Boring meta-post of the year

Really, it’s the second boring meta-post of the year, since I’ve already posted this one.

There were some rumours recently that the Scienceblogs blog network would shut down the site. It appears to still be up, and there are still blogs going there, so I don’t know about that, but this reminded me that Scienceblogs existed. I don’t think I’ve read anything on Scienceblogs in years, but it was one of my inspirations when I started blogging. It’s not that I wanted to be a science writer, but Scienceblogs and the also now defunct ResearchBlogging RSS feed (Fausto & al 2012) made me figure out that blogging about science was a thing people did.

Slowly, this thing took shape and became a ”science community blog”, in the terminology of Saunders & al (2017). That is, this blog is not so much about outreach or popular science, but ”aimed at the academic community”. I think of it as part of a conversation about genetics, even if it may be largely a conversation with myself.

So what is the state of the blog now? In September 2016, I decided to try to post once or twice a month (and also to make sure that both posts weren’t pointless filler posts). This panned out pretty well up until October 2017, when I ran out of steam for a while. Probably unrelated to that, 2017 was also the year my blog traffic suddenly increased by more than a factor of two. I don’t know for sure why, but looking at the numbers of individual posts, it seems the increase is because a lot of R users are looking for tidyverse-related things. If I went by viewer statistics, I would post less about genetics and more about hip R packages.

Instead, 2018 I will:

  • Attempt to keep up the pace of writing one or two things every month. Some, but not all, of them will be pointless fillers.
  • Hopefully produce a couple of posts about papers, if those things get out of the pipeline eventually. The problem with this, as anyone who writes papers knows, is that once something is out of the pipeline, one has grown so enormously tired of it.
  • Write a few more posts about other scientific papers I read. I’ve heard that there is limited interest in that sorts of thing, but I enjoy it, and writing should make me think harder about what I read.

About blogging

Dear diary,

I’ve had this blog since 2010, but it was not until last year that I started writing anything else than popular/science in Swedish. There is lots of discussion on academic blogs about whether PhD students, or any academics, should write on blogs or not and also quite a bit of fear, uncertainty and doubt going around. This is what I think: I don’t think my blog is such a big deal. It’s just a small hobby project that makes me happy. And while I hope it doesn’t hurt my research or my chances to continue doing science, I don’t think it helps them much either.

Do I have a target audience? There was recently a small survey to find what academics blog about and why; they found that most blogs were directed at peers, not for outreach. I’m not surprised. As I’ve already mentioned, my posts in Swedish are more popular/science, less technical and sometimes deal with things published in Swedish media. I think the target audience is still geeks of some kind, but not necessarily genetics geeks. My posts in English are more directed at academical things, either related to my research and work as a PhD student or about the R language. So my posts are a mix of languages and themes. Is that a problem? From a popularity or readership perspective, probably yes. I can see little reason not to split the posts to two blogs, each concentrated on one theme, except that I don’t feel like running two blogs.

Does blogging hurt me because it hurts my work? I hardly think so. First, blogging is not part of my duties at the university, and I don’t do it instead of writing, working in the lab or analysing data. I do it in the evening after work, or in the case of some posts in the morning before. I’m not convinced blogging makes me in any way a better scientist, but it can hardly make me worse. Thinking about science or how to explain it for another hour now and then can’t hurt. And yes, the time spent blogging could theoretically be spent writing papers or something, but so could theoretically the time spent at the gym, with family or friends. If we grant that academics do other things, blogging could be one of those activities. My blog is not completely disconnected from my work, but I think it’s disconnected enough to be regarded as a fun pastime.

Does blogging hurt my reputation because people might read my blog and disapprove? I don’t think that many people read my blog; actually, I know that not many people do. Still, it is certainly possible that some of the readers might be important to my career and that they don’t like what they see. It will be found when people look me up with a search engine. Maybe someone thinks that I’m wasting my time, or maybe I’ve written something controversial — or more likely, something stupid. I think and say things that are mistaken all the time, and some of those mistakes might end up in a blog post. The point is, though, that expressing my opinion about things I care about is not something I do because I think it’ll further my career. I do it because I want to. If my writing is successful, the things on my blog will be the kinds of things I honestly know, think and believe about science.