I’ve been a fan of blogs ever since I became aware of their existence. This must have been sometime around 2002, when I started my first blog on my parents’ AOL trial dial-up connection. I’m not entirely sure why I needed a blog back then, but it ended up being a great way for me to learn the basics of HTML, CSS, and Photoshop, and enabled me to organize my thoughts as a 12-year-old. Blogging also forced me to articulate whatever I was writing about in a way that made sense to myself and my “audience” (i.e. my 2 or 3 friends who also had blogs), which probably had a positive impact on my writing and communication skills.
Despite my familiarity with blogging in general, I first became aware of the world of science blogging ten years later, when I enrolled in a molecular evolution course in my final year as an undergraduate student. This course was taught by Larry Moran, who runs a blog called Sandwalk. Though Larry was teaching our molecular evolution course using primary literature, going through the Sandwalk blog archives made this relatively new subject much more accessible and exciting for me than the literature alone. I was made aware of all the interesting questions and debates that remain in evolutionary biology, and could read, for example, Joe Felsenstein’s thoughts on them in the comments section. This excitement fueled me to pursue molecular evolutionary research in graduate school, and I’m really grateful for that.
Many labs are now using blogging as a tool to disseminate their research to other scientists. Other than providing a fun or inspiring read for scientists (and prospective scientists?) in our own fields, blog posts are a great way to communicate our findings to people in different fields who might not get through the jargon in our papers. Of course, there are already certain formats in the scientific publishing world that hope to achieve this same goal, including review papers, perspective articles, and even video abstracts (like this awesome one I came across recently). These are all great, but I would argue that the humble self-published blog post is still incredibly useful alongside them. If nothing else, it’s a lot faster to write and publish, is invariably open-access, and it forces the author to think about articulating their work in a less formal and more understandable way.
There are lots of examples of people doing a great job contextualizing and explaining their research with blog posts. A recent paper from the Drummond lab was accompanied by a perspective piece as well as a trifecta of blog posts by Allan Drummond and the two lead authors on the paper, Chris Katanski and Josh Riback. Each of these posts supplemented the perspective piece and the work itself with context and insight into how the work developed.
Other blogs in the science world mix posts about their work with lots of other (sometimes philosophical or political) topics. These can be a lot of fun to read, and can be really insightful as well.
Overall, I think blogs are a great tool for scientific communication, and they can be incredibly useful for both the reader and writer alike. I hope to hop back on the blog-wagon soon!