28 December 2011

Talking about geoblogging at AGU 2011

Posted by Jessica Ball

As I mentioned in several posts, I gave a talk at a Public Affairs session at this year’s Fall AGU meeting in San Francisco. I was invited to give the talk about my geoblogging experience in a session called “Science Communication in a Changing Media Landscape” on Wednesday afternoon. The session description gave me a lot of leeway, especially since the invitation was basically to talk about blogging – a topic where I can cover a lot of ground! I gave the first version of this talk in an hour-long seminar in my department, so cutting it down to twelve minutes for AGU was a big challenge. Here are the slides that I ended up with, and a general run-through of what I said in the talk:

*Note: WordPress seems to be stripping the code to embed this, so for the moment you’ll have to go to the Slideshare link to see the presentation. I’ll work on getting it fixed!

  1. Some of the attendees in the audience were members of the press, but I also wanted to gear the talk to geoscientists who weren’t necessarily familiar with the process of blogging (or that there exists an entire online community of geoscience bloggers). So I started with a brief introduction of blogging in general, and geoblogging in particular – and what you can do with one.
  2. Because I spoke about my blog in the abstract, I briefly talked about how I came to be a blogger (I saw some biological science blogs, but couldn’t find many about the geosciences, and none about being a geoscience grad student – so I started one!). I also mentioned how networked blogs began to become popular, and how AGU expressed interest in having me join their network. And here I am!
  3. I thought it would be interesting to show a little bit of data on the geoblogosphere in general. I compiled this information from the lists of active and inactive geoblogs that are floating around out there, as well as from Callan Bentley et al.’s publication on “The state of the Geoblogosphere”. There are actually a number of new blogs that I didn’t get to include since I did the compilation a few months ago, but we may be closer to 300 geoblogs by this point.
  4. This slide brings us to the meat and potatoes of geoblogging. What’s the main reason we do it? Because we want to communicate something about geoscience (at least in my opinion). This could cover anything from building enthusiasm for the field to discussing cutting-edge research and helping correct misinformation that makes it into science reporting. I also emphasized that I find it an excellent way to improve my writing skills, since it forces you to write quickly, well and often.
  5. Here are the results of that survey I asked everyone to take! I found them really intriguing – as expected, a lot of you have backgrounds in geoscience (or at least some science), but many of you aren’t scientists or academics at all. And that’s great, because it means this blog at least – and hopefully others – are reaching people who might not otherwise have access to geoscience classes or training.
  6. About half of you have geoscience degrees, and 30% had some exposure in grade school or college, but it’s also encouraging to see that almost 20% of you are coming to read geoblogs without having taken any classes – because presumably that means you’re interested in learning something from us!
  7. The age distribution results were also really interesting – I had been expecting that the results would be skewed a bit toward the younger groups who were more used to using social media, but it seems that there’s actually a fairly large representation among the older groups as well. (I should have checked to see whether age group was related to experience or employment, to see if the older readers were more likely to have a geoscience background – perhaps something to do later.)
  8. I wanted to highlight that geoblogging wasn’t just a self-rewarding thing, but that it could also be a great tool for scientific collaboration. I find that blogging has opened up an amazing network of geoscientists in widely varying disciplines, most of whom I probably would never have come in contact with otherwise. It’s also a great way to share knowledge among geoscientists (anyone who follows us on Twitter knows that we’re always asking questions about topics we know someone else is expert on). I also find that blogging forces me to take the time to learn about new topics, especially if I find one that I’m interested in but don’t necessarily have the background to speak comfortably on (yet).
  9. I highlighted Anne Jefferson, Kim Hannula, Patricia Campbell and Suzanne Franks2010 GSA Today article because I liked how it talked about virtual networks – including blogging – being used for support, especially among women and minorities. Blogging – or reading blogs – can really help young or minority geoscientists find role models and examples of people who faced the same difficulties or experienced the same concerns as they have. Blogs can also help us connect with mentors, by making scientists from an outside institution or position more accessible and “human”.
  10. Geobloggers are really active in all forms of social media – I listed as many as I could think of here, and I’ve probably missed a few. This reinforces how we’re starting to conduct science in new ways using social media, ways that weren’t even available a few decades ago. We’re also using social media for philanthropic purposes as well – DonorsChoose.org and my own work on behalf of Guatemalan volcano observatories are two examples.
  11. Blogging can also be fun!
  12. Blog carnivals, games and “memes” are just a few ways that we keep things interesting, and keep engaging with each other.
  13. However, as in any venture worth pursuing, there is a serious and sometimes rocky side to geoblogging. We have to consider some things carefully – who and what we’re writing about, whether we can legally/ethically write about it in the first place, how much or little we want to engage with the public on controversial or inflammatory issues, and how much time we can afford to devote to all this. We’ve all had discussions about these things (I think the most recent was probably about whether to blog unpublished research), and the answers to the questions they raise are different for every geoblogger.
  14. I devoted a little time to discussing pseudonymity, and how difficult it can actually be to maintain it (as well as why you might want to). Some geobloggers have managed it, while others blog openly as themselves. An important thing to remember is that a pseudonym NEVER guarantees immunity from consequences if you choose to blog about risky or proprietary topics, although you can gain some protection through disclaimers (and organizations like AGU, who are great about hosting bloggers, can allow free speech without necessarily endorsing it).
  15. Coming up with content is a constant battle in the geoblogosphere. I get ideas for posts from all of these sources, although other bloggers may draw more heavily from research, or current events, or classes they’re teaching. It often comes down to personal preference, and it can be challenging to maintain a flow of content in just one area!
  16. Overall, I think geoblogging is a really valuable tool that should be approached thoughtfully. It can be difficult to wrangle with some of the issues that I mentioned earlier, but the rewards – building enthusiasm for geoscience in a time when it’s growing more and more difficult to keep ourselves funded and relevant – are definitely worth it.

And that’s a wrap! I got some useful questions (and had a short discussion from a geoscientist who’s looking to start blogging himself), but I also had a great time seeing how my talk differed from the rest of the talks in the session, and how we agreed on the usefulness of social media as a tool for improving science.