Young or otherwise inexperienced science bloggers: where do we fit in?
Many of you may be familiar with Ed Yong’s post on the Origin of Science Writers, in which he invited writers to post their stories, their travels and travails to get to their current status. (There are over 100 comments at this point.) As I read through the contributions, I realized that something was missing: young or new science writers (with one or two exceptions).
Although encouraged by a seasoned blogger to contribute myself, I felt uncomfortable with the idea. After all, almost all the other writers have higher degrees, have been writing for many years, have published books, etc. Who am I to add myself to the list? I, a mere 23-year old with her bachelor’s degree, a science writer by self-definition more than anything else – do I dare to add myself to their ranks?
The science writing world is changing, and not just because of the ScienceBlogs exodus (Bora’s must-read farewell here). We no longer need credentials to write about science: I can just sign up for a wordpress page and do it! I can risk irrevocable embarrassment and failure on the internet, dooming my dreams of becoming a “real” science writer!
Joking aside, I can see why some people would be hesitant about the emergence of younger, less-experienced science writers on the scene. I don’t know everything about science. I haven’t received my grad school drilling in identifying faulty methods. I haven’t been trained in journalism or ethics. So I care a lot about science and education – does that alone make me qualified to spout off on various topics that I’ve only learned about in the past week?
The potential problem with inexperienced writers is a greater likelihood of making mistakes. I admittedly use this blog as a learning tool for myself. It’s an incentive to read and do research, and then regurgitate it in a fluid way so that I can get a sense of how the research fits together and, in the process, make it useful to other people. While some of my recently graduated friends comment on how their learning has dropped in this year since college, I would say that I’ve actually learned more, in great part due to this blog.
My awareness of my relative inexperience and thus potential for spreading misinformation makes me work really hard to not blather on about things I don’t know anything about. This is one of the reasons I can’t write a blog post every day (or week): for every post I write, I first fact-check, read review articles, and generally make sure I know what I’m talking about. My lack of expertise forces me to do my research well (resulting in mini-epic blog posts). This also helps me toward my goal of creating posts that provide a lot of background, so that I’m providing more than just a small piece of the puzzle when I write about a topic.
But mistakes happen to everyone – not just inexperienced writers – and the internet community should respond to error in a constructive way. Several times I have been torn up in the comments by other scientists (sometimes with unfounded anger) in a way that doesn’t help correct an error, but simply to make me feel like an idiot and doubt myself. That doesn’t do good for anyone: it doesn’t provide a correction, makes me want to disappear, and only serves to make the commenter feel good about her/himself. (As if showing intellectual dominance through mockery should make anyone feel good… bullies.) Mistakes should be corrected through polite questioning and suggestion, increasing information quality without discouraging the writer.
But these potential mistakes don’t mean that we young bloggers don’t belong. We are kids who have normal jobs. We don’t have time scheduled into our workday to read papers, but do it when we get home instead of going out drinking. Our worldviews are not yet jaded by academia. And I think this shines through in our writing – excitement, a certain humbleness, an ability to admit that we don’t know everything.
Well, now I’ve blogged about blogging. If that doesn’t make me a science writer, I don’t know what does.
And with that: several weeks ago Bora (aka the blogfather) of A Blog Around the Clock tagged me in the Blogging with Substance meme, and I’d like to dedicate mine to a few young bloggers that are doing really great work
1. Sum up your blogging motivation, philosophy and experience in exactly 10 words.
That’s a hard one – 10 words is incredibly restrictive. I guess I’ll write a haiku!
Teaching and learning;
Never limit oneself;
Share always the cool
2. Pass it on to 10 other bloggers with substance
I’m going to tag other young bloggers with substance – just because we don’t have PhD’s doesn’t mean we don’t have something to say!