Why should scientists blog and podcast?

2 December 2008

My colleagues (generally the older ones) often ask me why I blog or podcast. They believe that I am wasting my time. After all, I am a scientist, and it is my job to carry out research. In order to do this I must publish papers and obtain grants. The grant funds are used to pay salaries (mine and those in my laboratory) and purchase the supplies needed for research. In my institution, nothing matters except raising money for research. Teaching, mentoring, and other community services mean very little. Blogging and podcasting do nothing to help fund my laboratory.

Here are my answers.

Why did I go into science? Because my parents (physician and teacher) and my teachers inspired me. But for many other children, the only inspiration they have is their teachers. They need input from other sources. I believe I can help provide that input over the internet.

Most people – kids, teens, adults – don’t understand science. Their teachers can provide only a very rudimentary, often flawed view of some of the fundamental concepts. While I cannot cover all of science, I can do a good job of teaching what I know. I have been studying and thinking about viruses for over 30 years, so I understand them quite well. I am also able to talk and write about them clearly and concisely, a gift I probably received in part from my teacher parent. These qualities put me in a unique position to educate the public about viruses. 

Early in my career, I didn’t think much about teaching. I focussed on research. Later I realized I had a reasonable ability to communicate what I knew, which turned into a love of teaching. My blogging and podcasting about viruses represent part of the effort to impart some of my knowledge to the public. 

As I have read and heard many times on the web, if you want to blog or podcast, do it about something you are passionate about. And that is what I am doing.

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  • http://www.closingthesciencegap.com S. Morgan

    Dear Dr. Racaniello,

    I just stumbled upon this blog post today, and I am glad I did. I think it's wonderful what you are doing with this blog. While I understand why this happens, it still disappoints me that most scientists get trapped in a cycle of grant-writing and publishing, without placing any or very low priority on other important things.

    I am finishing up grad school (defending later in the spring), but I started a website a couple of months ago in hopes of closing some of the gaps between science and the public. In fact, one of my blog posts a little while back aimed to encourage other scientists to start blogs… so you can imagine my excitement to stumble upon your blog. I think it would be wonderful if more established scientists do the same as you.

    Not sure it means much, but I just wanted to commend you and offer my support to what you're doing with this blog. Thank you.

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    Hi S,

    Thank you very much for your comments – they mean a great deal to me.
    I am always happy to encounter someone who understands what science
    blogging is all about. Commenting is an integral part of blogging,
    what turns a collections of posts into a community.

    Most scientists of my generation will not blog – no matter how many
    contests Nature sponsors, or what encouragement they receive from
    bloggers. I doubt most senior faculty even read blogs! They most
    likely believe the information contained in them is unreliable, and
    not worth their time. All that matters is what will propel their
    productivity. Not that being productive isn't terrific – but I have no
    doubt that blogging would help most scientists. I've learned a huge
    amount about other viruses by blogging, and it translates into more
    ideas for my own research.

    I always thought that the new, upcoming generation of scientists -
    those trained in the web 2.0 age like yourself – would blend easily
    with the web. But I'm no longer sure. When you get a science Ph.D. you
    are trained to be very focused on your research and grants and nothing
    else – and because you are trained by a senior person with little
    interest in the web, you might not blog, podcast, or use open science,
    for fear of falling out of favor. Perhaps it will take several
    generations of new scientists to overcome the inertia – and by then
    everything will have changed again.

    Your blog 'Closing the Science Gap' is terrific. Good luck with it -
    don't be surprised if it shows up soon on TWiV (you do listen to TWiV,
    right?). And let me know if you need any help with your
    closing-the-gap organization that you plan to start – I would be
    pleased to participate.

    I like the 'Closing the Gap' metaphor, as it's what I'm trying to do
    with my blog. I also take a lead from Paul Offit, who said in a recent
    interview that science in the US has taken a turn for the worse – in
    terms of how public perceives it. It's time to turn that trend around,
    which can only come from education, and fortunately we have the right
    administration to address that problem financially. Science bloggers
    can make a big contribution towards making Americans knowledgeable and
    proud of science.

    Thanks again for your support.

  • http://www.closingthesciencegap.com S. Morgan

    Unfortunately, you are probably very right. Most senior scientists think that the internet is a big waste of time. And younger ones are not introduced on how to integrate it into what they do. I think your blog is a great example for any scientist on how to integrate the web into what they do and use it as a tool to share ideas and learn from others. I hope that my website will do that one day too.

    By the way, I really appreciate your kind comments about my website. Thank you, it really encourages me. I just subscribed to TWiV – in fact, iTunes is busy downloading the latest episode right now. Also, I will join biocrowd soon – thanks for the tip. Once I join, I will promote it on my website too.

    Thank you for what you do.

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  • gsgs

    why do they pay you for teaching students in a room but not for
    teaching peope over the internet ?
    It's just historically, how the education system was established.
    I think, internet teaching,research,learning has its merits and we
    should spend some % of the budget on it.
    They pay you $xy for teaching maybe 100 students in a room
    but not $2*xy for teaching 1000 students on video ?!?
    If you think about it, learning in Universities is intrinsically
    inferior to learning over the internet or by videos.
    It probably has to do with motivating and controlling the students.

  • gsgs

    why do they pay you for teaching students in a room but not for
    teaching peope over the internet ?
    It's just historically, how the education system was established.
    I think, internet teaching,research,learning has its merits and we
    should spend some % of the budget on it.
    They pay you $xy for teaching maybe 100 students in a room
    but not $2*xy for teaching 1000 students on video ?!?
    If you think about it, learning in Universities is intrinsically
    inferior to learning over the internet or by videos.
    It probably has to do with motivating and controlling the students.

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