Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Write a blogpost about evolution, compete, get famous and win a ticket to an interesting conference!

When I started blogging, I was met with a lot of scepticism among many of my colleagues, who were very suspicious about the bloggosphere. "It is waste of time", or "Why are you doing this?" where two common knee-jerk reactions, especially among some of the more senior members of our department. I always felt these reactions said more about the people who expressed them, than it said anything about the utility of blogging. Remarkably, some senior members still have these opinions, although they have now been prooven wrong so many times over and over again, so you do not hear these stupid comments much more in the open.

In my opinion, blogging is an excellent new form of communication, that is here to stay. However, blogging is only one new form of communication, and it will certainly not replace all other forms of communication. But blogging is a new information channel, and it would be as stupid to dismiss this new communication channel today, as it would have been to be against the television in the 1940-ties or the phones about 100 years ago. How could one be against new ways of communicating science and other important issues?

Today, we have several interesting research blogs in the Ecology Building apart from this one: Anders Hedenströms "Animal Flight Lab" and the "CAnMove"-blog being two excellent examples of such interesting research group blogs. There is now also a general agreement among many scientists that "Public Outreach" (which blogs are one example of), can actually be beneficial to you also in your scientific career. Is anybody really surprised?

The negative views against blogging among some of my colleagues reminds me about the scepticism against "Open Access" (OA)-publishing a few years earlier, and the scepticism against PLoS ONE in particular. I am quite amazed about how extremely conservative many scientists are against new things: blogs, social media like Facebook or OA-publishing. These new means of communication are here to stay - and it does actually not matter if this-or-that less known second-grade researcher at Lund University says about these phenomena, as long as they work and accepted by the broader international scientific community.

It is after all the international arena that is important - not what less-informed self-proclaimed "experts" claim at stupid coffee-room discussions in the Ecology Building. It is therefore with great satisfaction I can tell the readers of this blog that PLoS ONE was recently awarded a prestigious price for the most innovative scientific journal in 2009. This award was provided by the very prestigious organisation ALPSP ("The Association for learned and Professional Society Publishers"). The motivation for providing this award to PLoS ONE was partly:

"in recognition of a truly innovative approach to any aspect of publication. Applications are judged on their originality and innovative qualities, together with their utility, benefit to their community and long term prospects. Any area of innovation is eligible – it could, for example, be a novel type of print or online publication or service, or even a radically different approach to a marketing campaign."
(Need I say that nobody from backward university Lund is involved in this organisation?)

Part of PLoS ONE's and other PLoS-journals success is the approach to provide information about number of downloads and citation indices in conjunction with each published article, something that will hopefully make it even more attractive to publish in PLoS, as it is clearly an "added value" to have access to this information directly from the article -rather than having to go through a data-base like ISI (for instance). Inlinks, links to blogs and other articles citing the focal article will all contribute to increase the reader traffic to PLoS-articles in the near future. For instance, here you can see such information statistics for an article in PLoS ONE that Tom Gosden and I published two years ago, we have now more than 10 citations and almost 2000 downloads! Not bad, in my opinion.

But also scientific blogging is a growing activity, that becomes more and more important, both for journalists and for scientists like us who would like to communicate our results to the laymen and amongst ourselves. Now you actually have a nice opportunity to write a blogpost about evolution and win a price. You can read more about this competition here and on the blog "A blog around the clock".

Basically, if you write a blogpost about some evolution-theme, you could send in that blogpost (i. e. the URL) and participate in the competition of the best blogpost. The award to the winner is quite nice: you will get 750 US$ to cover the costs of attending a science communication conference: "Science Online 2010", that will take place in North Carolina in early 2010. The competition is funded by the "National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre" (NESCENT), a prestigious scientific centre in North Carolina, funded by the National Science Foundation.

This particular blog is a group blog, and not my private one, meaning that anyone one of us could send in a blogpost and participate in this competition, if you wish. Or we could nominate on of us, if we think that there is some particular blogpost that you found especially interesting. I would encourage you all to seriously consider this possibility, even though you should feel no pressure to participate if you do not wish to. However, I hope the general message goes through: blogging can be useful. Also for scientists interested in evolutionary biology. Don't listen to the nay-sayers! They are just loosers and yesterday's scientists. Just as they were wrong on OA-publishing and PLoS ONE, they will be wrong on blogs and Facebook. With historical hindsight, they will be laughed upon.


  1. Nice bloggpost Erik! I totally agree with you when you say that blogging is going to be a major component of research in general in the future, and this is probably true as well for PloS ONE, but i think you are a bit harsh against the ”skeptics”. First of all, blogging is to me something completely different from Facebook, and not necessarily to be put on the same level.

    Facebook is an extremely successful social network, among others. Of course, networking is very important in research and I am not denying the fact that Facebook may be used for such a purpose. However, in my opinion, Facebook users tend to expose their private life in a very narcissistic fashion which sometimes makes me dubious about the real use of such a platform for more “serious” reasons. Apart from the fact that there has been serious cases of companies stealing data on the private life of some users (apparently it is both common and easily achieved), I think the main limitation to Facebook is that it does not allow extensive and deep discussions which you can achieve maybe by email or most certainly by blogging.

    It is my own opinion, of course, but I feel a bit attacked when you just suddenly condemn people who do not necessarily believe in blogging or Facebook. I see a true inherent quality in the first one which I don’t see in Facebook, since blogging is a tool that really stimulates debate in an open and universal way, and really appeals to you. When you read a blog, for some reason it seems really easy to just write a response by both taking your time to think it over (something which can sometimes be hard to achieve in an oral discussion) but also by feeling free to speak your mind and “dare to talk”.

