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Why science blogging still matters

Allison McDonald has had a lot on her mind lately. She has ruminated on the common mistakes that students make when defending their theses, the identification of the flies that have invaded her office and the plot points of the TV show Star Trek: Discovery. But instead of keeping these thoughts to herself, McDonald, a cell biologist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada, has posted them on her DoctorAl blog.

Science blogs have been around since the early 2000s, and in recent years the ‘microblogging’ platform Twitter and other social-media channels, which require less time to maintain than does a full blog, threatened to make them obsolete. But some scientists are keeping the practice alive, and it continues to play a major part in sparking collaborations, conveying crucial information and strengthening scientific communities.

“Blogging isn’t for everyone, but it’s important that people realize it is part of the many ways scientists talk to each other,” says Stephen Heard, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada and author of the blog Scientist Sees Squirrel (tagline: ‘Seldom original. Often wrong. Occasionally interesting.’)

Studies on the reach and impact of science blogging have refocused attention to the endeavour. In unpublished work, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany surveyed the social-media and scientific-outreach activities of 865 scientists who were born in 1981 or later. The participants included mathematicians, chemists, physiologists and physicists. Overall, 15% had started a blog, but few updated it with any regularity. “I already knew science blogging wasn’t very popular in Germany,” says lead author Carsten Könneker, a science-communication researcher who has trained hundreds of young scientists in public outreach. “Blogging is only one digital format for science communication. Scientists who don’t make use of any of these formats are missing out on immense opportunities.”

The survey uncovered some telling attitudes towards blogs and other forms of science outreach. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that a lack of time was a ‘great obstacle’ to any sort of science communication.

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