Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Scientific Blogging

I write this blog in response to some wonderful points brought up in Brandon Peoples' blog here.

It is heartening for me to see so many people blog over their discomfort or doubts over blogging in the GEDI and PFP series:
a) I am not the only one who is not so comfortable. Yay!
b) (This is my favorite interpretation- ) we all are stepping out of our comfort zones. We all want to be better teachers and persons. And as M. Scott Peck would say million times - when we extend our actions for other's spiritual growth, it is love. It fires my hope that our students will be loved and believed-in by their teachers! What else can I ask for?

Now coming to the issue of scientific blogging. It is slightly more complicated. Science is a wonderful tool. It is powerful and beautiful! And, with great power and beauty come great responsibility and lust. 
The inappropriate use of scientific journalism is the leading cause of expensive urine (pardon me) in our waste water drains and profits of our supplement and detox industry. It hurts me to even think of the MMR scare!
Scientific journalism is a scary thought! Blogging-scientists is a scary proposition!

Here is to the good, bad, and ugly of scientific blogging:

The Good:

a) Disseminating our understanding of phenomenon is our utmost responsibility as scientist. Science is a collective endeavor, it feeds on collective efforts and criticism. It will be quite a shame if we under-estimate the value of public understanding of science.

So, dear scientists and engineers- go ahead and talk with all your passion about the wonderful world of garbled equations and greek notations!

b) Better understanding of science will empower public to tell bad science from appropriate science. This is exactly what Ben Goldacre has dedicated his work to. (Salute to his never-ending trust in capacity of general public to understand nuances of scientific rigor!)

The Bad:

On another note- here is my discomfort over using blogs to disseminate science. It is so easy to misuse scientific studies and present them in biased light. Most on-the-news science stories are living example of scientific journalism gone eerie (usually for exploiting public perception of science as a black box where magic happens. Pop a pill and you will be great. Drink kool aid and ... )

So, much to the budding entrepreneurs, health and wellness experts, who so easily misuse and mix thorough scientific research with 'research done on internet'! (I love wikipedia- no offense!)

The bad of social blogging on science is this- misuse of these platforms to extend ones financial or social gains. This is so rampant in our society currently that I am scared of blogging about my work and my 'field of expertise' - what ever that means.

The Ugly: 

Things can get really ugly really soon.
As an environmental engineer I find myself torn. The onus of sharing my understanding with rest of human society is on me. But, this the onus comes with the risk of my narration (and not good-enough writing skills) leading to mis or incomplete-interpretation and bad science practices.
For example - here is to the recent scare of antibiotic resistance gene in purple pipes. It was an important piece of information, which was good to acknowledge and share with public. But, the needless economic after-effect and public scare were sad consequences of poor scientific journalism by our news and blogging agencies.

It is a fine line that we need to tread as scientists and engineers, and I imagine that would be an art. And there is no learning in art without decades of practice.
So, despite my reservations, I have to face the probability of probably practicing bad-science (despite my good intentions) and start blogging about my work and my understanding of it.


  1. This brings up great points, and makes me think: Why do blogs have to be a scientific medium altogether different from our traditional ones? Scientific thought is both a practice and a worldview. If enough bloggers keep on their "science hat", any bad posts will be vetted out by the greater community. This really is the process of science itself, right? Now it can just happen way faster in a (possibly) more facilitating medium. Great stuff!

  2. Thank you Brandon! I dwelled on these lines for a little longer and what I found online resonates with the point that you brought up! Genuine scientists if they disseminate enough information to public may help vetting out the bad science posts. I learnt recently about NSF and DOE encouraging and sometimes even requiring their researchers and professors to maintain blogs for the projects that are funded! :=)