As a forum for sharing research ideas among fellow researchers, blogging is not that popular among college and university professors. On the campus where I work, only a handful of faculty blog about their scholarly pursuits. I suspect that’s probably the case on your campus, too.
But maybe more faculty should take to the blogosphere. Especially research faculty who want to get their ideas out and aren’t having much success with the traditional route of publication in peer-reviewed journals.
Being a PR guy who loves to blog, I know you probably expect me to support the idea of researchers blogging. So let’s hear from a researcher instead.
In Why all scientists should blog: a case study, Peter Janiszewski, a health sciences researcher at Queen’s University, makes a good case for blogging as a vehicle for getting research ideas out to the online world and beyond. (Hat tip to @josh_greenberg for tweeting the link to this post.)
Janszewski began blogging a couple of years ago. A young Ph.D. candidate at the time, he had “a respectable number” of papers published in peer-reviewed journals. But that traditional means of getting knowledge out of the academy just wasn’t working for him. “Unfortunately,” he writes, “despite the publications, I longed to feel that any of my work was making an impact beyond the traditional boundaries of academia: peer-review publications and scientific conferences.”
When his study on the effects of weight loss among metabolically healthy men and women was published last June in the journal Diabetes Care, Janszewski expected his research to finally gain a bit of traction. After all, the study was in a prestigious journal, and it contained a “message that I thought was rather important to the field”: that some overweight people don’t experience the same health problems as others, but, contradicting previous research, it also doesn’t hurt the healthy obese if they drop a few pounds.
But the study was largely ignored.
To the blogosphere
So Janszewski took to the blogosphere, posting a five-part series about his research on the PLoS Blogs Network. The series drew more interest from readers of that network, which addresses an array of science and medical topics. The series also caught the attention of BoingBoing, which led to even more attention for Janszewski and his research.
As a result, “[T]he same research which I published in a prestigious medical journal and made basically no impact, was then viewed by over 12,000 sets of eyes because I decided to discuss it online.”
MSNBC also contacted him for a story. The MSNBC story does cite the journal article, but it was primarily through Janszewski’s own blogging efforts that his research drew the attention he did.
No doubt many faculty would frown upon this approach. Tenured professors and others might argue that sharing their research findings with the masses online amounts to little more than self-promotion, and that sort of activity is not appropriate for researchers. The traditional route — publication in peer-reviewed journals, presentations at conferences, all the avenues Janszewski also pursued — is the only appropriate way to get the research beyond the walls of the academy. Or, perhaps, if you must, allow the campus PR or media relations department to publicize your research, but heaven forbid you do your own “PR.”
To this I would counter that Janszewski’s approach was nothing outrageous. By posting his five-part series, he did not usurp the traditional approach to scholarship. He merely augmented it — providing in essence a public service by sharing the new knowledge to a broader audience.
I don’t see Janszewski’s efforts as self-serving but as a service to the public.
Ideally, university media relations offices should work together with scholar-bloggers like Janszewski to help get important research out to the public. Not as personal publicists — we all know faculty who see that as the role of a media relations office — but as partners in disseminating scholarship. We can do so not only by publicizing their research but by talking about the researchers’ own public-service blogging, and by pointing media and others to the researchers’ own efforts.
* * *
On our campus, we have one such partnership with a now-retired professor who is active on two blogs, and his visibility as a blogger has been a benefit to our university’s media relations efforts.
David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor emeritus of mining engineering, is an expert in energy and blogs extensively on his own site, Bit Tooth Energy, and on the popular energy site The Oil Drum, where he goes by the nom de blog Heading Out. Last spring, when BP was attempting its “top kill” approach to plugging the leak in the Gulf of Mexico, several news outlets contacted our office in search of Summers. Other reporters contacted Summers directly, thanks to his accessibility via both blogs. Reporters knew about Summers not only from his research in the field of high-pressure fluids, but also from his blogging. As a result, our campus and Summers both got a good deal of media coverage. It was a win-win.