o The Frog Blog: Creating a Blogging Network for Irish Science Communicators

Friday, 17 September 2010

Creating a Blogging Network for Irish Science Communicators


Blogging, for me, is an opportunity to reveal the wonders of the natural world to all age groups and bring to light the vast multiplicity that exists in the world of science, nature, technology and engineering. It is about promoting critical thinking and questioning skills, informing and enthusing and, specifically as a teacher, it's about dispelling the view of science as stagnant and dormant, as portrayed by our inadequate science curricula. Science is an ever evolving field, where individuals seek the truth and aim to solve our society and world problems through investigation, experimentation and exploration.

Science is now more important to the Irish public than ever before, as our government finally begins to see the value of scientific research in the face of economic meltdown. Over the coming years and decades, our government aims to create a “smart economy”, with Irish people working in science, technology, engineering and other cutting edge fields. Ireland’s young people are now being encouraged to study science and related courses in university and, for this reason, it is extremely important that good science communication be available to the Irish public.

Ireland is awash with excellent science communicators. Established science bloggers like Eoin Lettice, Mary Mulvihill, Shane O’Mara, Sean Duke, James McInerney, Cormac O’Raifeartaigh, Marie Boran, Cormac Sheridan, Diarmaid Mac Mathúna, Noel Cunningham and Michael Seery do an excellent job promoting their fields. The Irish Times science team, which includes Dick Ahlstrom, Claire O’Connell and William Reville, are the sole national media organisation to have a devoted science section. The science message is getting out there, but I ask one question, is its message reaching a wide enough audience?

Not meaning to offend anyone, science blogs have a specific followership – generally those already with an interest in science – and every blogger / writer wants to improve their readership figures. Our national broadcaster, RTÉ, is doing little to promote the sciences to a general audience (unlike the BBC) and it is being left to science blogs and a few other publications (like the Irish Times and Science Spin) to enthuse, inform and promote the work of Irish researchers. Of course, I must mention the brilliant work of Discover Science and Engineering and the wonderful Science Gallery in the elevation of science communication in Ireland too.

What I wish to propose is this – a central network of Irish science bloggers similar in structure to the newly launched Guardian Science Blogs. Such a network would provide a medium for the provision of science news and stories relevant to the Irish public. All that would be required are five or six principal writers, each with a specific remit, contributing one or two accessible pieces per week. Of course, there should also be scope for guest bloggers too, providing the Irish public with a vibrant platform for learning, debate and entertainment.

The most effective way to introduce such a network would be through an already well established and highly trafficked platform – ideally a national newspaper like the Irish Times, Irish Independent etc. The Irish Times immediately comes to my mind, as it is the only Irish newspaper and media website with a dedicated science section.

I don’t mean to sound preachy on this – I am just a lowly science teacher after all – so I would like to invite anyone to comment on the idea and provide suggestions for its implementation, should consensus be established on the value of such a network (Please be aware that the Frog Blog is aimed at science enthusiasts of all ages so comments are moderated). Ireland needs good science communication right now and, I believe, it is time for science communicators to work together and unite in the promotion of science.

16 comments:

Eoin Lettice said...

Hi Humphrey,
Thanks for putting your thoughts into blog form. I think you've started a conversation which was long overdue.
I've said before that I'm in two minds with regard to such a blogging network. My main worry was with regard to the idea of segregating science blogs just based on the country of origin. I'm sure we all write such blogs with a wide audience in mind and not just an Irish audience.
That being said, the decisions of certain political leaders this week demonstrate that there are scientific issues which are specific to the Irish context.
I wonder are there other examples of blog networks built around specific countries?
I agree that there is certainly a need to get such a network 'hosted' by a national body (be that a media site such as RTE, IT, etc. or an agency such as Discover Science & Engineering, etc.).
It'll be interesting to hear what other people have to say.

Eoin (communicatescience.eu)

Humphrey Jones said...

I think there are issues in science that only affect the Irish public, particularly government policy, science education and funding, and a platform like the one proposed would be useful at that level. I agree that science is universal and should serve the entire science community, but it is impossible to make it completely universal - even the gods over in the Guardian Science Blogs often have a specific UK twist on things. The majority of the posts on the proposed blogging network should be targeted at a general audience (and certainly not just the scientific community) but should have the capacity to cover specific Irish issues in science. I hope more people will comment and we can get a range of opinions on the matter. I certainly do believe though that the depth of talent is there amongst our science writers and bloggers to resource such a network.

Brian Christensen said...

Hi Humphrey,

Great idea. The scientific blogging community in Ireland is (relatively) small and too dispersed. It's hard to find everyone in one particular place.
I'd discuss it with the guys in here, but I think we'd be happy to open up our eScienceBlog.ie site for use in this context. We created the site as an aside from the recruitment side of things as we're all scientists, but in reality we just don't have the time to keep it current.
It's a super clean domain name and could be marketed very very easily. I look forward to hearing your thoughts

Brian - Life Science Recruitment

Humphrey Jones said...

The domain certainly fits the bill anyway and I'd be interested in hearing others opinion on its suitability. How do you see it could fit into your current site structure?

