A Meta-post

I’m unsure whether I should be writing this as, frankly, there’s little I hate more than people talking about themselves – especially on a platform should be used to talk about something more interesting. But, it’s been playing on my mind, so bear with me.

This blog is new. It lacks direction, it’s not widely read. That’s fine. These things were acknowledged from the get-go as a necessity. ‘How can a blog know exactly what it’s supposed to say when it sets out?’ was my thinking, and just what I said to my co-poster, Harriet. She nodded and agreed. By letting the blog evolve over time it would find a purpose, right? We don’t need one to start with, no. What we needed was to be writing, in the public domain, telling people what we think and why we think it.

Err, except, I don’t really believe that. What is the point of a blog without a, um, point? A low readership will stay a low readership, and it’s not actually obvious to me how a blog will magically find direction, unless something sets it apart. This begs the question: why did we set this bloody thing up in the first place, then?

O the most basic level, I enjoy talking about science, and I want a career that lets me achieve that (to some greater or lesser extent, at least): to that end, I’m doing the MSc in Science Communication at Imperial. Being on that course makes me feel like I should be doing ‘stuff’. Writing, blogging, film-making, interviewing, web-design, science museum work, event planning; that kind of thing. Great, all that’s good experience. Not many of us blog, but some do. So, to get back to the question: why did we start this blog? To have a voice, I guess; to be noticed, heard, and valued. Maybe even employed.

The truth is, though, that none of our blogs (especially this one) are particularly well read, and I for one don’t have much confidence in actually posting, either. There’re a few reasons for my under confidence:

1. I’m in a state of flux. I’m not incredibly young (I’ve done a degree and PhD), but I’m young enough that my views aren’t set in stone. Especially leaning about the interaction between science, society and the media, I’m currently increasingly unsure what my take on a lot of stories. I don’t want to write something I don’t believe in, so my blog pots get watered down to the extent that they’re no longer interesting. Sometimes, they get so watered down I don’t bother posting them.

2. I’m put off by other blogs. It may sound immature, but plenty of people already blog about science, and have more time to do it than me. They get their stories written and on-line before I have chance, and have often written them much more persuasively than I currently can. It seems like a bit of a waste of my time to cover a topic that’s already been written about, and written about well.

3. I ‘m massively insecure. Let’s get this clear: I know I’m not stupid. I did a degree in engineering and a PhD in medical engineering, and am now doing another MSc. I’m not some arrogant polymath who thinks they can do it all, but I know a fair bit about science and can string a coherent sentence together. But… but… I get nervous writing publicly on topics I don’t know masses about, and I worry about making provocative statements that I might not be able to defend in the future.

4. It’s hard to be creative. Right, this last one sounds like a cop-out but, effectively, my argument is this: I’m doing a full time MSc, which requires me to be reading and writing a lot, and I teach undergrads, too. This leaves me with enough time to write a blog, yes. But to come up with a new, exciting angle, a niche in the market? Not really. It’s not that I can’t think creatively, but in an increasingly overcrowded market, it’s hard to think of an idea – even a thread of coherence – that can set one blog apart from the rest.

What does this mean, then? Essentially, I’ve found the ‘voice’ I was looking. That’s the easy bit: I have a wordpress account, I have a Twitter account. Trouble is, I don’t really have much to say. On Twitter, I listen to what other (older, wiser) sci-commers  talk about; sometimes I ask questions, or challenge them on something, but not often. Essentially, I’m scared to. They all know more than me, what can I add to the debate? Anyone that chooses to argue that this is my own problem is, firstly, correct. Secondly, though, they must also associate with the problem. Everybody, absolutely everybody, gets nervous about entering into debate with people that are better informed and better respected than they, and If you can claim you don’t, you’re either stupid, or an absolute dick.

Basically, then, as far as I can tell, the idea of blogging or micro-blogging is great in theory, but an absolute waste of time if you have nothing constructive to say. At the moment, I feel like my voice is pretty worthless.

