The blogosphere is coming to age, and I’m doing my annual contemplation of its influence on science.
Science blogs of course have an educational mission, and many researchers use them to communicate the enthusiasm they have for their research, may that be by discussing their own work or that of colleagues. But blogs were also deemed useful to demonstrate that scientists are not all dusty academics, withdrawn professors or introverted nerds who sit all day in their office, shielded by piles of books and papers. Physics and engineering are fields where these stereotypes are quite common – or should I say “used to be quite common”?
Recently I’ve been wondering if not the perception of science that the blogosphere has created is replacing the old nerdy stereotype with a new stereotype. Because the scientists who blog are the ones who are most visible, yet not the ones who are actually very representative characters. This leads to the odd situation in which the avid reader of blogs, who otherwise doesn’t have much contact with academia, is left with the idea that scientists are generally interested in communicating their research. They also like to publicly dissect their colleagues’ work. And, judging from the photos they post, they seem to spend a huge amount of time travelling. Not to mention that, well, they all like to write. Don’t you also think they all look a little like Brian Cox?
I find this very ironic. Because the nerdy stereotype for all its inaccuracy still seems to fit better. Many of my colleagues do spend 12 hours a day in their office scribbling away equations on paper or looking for a bug in their code. They’d rather die than publicly comment on anything. Their Facebook accounts are deserted. They think a hashtag is a drug, and the only photo on their iPhone shows that instant when the sunlight fell through the curtains just so that it made a perfect diffraction pattern on the wall. They're neither interested nor able to communicate their research to anybody except their close colleagues. And, needless to say, very few of them have even a remote resemblance to Brian Cox.
So the funny situation is that my online friends and contacts think it’s odd if one of my colleagues is not available on any social networking platform. Do they even exist for real? And my colleagues still think I’m odd taking part in all this blogging stuff and so on. I’m not sure at all these worlds are going to converge any time soon.