Why do I blog?
I've been blogging now for almost 8 years, since around when Grig
Gheorghiu started the Southern California Python Interest Group. Since
then I've gotten a PhD, taken a postdoc, had one child, started a faculty
position, had another child, and basically gotten way, way busier.
Why do I keep it up?
Colleagues -- even the more digitally enabled ones -- roll their eyes
when I talk about blogging. We're all inundated with research, home,
travel, teaching, and writing; how can I possibly fit blogging in on
top of that? And why would I bother?
I reflexively respond to these colleagues dishonestly, by arguing that
blogging has helped me in grants, papers, research, teaching, and
collaborations, and that I am getting way more exposure with my blog
than I would ever have expected. But that's a kind of white lie.
I fit blogging in by ignoring other things.
And I take the time to blog for the same reasons that Paul Graham
outlined in his post, The Age of the Essay: because of the surprises it
brings me, and what I learn from those surprises.
The evolution of my opinions on software reuse, for example, followed
exactly the path I described in my last post: in
anecdotal science, I figured out
that bad software bugged me because I had to reproduce it; in
automated testing and research software,
I realized that lots of people were confusing replication,
reproduction, and reuse; and in thoughts on making science better, I argued myself
into believing that remixing was key to progress in science.
Looking back, the progression is inevitable and the arguments logical;
at the time, I really had little or no idea where I was heading.
As another example of the utility of blogging in personal growth, I
posted a detailed description of our k-mer filtering ideas at the beginning
of this assembly mess. My confidence in our approach was boosted
immeasurably when Jared Simpson seemed to think I wasn't full of it
(although it took me a few months to realize that this was the author
I don't actually blog to point out that Mick Watson is wrong
(or anyone else) -- honestly, I find that it's easier and better to
discuss ideas (often phrased as arguments ;) with the incredibly wide
range of very smart people available through the Internet than with my
local colleagues. My greatest fear is that people will stop
disagreeing usefully with me, because then life would become really
Sure, the exposure I've gotten through the blog has been nice, but no
one ever got tenure (or even a grant)
off their Klout score. At best, it's
reputational: it helps you in some cases, hurts you in others. I am
quite sure I've pissed off a number of silent observers with some of
my blog posts, and I'm also quite sure several of those silent
observers have served on grant or paper review panels of mine. I'm
not sure if the negatives are counterbalanced by the positive effects,
but we'll have to see.
If anything, some of the exposure has made me a lot more cautious, a
process I hear is linked to this unpleasant business of "growing up".
I know at least one grant manager reads my blog occasionally (hi!) and
I've gotten friendly cautions that I might want to be more circumspect
about some things. I regularly chat with people who say "please don't
talk about this on your blog, m'kay?" I know at least one of my chairs
reads the blog, which makes me nervous when I use words like
"sabotage" to describe interactions with MSU. On the other hand, it's
worth reflecting that our private e-mails are only a hacker away from
so maybe this isn't that big a deal... hard to say.
Is blogging "necessary" for scientists, going forward? I don't think
so, and I actually hope not. I just happen to have the blogging gene,
but I'm quite sure that the time I'm spending on writing blog entries
is costing me in other areas. For example, it decreases my paper
output. I spend lots less time on software development. It's
definitely costing me some family time. So it's a mixed bag, and by
no means a unchallenged positive.
I do hope that we continue to move past this rather blinkered academic
idea that time spent on "non-traditional" research activities like
blogging, Twitter, education, and the rest is a definite waste of
time; I think my blogging is helping me get important papers and
grants out, and it's certainly helped in my teaching. I have some
pretty good Klout-like stories about blogging that I'll share in a few
years, too, but those are happy surprises when they happen.
So that's why I blog: to air my opinions to myself and others. I'd
love to talk sternly about the importance of societal impact by
scientists, and how we need to become better communicators (we do!) I
happily tell my chairs about how I get invited to things because of
blogging and Twitter, because it means they don't yell at me as much
(work in progress). But at the end of the day, I write blog posts
because I want to figure out why I think what I think. I write long
blog posts because short blog posts don't let me do that very well.
And I choose topics where I'm at least reasonably knowledgeable,
because otherwise my blog posts are definitely and absolutely not
Why do you blog? Or why not?
There are comments.