What gets covered in science blogs?

Portrait of Paige Brown JarreauPaige Brown Jarreau is a PhD candidate in mass media and public affairs at the Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University. She studies the intersection of science communication, journalism and new media. She uses a variety of approaches, both quantitative and qualitative, to study science news norms, beliefs and values of science communicators, environmental psychology and science media framing effects.

She is the author of From the Lab Bench, a science blog hosted on SciLogs.com, where she is a community manager. She  writes on a semi-regular basis for the Science & Society section of EMBO Reports.  She tweets at @FromTheLabBench. Her ORCID is 0000-0002-3963-2641

A version of this post originally appeared on From the Lab Bench, as Something is wrong on the Internet! What does the Science Blogger do?

Full disclosure: This article discusses a fundraising campaign. One of the editors (@jod999) has contributed to that campaign.

Some of the most common words mentioned during 33 of Paige's interviews with science bloggers.
Some of the most common words mentioned during 33 of Paige’s interviews with science bloggers.

Science blogging is one of those curious social media phenomena that has moved mainstream in the science news ecosystem.

Once known as ranty opinion forums, blogs have become one of the best resources of science and science communication online.

Science blogs have spread their influence into the worlds of scientific publishing, science journalism, science policy and popular science. But as they have, we could argue that science bloggers themselves are becoming more accountable to the broader science news ecosystem, even more professionalized.

What do modern science blogging practices and values look like? How are science bloggers deciding what to cover, and what impacts are these decisions having? What does the modern science blogging network look like, and how are bloggers being rewarded for their dogged fixing of science on the internet?

This is, in a nut graph, the subject of my PhD dissertation in science communication at the Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University. Within the last decade, science blogs have had unprecedented influence in opening up science journalism to scientists and non-traditional communicators and exposing a wider audience to the scientific process, from research to publication.

Thanks to science blogs, discussion surrounding science and research online is increasingly interactive and, hopefully, informed and critical. And yet our interpretations of how science blogs are enhancing traditional media discussions about science or public engagement with science lack a solid foundation in our understanding of science blog production.

Little current research has probed the factors, including professional backgrounds, values, identities and cultural moorings, learned practices, norms and social media interactions, that might shape a science blogger’s content.

But the phenomenon of using social media – including blogs – to communicate science goes beyond the subject of my research – it is increasingly becoming a way of doing my research as well. Over the past few months, I’ve been using the Twitter hashtag #MySciBlog to collect data from science bloggers, recruit them for in-depth interviews, and share excerpts from interviews.

On Saturday 25 October 2014, I launched my first Experiment.com project for crowd-funding my scientific research, with a commitment to publish my results open access.

The goal of my research project at Experiment.com is to understand how science bloggers choose what to write about. The role of science blogging and science bloggers is expanding and diversifying today. More Americans get their science news online and via social media than ever, and much of that is now coming from science blogs. Yes, as mentioned above, relatively little research has targeted the practices, routines and values of science bloggers. Traditionally, science bloggers have been the champions of fighting bad science on the internet. But, today, they are so much more. Who are science bloggers? What do they do? How do they decide what to blog about?

I’m conducting a large-scale online survey to answer these and other questions, following over 50 in-depth interviews I’ve conducted with science bloggers so far for my dissertation. My upcoming survey of science bloggers includes over 70 intriguing questions. But I need to offer a small financial incentive to help science bloggers, who often make little money despite their important task in the science news ecosystem, complete my survey. A goal of $1,000 for this project will allow me to give a $5 incentive to at least 200 science bloggers.

That’s where Experiment.com comes in. It’s a digital science crowd-funding platform with excellent past success in bringing research to life, and users can decide what research they want to see funded.

Experiment is a platform for enabling new scientific discoveries.

You can visit my Experiment project, and share it, here. Please share this project with science journalists, professional science communicators and other science and social science researchers you think might be interested in the results. If you are a science blogger wanting to get involved in my research, you can sign up for my survey and to receive further notifications here.

I’ll be publishing the results of my survey open access. The My Experiment page also allows me to update you with lab notes as my research continues. I recently published a lab note inviting others to give input into my science blogger survey questions, so please feel free to give me feedback.

Let’s raise a glass to a new future in conducting and sharing science online – I hope you will join me!

Finally, follow my hashtag #MySciBlog for interesting quotes from science bloggers, culled from my research interviews.

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