Our friend Scicurious has an excellent post today on Scientopia discussing blogging as a form of scientific communication.  Specifically, she asks whether it is appropriate to blog about your own research.  Scicurious does not blog about her own work, but many people do. Peter and I explicitly started our blog Obesity Panacea to communicate our own research, and other work in our field of study.

Sci’s post stems from a recent session at Experimental Biology on Science Communication (full details of the event available here), and focuses specifically on the issue of self-promotion among academics.  Quite frankly, it wasn’t viewed very positively by some of the presenters at the session.  From her post, here is her description of their views (my emphasis added):

academics have two different kinds of self-promotion. One is ok, and one is not. One takes place in the ivory tower, and one involves the dreaded public.

Academic self-promotion is good. Knowing and meeting the right people, staying in touch and making sure they remember who you are. Academic self-promotion is in fact more than good, it’s essential. The sad reality of biomedical science as I know it is that no one will fund your work if they don’t have a clue who you are. By “you”, I don’t mean you personally (though that certainly helps), but who you have trained with, who THAT person trained with, who’s in your department, and what you all have done. Grant people like to call this “evidence of past productivity”, and “training environment”, but what it really means is whether or not you’ve published, and who do you work with that they’ve heard of. There’s a reason we refer to papers as “Smith et al, 2011″, and not by their titles, because by referring to that person we are referring to their body of work, their history, and their expertise.

This means you have to do a lot of self-promotion within academia. We call this “networking”, “presenting at conferences”, “chatting up the seminar speaker at lunch”, and in extreme cases “brown nosing”. This is the “good” kind of self-promotion, the kind that we get a lot of lectures about.

Unfortunately, there’s also the “bad” self-promotion. This is the kind that we are taught to loathe in academia. The kind that involves seeking out the press, trumping up your findings, and becoming Dr. Oz. We are taught from the beginnings of grad school and even before to mistrust people who do this. If your science is good…well you shouldn’t HAVE to say anything. Build it and they will come. If you are trumpeting your science, holding press conferences, giving TED talks, and posing for magazines…scientists get very quick to mistrust your work. This is because behavior like this has a history, and it’s not a good one. Too many times, scientists like this have shot to fame in the public eye, and been shot down just as quickly. Self-promotion outside the ivory tower smacks of ego. The ideal scientist is the one that is famous only among other scientists.

Regular readers will notice that some of the above is reminiscent of a previous post I wrote discussing whether we can trust researchers who give TED talks.

The comments section of the post is very interesting, but I wanted to highlight one comment made by another blogger and researcher named Drug Monkey (my emphasis).

More on point, I do think it a bit of a problem to blog too closely to one’s own area. It just seems like an unfair extra attack on the scientific arguments.

A blogger could easily pursue an agenda that had positive effects on their next grant review by creating a bigger sense of Significance. Could tear down the competition too.

Fighting for Open Access and against GlamourMagification…ditto. Fighting the good fight on work hours, dual careers, geographical immobility….it gets slippery.

I don’t disagree that blogging about your own work could have an impact on the field, but I don’t think it is necessarily nefarious.  I responded in the comments on Sci’s post, but thought it would be good to repost the comment here:

I’ve always been surprised by the view that blogging about your own work is somehow not Kosher (keeping in mind that I’m a bit biased since this was explicitly one of the reasons why Peter and I began blogging in the first place, and our field of study lends itself to knowledge translation activities). If it’s ok to do a plenary session or media interview or editorial/review paper explaining how your work fits into the larger context, I don’t see why it’s off-side to post similar things on a blog. Trashing another research group at a conference or in a Letter to the Editor would have at least as large an impact on the field as doing so on a blog, no?

I don’t disagree that this can potentially lead to changes in a paper’s citation count or its impact on the field, but is that by default a bad thing? Is it better for a good paper to languish uncited because it’s in a journal no one reads, or is it better for people to find out about that paper on your blog? If a person were lying about their own research that’s one thing, but if I you are telling people accurate information about your own work as well as other work in your field of research, I don’t see why this should be a problem. And as Sci points out, if you start playing up your work as something it’s not, that is going to bite you in the butt pretty quickly.

The one qualification that I would add is that if you are writing about your own work, I think it’s critical that you let people know it’s your own. Trashing your competitors and praising your own work, without letting your readers know about your conflict of interest, would be absolutely inappropriate. But if you are transparent about your position and potential bias, then I think it’s a completely legitimate form of scientific communication.

So, is it ok to blog about your own work?  Does it matter whether you do so under your real name?  If it’s not ok to blog about your own work, is it still ok to do media interviews and other forms of more traditional self-promotion?

I’m curious to hear what people think.  But first, please do go read Sci’s awesome post.

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