A global online community of scientists have recently emerged as an influential and important contributor to worldwide journalism about science. They have grown more sophisticated in their communications, now catching the attention of journalists who were previously dismissive of citizen media about science.
In August, a trio of science bloggers launched Scienceblogging.org, a comprehensive aggregator of content from science blogs across the globe. The site features links to content from mainstream science media as well as independent networks of bloggers. It currently features 57 feeds that include several hundred blogs. While the content is predominantly American, the aggregator also features networks from China, Brazil, Germany, New Zealand, Belgium, Canada, and France. The aggregator was built by the creators of the annual ScienceOnline conference – Bora Zivkovic, Anton Zuiker, and Dave Munger.
ScienceOnline2010, billed as “the fourth annual conference on science and the Web,” took place from January 14 to January 17 at Sigma Xi in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The conference has grown in size and popularity each year, and the 2010 conference attracted science bloggers from ten countries. In a display of increased acceptance and legitimacy, the January conference featured presentations and attendance from journalists representing several mainstream media organizations, such as Reuters, BBC, and The New York Times. A similar conference with different organizers, Science Online London, took place in September this year.
Science blogging is by no means a new phenomenon. Bora Zivkovic says he has seen the science blogging community grow and thrive over the past decade, earning more than a few converts from mainstream media.
“As journalists lost jobs, they took up blogging,” says Zivkovic, noting that professional media are also increasingly creating blogs on their own websites.
In this video interview by bkthrough on YouTube, Zivkovic comments on how ScienceOnline has grown and how the conference agenda has moved from merely discussing blogging to other forms of online activity as well.
Interestingly, one of the major discussion topics of the conference was the lapses in accuracy sometimes made by mainstream journalists when reporting on science issues. Several scientists and science bloggers expressed frustration with the constraints mainstream journalism places on science-based communication, such as the need to summarize complex issues into 20-second “sound bites.” Another important topic was the need for scientists to become better communicators and try to make their work more accessible and understandable to a wider audience.
Many science bloggers are actively trying to expand their community beyond academia. Darlene Cavalier, an advocate for science literacy and the author of a blog called Science Cheerleader is also the founder of a website called Science for Citizens that aims to be a resource for people who want to participate in “citizen science” – projects run by professional researchers that leverage volunteers to help with research tasks such as data collection or computation. Professional researchers can also promote their projects and recruit volunteers at the site. While the site is currently available only in English, Cavalier said projects are open to people in all countries and she hopes to offer the site in other languages in the future.
The ScienceOnline organizers have announced plans to hold an even bigger conference in 2011 in Research Triangle Park. Meanwhile, Zivkovic sees the skepticism that mainstream journalists once held toward bloggers starting to change a bit.
“The curmudgeon journalists who write ‘you'll miss us when we're gone’ Luddite pieces cannot write about blogs that way any more,” he says. “They are now reserving their snark, often using the exactly same old cliches they used about blogs five years ago, to denigrate Twitter.”
[Disclosure: I work for a company that served as a sponsor for the ScienceOnline 2010 conference]