29 July 2010

Role and impacts of the geoblogosphere (July Accretionary Wedge)

Posted by Jessica Ball

Not that kind of impact! Courtesy NASA/Don Davis.

David Bressan over at History of Geology poses the questions du mois: How can geoblogging impact society and “real geology”? Should and can we promote the “geoblogosphere”? Are blogs private “business” or public affairs? Are institutions undervaluing the possibilities given by this new method of communication?

To avoid a really long post in response to all of the questions – though they’re certainly worthy of dicussion! – I’m going to stick to one, and talk about how I see geology blogs impacting society and non-virtual geology.
When I first started this blog, I’m sure I wasn’t thinking that I would be reaching a very wide audience – I was mostly aiming for the geology graduate student who was looking for advice and maybe a little commiserating once in a while. The volcanology part seemed logical, since that’s what I wanted to study, and the blog itself was a good way to hone my writing skills. But after a little while poking around the existing geology blogs, I became aware that we were reaching a wider audience, and not just a scientific one. People who may not even have taken a geology class were finding the geoblogosphere and starting to interact with the bloggers – commenting, asking questions, looking for information. Looking for education.

The geoblogosphere is a fantastic way for a person who doesn’t have access to continuing education, or who never had an opportunity to take a geology class in high school or college, to learn a little bit about the Earth. Not only do they get to read what we as geologists find interesting, but they can ask us to talk about what they find interesting – through emails, comments, requests for posts, etc. It’s a step toward breaking down the idea that scientists are somehow elitist and removed from society. I don’t want people to think of us like that; we’re not from another planet, after all, even if we sometimes study them.

I don’t think geoblogging is only breaking down barriers between Earth and space scientists and the non-scientist public, either. Personally, I’ve found that geoblogging has opened up a whole new social and professional group to me – one that I never would have been able to build from the “traditional” routine of academic collaboration and conferences. I hope that someday I’ll be able to collaborate with my fellow geobloggers and broaden the impact and usefulness of my work. And I think that’s a worthy goal for E&S; scientists as a whole: not to only bury themselves in a narrow area of research, but to remember that acquiring new knowledge depends on a foundation drawn from many disciplines.

In the past, collaboration depended on the post office, the telephone, and face-to-face meetings; the final products of our research on conference schedules and journal editors. With email and blogging, we now have an even faster and more powerful way to share our work with each other and the public. Though it certainly will not – and should never – replace the systems that have developed over centuries of research, I think geoblogging is a wonderful way to supplement them.