I personally agree with Eoin that it would be best served linked to well establish media outlet like RTE or the Irish Times but with proper marketing it certainly could work.

Anyone else have other ideas?

Also, I forgot to mention the fine work of Donna McCabe and the Science Week team on their excellent work in promoting science country wide to a vast audience. Well done!

Máiréad said...

Sounds like a great idea. As a non-blogging Chemistry & Maths teacher it'd be great to have all blogs under one roof, as such.

Colm said...

Hi Humphrey, I just discovered your blog this morning as it was retweeted quite a bit over Twitter.

I agree that blogging is something of a minority sport, so a common forum is likely to have a limited audience, and then will only hit the people who do not need to be convinced. There is a broader issue, and that is how the science / critical thinking community communicate science issues generally. What different modes of communication are available to promote science, from trad media to personal appearances to new media including Facebook and Twitter?

On the other side there is possibly a need to monitor how science gets communicated or mis-communicated in Ireland. There is possibly something to be said for a network that monitors the media for misrepresentations of science by commentators who do not know whereof they speak, and brings issues of wooly thinking to a head, whether that be via blogging or letters or columns in newspapers etc. Australia and the UK appear now to have quite well organised sceptical forums with prominent individuals leading the charge against pseudoscience. I'm not sure if we have such an organisational capacity here yet, but the willingness is definitely there.

I'm all for a way to coordinate science communication in whatever mode best suits.

Brian said...

We could give logins to Science Blog.ie and only allow people to post themselves, not edit other content. I presume most if not all here can post into a Wordpress blog?
There's also the option of having one central volunteer admin, but that slows things down a bit and would be harder to find I imagine.

We would control any advertising space on the blog, not that there's a lot of it on there.

Worth some thought anyway.

lenny said...

I'll probably post more thoughts over the weekend but briefly, I really like the idea as I think there's an urgent need for a more vocal and unified science communication community in Ireland. I've told Humphrey that I'm happy to investigate the technical side of setting something like this up - unless anyone else has expertise at doing that.

This raises another question though - if there's going to be some form of online network, do we need a real one too? Should there some sort of science communication group, or at least semi-regular gatherings of science communicators?

lenny
geekypie.wordpress.com

Humphrey Jones said...

Who would you like to see writing on the blogging network - if it gets going?

Niall Devitt said...

Hi guys, not a science blogger but think it's a great idea. I'm one of the guys behind bloggertone.com so If I can be of any help, let me know. Best of luck with it, Niall

Michael Seery said...

Hi Humphrey,

Well done on getting the conversation started on this. I think anything that results in promoting a message of understanding of science is a good idea, and especially in the Irish context. I looked at the Guardian blogs and it is a very nice arrangement, obviously that takes time and effort on someone's part! But I think there is enough interest out there to get something going, even if it starts as a portal. There are issues around what kind of things would be covered, and whether there would be an editorial role or free-for-all that might need to be considered.

One of the comments mentioned something about monitoring miscommunication of science. While that's very important, and may incidentally happen, I think it is a slightly different kettle of fish; the Sense about Science organisation in the UK do this very well - and I remember a year or two ago there was talk of them setting up an outpost here, but never heard any more. But as I say, I think that's different to the main objective that you are proposing.

I'll watch this with interest!

Michael

Eoin Lettice said...

While there may be some value in confronting and debunking the misrepresentations of science (the 'bad science' if you will), I think this should be a natural development from a general science blog network that would aim to promote the 'good science' above all else.
From a practical point of view, it will be neccessary to decide on a format. Should a large number of blogs feed into one central network? Or should a smaller number of blogs be edited into a blog network?
There iwll be different volumes of work involved in terms of setting it up and maintaining these different types of blog.
Perhaps a survey of opinion might be a starting point?

Lenny said...

I emailed this to Humphrey but thought I'd post it here as well for input:

Hi Humphrey,

Was chatting to a friend of mine who's experienced in web coding. He says figuring out what would be required to build the site will require a few bits of detail, such as:

- Whether the bloggers would post to their own blogs and then the posts would automatically be aggregated to a central site, or whether the bloggers would post directly to the main site (I was presuming the former?)
- Whether all blog posts from the constituent blogs would be published on the main site or whether only certain posts would be selected by the editors of the main site (the former would be easier, but you might not want the central site to include non-science posts on the constituent blogs, for example)
- Whether there'd be a certain amount of editorial control over the central site - for example, would you want to highlight certain posts near the top of the page, make them more prominent etc
- Whether clicking on a headline on the central site would take the reader to the individual author's blog, or whether the full length posts would also be hosted on the main site

I'll post this in the blog comments too for feedback. Sure let me know if any ideas regarding the above and I'll pass them on to my friend to have a think about.

Lenny

Sylvia said...

Sounds like a good idea. I would suggest that before you start planning how such a site would look, you would benefit from a real-world meet-up of interested people. Have all you science bloggers ever met in the flesh?

Humphrey Jones said...

There was a meeting of science communicators in the Science Gallery last week but I couldn't attend. I completely agree with you - a science blogger meet up would be a brilliant idea!

coraifeartaigh said...

Great idea...i'm up for it!
Cormac O' Raifeartaigh