What’s really at stake here? Publish or Perish? Or something more?

From time to time, I like to take a moment to ask myself, “Why do I blog?”

I think this is a good time for me to be doing one of these type posts because as most bloggers know, after returning from a hiatus, it is hard to get back into the swing of things. Often you have to remind yourself you are doing this for such and such reasons to the point that it becomes a mantra again. Only when I fall back into the rigors of reading and writing for the blog, do I stop needing to ask and tell myself why I blog.

Jonathan Gitlin‘s post over at his Arstechnica blog Noble Intent reminds me of one of the reasons why I blog, the need to communicate science to the larger public. Far too frequently have I heard the argument from my non-science friends and family that scientists have created a big communication gap between themselves and the rest of the world. I listened to what they said and decided to pick up arms, fight the good fight, and help bring anthropology to the masses. So, to say that I totally agree with Gitlin’s argument that science is inundated with,

“too much use of jargon, and far too many research papers are downright painful to read. All of this puts a barrier between their research and those who want to know what it all means, and that’s bad both for scientists and society at large,”

is a bit of an understatement.

And that’s part of the reason as to why I blog. I know I wanna be in academia in some form or another for the rest of my life, and since I see the discord in communication between science and the rest of the world growing, I feel there’s a strong need to fill that gap. I decided to blog because I knew the rest of my life would be dedicated to reading and writing in some form or another. Also, I don’t consider my writing skills really top notch, so I continue to see and use blogging as an opportunity to spice up my style and structure.

But I digress… In the past, and present, science journalism has been filling the communication gap. Science journalists are trained writers and they have all the tricks under their sleeves to not only pick and choose the new hotness in science but also to translate it. News sources like National Geographic News and EurekAlert are a couple of the science journalist sources that I use to bring new papers and publications to me. I also use them so I can read and understand the gist of a paper before I decide to devote some time to seriously spending time to read and comprehend the first hand account. But as Gitlin points out, I too see that science journalism is becoming as shoddy as the latter form of communication that it tries to translate.

This is where I see blogging intervene. During the two plus year that I’ve been running this site, I’ve seen more and more academics approach blogging as a form of media and news. Even the academics that don’t yet have blogs have directly contacted me because of this blog or better yet commented back to posts I’ve written to clarify or criticize my thoughts on their papers. This is an awesome and remarkable change. I feel like we are seeing a change to the publish and perish mentality that has plagued academia for sometime. A commenter, Norton, to Gitlin’s post writes,

“Publish or perish actually works to make scientists worse at communicating — more more precisely, frequently makes them do it poorly.”

But with an online reputation to track and trace, academics can now easily see how the public feels about their research.

With all that said, I hope more and more scientists and researcher turn to blogging as a form of communication and discussion… especially anthropologists. I know most of ya anthrophiles out there have computers and the internets, but am bewildered as to why we have such a small representation out here on the web.

Anthropology and the internet is like a match made in Heaven, seriously. And, I’m not being entirely naive here… take for example the Hadzabe dilemma that’s been circulating around the anthro-blogosphere. This is a case-in-point situation where blogging is helping facilitate discussion and exchange ideas on how to confront a serious issue facing cultural anthropology and ethnoarchaeology. Already, in our circle of five or so blogs, we have started brainstorming up things to do and drafting up letters of protest to help out the Hadza. I’m pretty sure that this hasn’t been how things we done 10 years ago, and I’m even more sure that this will be more dynamic and fluid in 10 years time… and we’ve got blogging to thank for that!

7 thoughts on “What’s really at stake here? Publish or Perish? Or something more?

  1. Why I Blog by Eric Y

    I was encouraged to blog by my good friend and noted anthropologist, Dr. Jay Whitlow. I think you will find more information on him as the site listed above. Dr. Jay Whitlow told me that short of falling into the maniacal rut of publishing, I should try the art of blogging as way to practice both my keyboarding skills and my creative writing abilities. “Publish or perish” indeed! As recommended by Dr. Whitlow I find blogging definitely more rewarding than joining the race to promotion through publishing.

  2. Eric, Dr. Whitlow has definitely given you some sound advice.

    Blogging has a lot of benefits. Like you said and I said, it helps those of us without solid writing skills. Throughout the years, I’ve seen a dramatic change for the better in regards to my typos, grammatical errors, and writing style. I attribute the time and practice spent writing in this blog to that beneficial change.

    Also, I see the informality of blogging as a critical asset to counterbalance the complexity in current science communication. It is often refreshing to break wordy statements into plain English, it not only helps others (hopefully), but it helps me because I reword it into something I understand.

    Dr. Whitlow has picked up on these benefits, I feel. And I commend him on that and you for sharing with us why you blog. I hope more people will come to blogging for these reasons.

  3. I like seeing science blogs – they do help to bridge the gap between the general public and science, because science bloggers are coming from both worlds. Simplifying verbiage, and getting to the point with more pith. Somebody has to pick up the slack for the paltry mainstream media efforts. I’m glad there are people stepping up to fill this need.

  4. This is precisely why I read the blogs in this website. They inform me about what is going on in the world of science using a more simple vocabulary. Also, blogs sometimes fill the void that newspapers leave behind.

  5. Dr. Jay Whitlow,

    I have read your anthropology blog and agree that often it is better to blog than to publish. For peer reviewed journals it can take up to two years to get through the process but blogging is instant. Some topics that are timely but might not be “fashionable” in a couple years will not be considered by the better anthropologist, Dr. Jay Whitlow. So these topics will be the concerns of the worst anthropologist. If talented anthropologists such as Dr. Jay Whitlow were to blog more then the worst anthropologist will not have a voice.
    Keep up the good work eric y.

  6. Science blogs are usually interesting and informative. The problem is that there is no standard validation process or accountability, particularly for the comments. This can lead to pranks and bad science.

    Case in point: people here are quick to agree with this noted, talented, famous, and non-existent Dr. Jay Whitlow, but google can find no mention of him before “eric y.” started talking him up in blog comments.

    It’s all very amusing, but given the sorry state of scientific literacy, it only adds to the cloud of disinformation on the internet.

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