14 Responses to “A Meta-post”


  1. 1 David Bradley February 12, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Jamie, you’ve seen how many sci-comm people are out there in the twitterhood, blogosphere, friendfeedzone…you think their insecurities have put them off? Nobody’s opinion is worthless, even if they’re misinformed or speaking on subjects other than their expertise it can help raise discussion and there’s always someone ready to point out the flaws in one’s argument, which can raise your own understanding.

    That said, lots of typos and grammar points in your post you might want to fix. e.g. “Less tigers” should be “fewer tigers” or “less tiger” and in your closing par you have a 0 where there should be a hyphen.

    Interesting post, by the way. ;-)

  2. 2 alice February 13, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Well I thought this post was so interesting I posted a link to it on the comments form here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2010/02/very_young_people_blogging_abo.php

    Also – tip for getting more readers/ people willing to leave a comment when they stop by, which at least works for knitblogging… leave comments on other peoples blogs with your URL as id. Blogs are a largely conversational media afterall.

    p.s. I have 5 degrees and have been working in Sci Com’n since I was 16 and still think it’s weird anyone would want to hear what I have to say on, well anything. As you well know, that doesn’t stop me for blathering on, and it should be kept a ginormous secret (my point is, don’t worry).

  3. 3 Jim Hutchins February 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    I am a neuroscientist who is also struggling to communicate what I know to a wider audience.

    I think a fair dose of humility is a good thing in science writing, but one has to balance self-awareness with the need to get the word out.

    The hardest thing is to set aside the precise and passive language of the scientist, and write with a passion and energy that has not been encouraged in your writing heretofore.

  4. 4 Scicurious February 13, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Well dang honey, if a girl who hasn’t even GOT her PhD can do it, than so can you! Be not afraid to have fun with it. :) I am still young in the ways of the blogging world, but old enough to see none of us are perfect and few of us are wise. There is easily somewhere to fit in and make your perspective known and valued.

    As far as a point…

    1) Leave comments on other people’s blogs. Get to know them as bloggers. Link love is a universal blessing.

    2) See what other people are talking about. Did they leave a nuance out? Write about it! Is someone not covering something you think is cool and important? Write about it. The important thing is that it’s cool and important to YOU. When you value something, that will come out in the way you write, and help a lot in making you fun to read.

    3) The internet is a large place. Niches are made not only of topics, but of HOW people cover those topics. Even if you think others are there before you, you can often distinguish by your tone or your angle.

    4) Don’t let the grammar dudes get you down. That’s what editors are for eventually, right?

    Of course, this is all coming from someone who has never done ANYTHING with mass comm…but that’s what the internet is for. Random advice from unsolicited personages. :)

  5. 5 Mason Posner February 13, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I would encourage you to stick with it. I started my own science blog about two years ago. I posted nothing in the past year until the other day, but have been busy with several blogs used in my teaching, and I have my biology students start their own science blogs to practice their science communication skills. I also had little readership at first other than friends and family, but still had fun writing and following my stats. I am looking forward to getting back into it.

    If you would like some tips from another minor science blogger – write about what you like, don’t think they have to be long and perfect (but watch the typos and grammar) and leave comments on other blogs to attract readers. I have made some great blog connections that way, and you will drive readers to your stuff. And see if you can find a niche that will make you unique – something regional perhaps? A particular area of science that you know well? What you learn about science communication?

    Good luck and have fun.

  6. 6 Petra Boynton February 13, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Hi Jamie, interesting blog. You raise issues which I’m sure many people will identify with.

    No doubt other people will be along with feedback, but here’s my tuppenceworth:

    1. State of flux – I’d say that’s fairly normal for bloggers generally, and particularly anyone undertaking postgraduate research. It’s fine for ideas to be changing and fluid. It’s okay not to be sure of some issues. In such cases it helps to declare this to readers and ask for their input, or refer to sources that you think are helping you (or hindering) how you are viewing an issue. It’s okay to change your mind or to go back to something and clarify/correct it. In fact in many areas of science it’s good practice, since as different theories/studies come along they ought to challenge and shift your views.

