Following on from my last post, I have had some time to reflect on my decision to jump head first into the sea of online debate. I have also come across some interesting arguments that have helped me to think more critically about the pros and cons of making use of the numerous channels for online discussion and self-promotion, such as Twitter, blogging, and so on.
A possible ‘con’ for the use of Twitter and Facebook for academic debate was highlighted by Simon Tanner this week. This is the problem of ‘sock-puppetry’, or disguising ones identity (including impersonating another scholar) specifically for malicious purposes. However, as worrying as sock-puppetry may be, I don’t think it will make the ‘con’ list for me. Although you can protect yourself from interacting with sock-puppets by avoiding online debate, withdrawing from the debate wouldn’t necessarily protect yourself altogether. The possibility is still open that someone might impersonate you, or might attempt to tarnish your reputation in discussion with others. Perhaps this should belong on the ‘pro’ list then? Perhaps the best way for us to protect ourselves is by creating a strong online personality in order to have a voice with which to defend our reputation and our views.
Are online aliases ever justified in academic debate? by Simon Tanner, in Guardian Professional
Another debate I came across this week – which made me thing twice about blogging – is the idea that some academics might consider blogging about ones own work to be ‘bad self-promotion’. As Scicurious puts it, this bad self-promotion
“is the kind that we are taught to loathe in academia. The kind that involves seeking out the press, trumping up your findings, and becoming Dr. Oz. We are taught from the beginnings of grad school and even before to mistrust people who do this.”
The idea being that good science doesn’t need anyone to shout about it, because the quality will speak for itself, and other academics will naturally promote it through citations etc. However, as Scicurious discusses, collaborations don’t happen without some degree of self-promotion, and communication of scientific findings to the wider public is an important part of research and debate (a topic I will come back to shortly). Therefore, as Scicurious concludes (and I agree), perhaps responsible and careful communication of scientific findings and ideas (including our own) are a necessary part of academia. Though, as Travis points out, it is imperative to be transparent about any potential conflicts of interest when blogging about your own or your competitors work.
Experimental biology blogging: Self promotion and ‘self-promotion’, by Scicurious, Scientopia
Blogging and self-promotion, by Travis, Science of Blogging
Should bloggers publicize their own work? by Mr Epidemiology
The final, and very closely related, debate surrounds scientific outreach; whether it is the duty of scientists to perform outreach, and whether it should be rewarded more highly. I am not going to wade into this debate here, but I do think it is crucial for this topic to be discussed in general. For me, this topic also highlights the value Twitter has added to my discovery of online academic debate. Without the #ReachingOutSci hashtag I probably would never have come across this debate at all. I think online media provide a perfect platform for this kind of wide-reaching topic. The whole community couldn’t come together to discuss this kind of problem via journal articles and letters to the editor because this traditional publication is far too slow. Even a conference or symposium would not have the same effect due to limiting the potential attendees, such as by cost or travel-time. Furthermore, only a limited number of attendees would be able to present their views. Blogging and tweeting create a unique opportunity for scientific debate, by opening the floor to anyone who is interested enough to get involved. Many more voices can be heard, the arena is more widely accessible, and pace is much faster than traditional publication. In my opinion, the ‘pro’ list for online media is therefore miles ahead.
Summary of the #ReachingOutSci series, by Of Schemes and Memes, Nature.com Blogs
In conclusion, in light of the wealth of information and debate available through online media, I won’t be withdrawing myself from it in the foreseeable future. However, in this early stage of my career as an academic, I will be somewhat tentative; perhaps paddle at the edge, rather than diving in head first. Whilst I think I can learn a lot from online interactions, I am mindful of the need to limit the time and effort I channel into them. As the ‘science outreach’ debate highlights, non-traditional means of scientific communication are not typically rewarded in academia, and could even be considered ‘bad self-promotion’ by potential future employers. I expect that these views will change, and are probably changing already, therefore I will continue to blog whenever a topic moves me, and I will certainly be keeping a keen eye on the rapid-flowing discussions of the blogosphere.
Other blogs on ‘blogging’
Science blog and scientists – oil and water? by Ben, Next Scientist
How writing a science blog saved my PhD. by Julio Peironcely, Next Scientist