Science blogger and University of Wisconsin scientist John Hawks recently demonstrated that it really is possible to blog and get tenure. Continuing this discussion, he now explains why scientists should take the time to blog. It will help you make an impact on the culture at large:
You might give media interviews, public lectures, or write more accessible treatments of your research or your field. You might even blog. By serving the public and your own colleagues, you raise the game. Science depends on criticism, on many eyes examining hypotheses and finding observations that test them. Science bootstraps itself, it can only advance when people near the top of the mountain send a hand down to lift others up. That means teaching your methods to others, and helping a broader public understand why the mountain is worth climbing.
Hawks has some good advice on what makes a quality science blog. There is always tension between fast, immediate-response posts that deal with up-to-the-minute news or blogosphere discussions, and more in-depth content which takes more time to write. Science bloggers (or "expert" bloggers in general) can't skimp on the latter - it's what eventually will draw the most readers to your blog and make your writing a more valuable resource. So-called expert blogs are among my favorite types of blogs - I can head over to the legal blog Balkanization, for example, to read legal discussions on current issues by some big-shot law professors, without subscribing to an expensive journal or getting their ideas only after an editorial filtering process. I'm not against journals and editors by any means, but this open discussion offers something else, akin to talk with colleagues in my department. At the lab, I can walk down the hall and have a chat with one of the world's experts on gene finding, or DNA sequence alignment methods, or gut bacteria, but there are a lot of interesting topics clearly not covered by the people I work with. On the net, I can go listen to one of the world's experts on US Constitutional law, or genome size evolution, or quantum gravity. Some people blog for their colleagues, or as John Hawks says, make blogging part of their workflow. Perhaps the most important reason for blogging is the free and open exchange of information out in public, outside the usual barriers that keep people with interesting things to say from talking with each other. That kind of blogging may or may not win you points with a tenure committee, but I think it's key for the intellectual health of our larger culture.