    2. Put off by other blogs – I can see where you’re coming from with this, but I wonder if rather than seeing other blogs as rivals you see them as additional resources, or different sides to a story. I find when a particular topic is being discussed it interests me to see several blogs all tackling the same issue. Indeed collaborative blogging can be a real boon here, as can seeing what people are saying about an issue and seeing if there’s anything you can add. If not, but if you still feel the issue is important you could write a review blog linking together a range of blogs and other sources addressing an issue. Which would be great for anyone trying to catch up on a particular discussion or debate. It’s very easy to see blogging as if we’re working on some newsroom floor. We aren’t. Many of us have day jobs, children, and other things going on in our lives so we blog when we can. It can be frustrating if other folk get there first, but my view is if someone does this and does it as well as I can (or very often better) then they’ve saved me a job and all I need do is write a short blog entry explaining why my readers should read what someone else has said.

    3. Insecurity – it’s good you recognise this and can see where it could be a limitation. I think you’ve answered your own question in this section. Don’t write outside your area and don’t set up something you can’t defend (if not in your own words then through other people’s evidence). Even so, if you do mention something and it turns out to be wrong or you get fair criticism then you can easily address this and such a discussion is interesting in itself. One blog I wrote fairly early on complained about poor research using brain scanners. It implied I didn’t see any point in scanning. Another blogger contacted me to point this out. I was able to write a new post rectifying any misunderstanding and made a new contact who I’ve enjoyed working with (and reading) ever since. If you are insecure and uncertain about the direction your blog is going in then perhaps stick to reporting on ideas rather than setting up anything too confrontational and as you get more confident you’ll find this probably will develop without you having to think about it too much.

    4. It’s hard to be creative – true. But again this is something you can play with and experiment with online. If you continue to be reflexive and transparent then your readers will be aware you’re thinking about this issue and trying out new things. Reading other blogs and seeing how they do things is a great way to learn and it’s fine to try out things they’re doing (with a hat tip to those sources of course).

    The best advice I was given when I started blogging was to let my style evolve. Not only has that happened but what I say (and how I say it) has also changed. What I thought would begin as an advice giving resource has shifted to be a site for critical appraisal, activism, debate, reflection, archiving. It moves about all the time and I don’t really try and make it into anything much. Other people may well have a different approach, but this one works for me.

    The other thing to remember is you don’t have to blog all that often. Blogs I like say something interesting when the blogger has time to write something, not saying something for the sake of it. If you’ve not got anything to say then you don’t have to write anything. Better to write good stuff and build your blog’s reputation that way than keep on forcing your writing or finding something to say.

    I’d go back and think about why are you doing this – to promote yourself/advance your career? To develop an archive of material? To teach others? As part of a course requirement? To explore ideas? All of these are fine – and I’m sure other people who comment here will have more reasons you might blog. It may help you identify more about what you’d like to say if you’ve a clearer idea about why you think you ought to be saying it.

    Ultimately this should be something you enjoy. You’re doing this in your spare time, for nothing, on top of other commitments. So if it’s not working for you then don’t allow it to make you miserable. Plenty of folk have starts and stops on their blogs (you can see this in their history) or points of activity and inactivity. Or times when they have to let the blog take a back seat. If it’s not working for you right now then it’s okay to step back and leave things until you’ve got something you want to say, and the enthusiasm to say it.

    Good luck!

  7. 7 Andrew Maynard February 13, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Hi Jamie,

    welcome to the world blogging! That is, the world that most of us inhabit, where we’re unsure what to write about, whether anyone’s interested anyway, and wondering why on earth we’re breaking our backs doing this rather than off doing something more interesting instead! Of course there are the high profile bloggers out there. But my sense is that these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

    Many of your questions and doubts reflect mine as I write the 2020 Science blog. The only way I’ve found to deal with them is to be pretty critical with myself on why I blog. When it comes down to it, sure it’s gratifying to get page hits and feel that people are interested in what I say, but the main reason I blog is because it helps me to be disciplined in learning about and exploring new issues, and in expressing my thoughts and ideas on them more clearly. I.e. it helps me focus on new stuff and write and communicate better – everything else is a bonus.

