The Blogfather on science blogging

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Bora Zivkovic is Scientific American's blog editor and a blogger himself. In this SciAm post, he talks about how blogging has changed and where it is going: "Many people used blogging software to do very brief updates back when that was the only game in town. Today, quick updates, links etc. are done mainly on social media and many bloggers use the traditional blogging software only for longer, more thorough, one could even say more “professional” writing."

Jul. 12, 2012


rickilewis's picture

Thank you so much for this incredible history, Bora! Here's another viewpoint on blogs.

I earned my PhD in genetics in 1980, and began science writing in 1978. By 2005, I'd published more than 2,000 articles, paid for all, and was author or co-author of 4 college textbooks. In that year, 2005, I received my first "invitation to contribute to my blog." Having no clue what that meant, I asked if it paid $1 a word, as I'd been used to over the past 25 years (some magazines paid a good deal more than that). It took awhile for it to sink in that people were "inviting" me to work for free. The first blog I wrote for The Scientist I was actually paid for -- I was blogging from an intl evolution conference in the Galapagos. After that, they stopped paying too.

When The Scientist brought on new editors and we writers -- I'd been writing for them for 17 years -- were unceremoniously, one by one, dumped -- I retreated into focusing on my books. By the time I wanted to write magazine-type articles again -- classic journalism -- my field had evolved into blogs, where we writers were expected to write for free.

So now I do that. Write for free. It is a little demoralizing, if I think about it too much.

I started my own blog ( two years ago on the advice of my agent, once I added narrative nonfiction to my never-ending textbook gigs (which I am so thankful for). It's a place for things too weird for my textbooks, update my narrative nonfiction, and a way for me to connect ideas and research in ways that don't occur to most people. And Bora has been nice enough to publish my pieces on SciAm. Writing is like an addiction for me, so I appreciate the outlet.

I've come to love it, and reading what others have to contribute. But I fear that the quality control we had back in the days of just-journalism, when an article went through several pairs of editorial eyes, is gone. Instead, we have superstar writers. One mentioned in Bora's article frequently makes errors in the science -- but they go uncorrected, because he/she is a prominent person. The general public thinks he/she is always accurate -- but the person isn't a scientist, and the errors persist. It is frustrating for me, a long-time, non-celebrity writer. In revising a textbook, dozens of instructors provide feedback, so errors like those I see in blogs would never survive. Some are very subtle, word choices that imply impossibilities in evolution or genetics, for example.

I realize that a blog is much more informal and ephemeral than a textbook or a print article. But for science blogs, I think accuracy is critical.

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