Science in social media… a seemingly daunting sphere to break into for those of us without a large social media presence. To help me through this transition, I am taking part in Max Showalter’s SciComm Book Club.
In Chapter 2 of Science Blogging (From Page to Pixel – a personal history of science blogging written by Carl Zimmer), Carl brought up something that is so easy for us young scientists to forget… the internet is young! Carl himself didn’t stumble across the internet until 1994 and didn’t see it as a viable outlet until 2003.
Before the internet took off, science communication was controlled by journalists – the gatekeepers of public knowledge who took pride in their extensive fact checking and editing. While us youngsters have grown up with all of the answers to any question we could ever imagine right at our fingertips, older generations were limited to what they were taught in school or went to the effort to read in print. This means that they were never taught anything about climate change or stem cell research or the causes of autism from an educated speaker.
But as blogging took off in the 21st century, anyone and everyone was able to contribute in communicating science (or whatever else struck their fancy) to the general public. No fact checking or professional career liability involved. To add to this wave of change in science communication, printed journals stopped printing special science sections and instead resorted to stories that would quickly grab a reader’s attention (I find it hard to see where any of my stories about mud would fit into this world).
I completely understand how those of us who care about science and the pursuit of truth could be terrified by this transition. People (read citizens, voters, parents, teachers) who were never taught modern science in school can now quickly and easily find posts about evolution and GMOs written by an anonymous blogger with no required scientific background. But as Carl Zimmer brought up in his chapter, science bloggers blog for the joy of science communication. We are not paid (well at least most of us). We do not have to adhere to any journal’s restrictions. We simply write for the love of our science. I find that pretty trustworthy.
And on top of that, blogs uniquely offer back and forth comments that can clear up any confusions or errors. If anyone makes a mistake online, you better bet that the online community won’t hesitate shouting it out to the world in the comments section. And bloggers and commenters can easily add links to other relevant articles, creating a web of knowledge and discussion.
So, as a scientist, I see it as my responsibility and pleasure to make sure that online scientific content exists and is easily digestible by anyone, from my science lab mates to my 90-year-old neighbor. After all, answers are just a click away. And if people online start seeing and interacting with science blogs, people will start talking about science, and thinking about science, and even caring about science.