Blogging your way out of anonymity

Inge Van den Bergh Wednesday, 23 May 2012

There are some notable exceptions, but most scientists only exploit one way to share their research results: they publish a paper in a scientific journal. And these papers often tend to be … well, let’s admit it … quite dry, as Adam Ruben recently described it in his blog post about “How to write like a scientist”. Aside from the occasional presentation at a scientific conference (which, unless the scientist is an especially good speaker or presents ground-breaking results, are usually readily forgotten), most of us don’t take advantage of the wide range of other media that are available these days, such as videos, status updates, blog posts, blog comments, interactive graphs and maps, tweets, etc.

It’s a shame. These media can help scientists reach a larger and more diverse audience much faster than the long slog of submitting a paper to a journal. Writing blog posts or contributing to a wiki page might not earn you brownie points with your employer (though that could change in the future) but one thing they can do right away is increase the page views and downloads of your published articles, as recent case studies have shown.

When Peter Janiszewski published the final study from his PhD in the prestigious journal Diabetes Care in June 2010, the work was met with almost complete silence. No reactions, no comments. Nothing. But then, in September 2010, Peter set up on his blog a 5-part series on the topic of metabolically-healthy obesity, including a discussion of the recently published study. It was a major hit. It resulted in over 12,000 page views and over 70 comments from readers within a week. Put another way, publishing in a prestigious journal basically had no impact until the authors decided to start discussing it online a few months later.

Tweeting can help as well, as the graph below shows for a paper published by Melissa Terras, which went from 2 to 140 downloads in the day following her tweet, and many more downloads the weeks after.

Another advantage of going online is the possibility of linking to other papers or blogs that are also online. Scientific papers do cite other papers, but those citations, in most cases, are not linked. A blog post or a wiki page, on the other hand, include all these useful links into the page, giving the reader direct access to related information.

In short, if you want your research on banana to be known to the wider community, talk about it in a blog. And why not start on this ProMusa blog?

When you do so, make sure you highlight why your work matters. The technical details (“…highest enzyme activities were obtained in a 0.2 M phosphate buffer at pH 7.0 with 5% insoluble polyvinylpyrrolidone and 0.25% Triton X-100…”) will be in your paper. What you want to do in a blog post is give readers a reason to look these up. If you start by telling them that, for example, you have found an enzyme that seems to confer resistance against Radopholus similis, they are more likely to read on, unless they are nematologists, in which case they will definitely read on!

Of course, blogging about your work doesn’t have to be linked to scientific publications. You can also blog about the stuff that is left out of articles, but is equally, if not more, interesting.

Oh, and before I forget, ProMusa has a Twitter account, which means that if you post a blog item we can tweet about it.