Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Science blogs and public engagement with science

Digital information and communication technologies (ICTs) are novelty tools that can be used to facilitate broader involvement of citizens in the discussions about science. The same tools can be used to reinforce the traditional top-down model of science communication. Empirical investigations of particular technologies can help to understand how these tools are used in the dissemination of information and knowledge as well as stimulate a dialog about better models and practices of science communication. This study focuses on one of the ICTs that have already been adopted in science communication, on science blogging. The findings from the analysis of eleven blogs are presented in an attempt to understand current practices of science blogging and to provide insight into the role of blogging in the promotion of more interactive forms of science communication.

This study examined posts and comments from eleven science blogs in an attempt to answer the question of whether they can facilitate public engagement with science. The findings suggest that the majority of individuals involved in science blogging as both authors and readers are professional scientists or future professional scientists. Science blogs are a virtual water cooler for graduate students, postdoctoral associates, faculty, and researchers from a variety of disciplines and areas of inquiry. The conversations in science blogs are also of “water cooler” quality. Bloggers alternate explanations and critical commentary with quick personal opinions, re-posting of content from news sources and other blogs, and humorous and sarcastic remarks. Readers respond with similar actions and in addition to topic developments offer quick personal judgments, insulting and sarcastic remarks, and personal details. To become a tool for non-scientist participation, science blogs need to stabilize as a genre or as a set of subgenres where smaller conversations may facilitate more meaningful participation from members of the public3. Science bloggers need to become more aware of their audience, welcome non-scientists, and focus on explanatory, interpretative, and critical modes of communication rather than on reporting and opinionating. An interesting practical experiment would also be to reverse the roles of writers and readers and invite the so called “ordinary persons” to create and publish science blogs, i.e., to engage them in the practices of science blog writing rather than reading or commenting.

Comment: Hmm, not sure I entirely agree with the conclusions, but nice to see MicrobiologyBytes listed up there with the big boys :-)