    Of course, it’s still crushing when I write a “fantastic” blog and everyone ignores it. And in exploring issues in an honest and (hopefully) balanced way; often revealing evolving ideas; I’m not going to get the sort of following that the blogging shock jocks get. But in the long run, I suspect the greater benefit is probably to myself, rather than my readers.

    That said, it’s both humbling and gratifying when I occasionally hear that someone has read something on the blog, and got something out of it.

    Bottom line – work out *why* you blog, then go for it!

  8. 8 KateMadd February 13, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    I feel you. I, too, am studying science communication and am at once excited and intimidated by the living, mutating creature that the online science discourse community seems to be.

    BUT: “By letting the blog evolve over time it [will] find a purpose, right?”

    My experience in (not blogging, but) writing tells me NO. Actually, I’d recommend having a very tight focus at the beginning. Choose a topic, a genre, a perspective to give your creation BOUNDARIES. Then, as it matures, it can grow out of those boundaries and “evolve,” as you say.

  9. 9 draust February 13, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    If you’re looking for issues to get you revved to write, one good start point is to hang around on forums like Bad Science or Nature Network until you see something being discussed where you think:

    “Hey – I’ve got something to say about that.”

    Most bloggers I know started as serial commenters somewhere.

  10. 10 ArchAsa February 14, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    I started blogging rather randomly and with no clear concept of what I was doing. It’s now been almost four year and I’m still at it. It’s often been bad, half-assed, pathetic, nonsensical. I’ve felt tired of myself and my “voice”. The reason I have continued and fallen in love with it is because I realised I was not, as in the case of writing articles or giving presentations, having a monologue – I was participating in a dialogue.

    Through my blog I’ve discovered so many other people with interesting ideas, weird notions, fun thoughts etc. I have met people, in the virtual sense, I would never, ever have met or talked with otherwise. From other countries, other disciplines, other parts of the political spectrum. It reminded me again of why I fell in love with science to begin with.

    As others have pointed out before me, it is important not to stay stuck in a corner waiting for someone to approach. Visit other blogs, comment on them (which makes people discover you and your blog), write about interesting posts on your own blog and link, link, link. Link both to good and bad texts. You can use your blog to comment and deepen a discussion started on another blog, offer your own perspective. You can tip people off when someone has written something interesting.

    Just as in Academia reciprocity is the cardinal rule of blogging: linking equals citation.

    Write just for the fun of it, for your own edification. I have become a better writer and communicator through my blog, and I have discovered new areas of interest. Let it take time, blogging, like a good casserole, need time to simmer.

    Best of luck!

  11. 11 amy breslin February 15, 2010 at 2:12 am

    I can agree with you and relate in a number of ways to this post. I started blogging a few months ago, and felt so discouraged and, due to my lack of readers, as if I were talking to myself in a public arena. So in relation to your feeling a ‘lack of readership,’ try reading up and commenting on other blogs (although I do understand how the Time factor can really cut in on that), and when you do so link your blog to your name so others can find you easily. That is actually how I found this blog, well indirectly.

    by the way, interesting post and I enjoyed your writing style!

  12. 12 aimee whitcroft February 15, 2010 at 2:37 am

    Hiya

    I’m not going to try to add more to the already wonderful commentary you’ve got above, except to say one thing.

    Really, write about stuff that you love and you think you can communicate well (humour helps). Don’t attempt to write stuff based on what you think other people might want to read because, and this is so true, trying to predict what will gets hits and what won’t is, well, difficult.

    The posts of mine that people have most enjoyed have, several times, been the ones on which I didn’t spend as much time, or didn’t think were as interesting as some of my other posts. Go figure.

  13. 13 Carol February 16, 2010 at 3:32 am

    Two words – Confidence and focus!


  1. 1 Gravity’s Rainbow » Blog Archive » Happy Blog Anniversary! Trackback on February 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

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