community was once again reshaped recently by the addition of the Scientific American Blog Network edited by the science Blogfather Bora Zivcovic.  Keeping up with (and keeping track of) interesting science blogs could be a full time job.

Front page of the January 5, 1850 issue of Scientific American.
Front page of the January 5, 1850 issue of Scientific American.

Despite the value placed on the scientific blogosphere by web savvy science types, I often find myself in situations where I have to plead the case for science blogs to science professors.

Why should you take time to read science blogs?  You barely have time to read anything from the peer reviewed literature, and aren’t blogs just a bunch of naval gazing anyway?

There are multiple misconceptions:

  1. “There aren’t any top tier researchers who are blogging.”  This has been repeated several times in journal editorials (and often rebutted), but a simple trek through some of the blog networks reveals that blog authors come from all stripes: highly respected researchers, teaching faculty, undergraduate students, science writers and more.
  2. “Blogs are just pseudo-scientific BS.”  While there is certainly that kind of stuff available on the web, there is a remarkable network of intelligent folks writing about real science.  This is a great way to keep up with interesting developments outside of your field.
  3. “The blogs aren’t relevant to my research.”  It’s possible that no one is blogging about the particular rock formation you are studying, but it’s likely that someone is discussing some interesting concepts and research in your general field.  And casual reading can be a great way to get new ideas for research projects.

Faculty: read science blogs – take a break from grading papers while you eat lunch – and share them with your students.

What would you get out of it?

  • Quick way to keep up with relevant science news stories
  • Easy way to expose yourself to things outside of your disciple
  • Stories to tell your students in class the next day
  • Ideas for class projects so that you don’t have to read the same term papers year after year
  • Information about science policy issues that may affect you, your research, and your ability to share your research with others

Reading science blogs is a great way to expose students to the scientific process, scientific stories and the community of science in language they can understand (research articles aren’t exactly on the easy-to-read shelf).

So where do you start?

The blog aggregator scienceblogging is a great entry into the blogging world.  This site collects headlines from a wide variety of science blogging networks allowing for easy browsing.

If you want to have your science blogs link directly back to the scientific literature, try Research Blogging, which collects posts that discuss peer reviewed research.

From there, teaching faculty can post RSS feeds into course management systems so students can have easy access to headlines as well.  These sites make excellent tools for students exploring project ideas.