    My point here is that Facebook is a very popular and innovative tool as well, but you seem to forget that many technological innovations which dealt with communication have been forgotten by now, you cite the telephone, but pagers of fax machine are on the edge of extinction, because even if successful at the time, they did not possess the timelessness aspect that for instance internet or blogging has (a modern way of stimulating and archiving (scientific) discussions). To conclude, I would say I am not a Facebook believer, but I don’t think it necessarily makes me a has-been or a “loser”.


  2. Hmm.. interesting post Erik. I must admit I have only recently come across your blog and dont follow it regularly, but this was a fierce post! I guess there is much defending to do when using bloggs in Lund biology department... :)

    I dont really see why the senior faculty would need to approve of blogging and why that is such a problem to you.. I do not blogg (and am in no way senior) and find it difficult to see what is so attractive about it, except perhaps as replacing a mailing list? Quickly scanning through it seems your blog is also meant mainly for your own group but maybe I am wrong?
    Would be interesting to hear what you believe are the main benefits of blogging? Do you think media/public read what you post here for instance?

    Not sure I see your connection between blogging and Plos apart from them being two relatively new concepts? I am also in favour of open access publishing and I belive it would be great if all/most journals had the same business profile (although it would be more expensive to publish but you would also get more money back from Uni that no longer need to pay for all sorts of subscriptions)

    I guess the main question with regards to open access is if you think your Plos paper would have fewer citations if it had been somwhere else. And to be fair, if the paper was very good you would not send it to Plos One would you ?? (with apologies to you and your co-author(s) since I have not read it)

  3. Sorry for not replying earlier. Nobody should feel personally attacked for not blogging, reading blogs or using Facebooks, of course. My main point is not that everybody should use every means of communication, only that one should not a priory be negative against ANY form of communication. If people could just have a little more open mind towards new means of communication, a lot would be gained, I think. That open mind towards new means of communications is not present among many scientists, unfortunately.

    Personally, I have had a lot of use of Facebook in scientific communication, but that is mainly because I use FB to connect to my scientific colleagues. Others might use FB or blogs more as fora to spread gossip, which I am less interested in (but which I do not condemn, everybody should do what they prefer, it is not my preference).

    Finally, regarding the question about if a blog needs to have many readers to be useful? No. It can be useful even if it is read only by 10-20 people. Like this one. It is a good way of updating people in my group about scientific news, and at the same time a more open form of communication than closed e-mail lists. As such, it gives more insight in to the activities of a research group. I think this should be thought of as one of the major advantages of research group blogs, they contribute to openness and transparency.

    And regarding the question if people "outside" read this blogg: they do! I got an e-mail just a few hours after this blogpost from a journalist who was ver interested in this blogcompetition.

  4. I should of course also clarify that I agree with the criticism against Facebook that the company sells information about its users to companies. However, this is not an argument against social networs in general (which is more than Facebook!) and similar criticism can be directed towards the search engine Google.

    However, we would not be against internet or search engines IN GENERAL just because Google behaves in an unethical way, right? Similarly, we cannot dismiss the idéas of social networks IN GENERAL, just because people use them for "meaningless" things, like gossip or because companies try to use the networks for commercial purposes.

  5. I completely agree with your last comment, the same goes for blogging, you can find very racists and/or stupid blogs on the internet, still this should not prevent you from sing it... let's not even talk about internet...'and i can see that some people may use facebook in an efficient and professional way like you probably do, although 99% of the users more or less use it for gossiping, which sounds to me like a bad thing, or for pictures/life events sharing, which is a good thing, but to me is totally doable via email...
    to come back to a more interesting issue maybe,
    i also agree with you, even if the blog was only meant for us (which it is not, since we have also had comments from people outside the lab), i still would find incredibly helpful, for instance as a general archive of our discussions about various papers/scientific events...
    another point that i have also already discussed with you is that i find it very useful also for our group (which, if we include past or future members)is not that small to communicate our recent publications, as i find it remarkable that sometimes we randomly google something and find a paper published by one of us that we did not know of... It is sad in a way that even if we meet sometimes everyday, we are not always fully aware of each other's work (or vice versa it is a good sign because it means we publish a lot), and the blog helps us to stay updated about these things as well... Then, if a journalist happens to find it and becomes interested, it is a bonus, but that is not even the point in the beginning...
    I also disagree with "anonymous" when he says that if it was a very good paper you would have published it elsewhere... I think Plos One is a journal i am happy to have published in, and is not that ridiculous compared ot evolution or am nat... we have talked earlier about this in this blog, some people have even chosen it at the detriment of Nature or Science to publish very important paleontological findings, which tells us that things might change in the future when it comes to scientific publishing...

  6. Fabrice:

    Indeed, I agree. My main point is that one should not be negative towards ANY particular MEANS of communication, whether it be blogs, e-mail, IRL, Facebook, newspapers, phone or whatever.

    For sure, Facebook and blogs could be used to harass and abuse people, but so could e-mails! There are many examples of (for example) sexual harassment through e-mails, which is of course not any good argument against the use of e-mail in general (as a communication mean). And the same is true for blogs and Facebook.

    That said, I think people should in general try to be open with their name, or at least have a signature. It is therefore with some hesitation that I let "Anonymous" have his/her comment here after this blogpost.

    The "archive-argument" is of course also a very good point to have a lab-blog, one of the best, I think.

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