Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Diversity in science blogging: a call for action

Getting to last night's science blogging talkfest was a struggle (kids to a neighbour at 5pm, passed to a childminder at 6pm), but it was worth it. I wrote this post on the train back to Cambridge.

The topic was diversity in science blogging and this is my take on the evening.

The problem: the science blogging community is not representative of society. There is a disporportionately high number of bloggers who are male, young, well educated, middle classed, London centered, white, atheist, left wing....

Why this is a problem: all types of people need to be part of science conversations - tax payers fund research and the results effect everyone.

The discussion revolved around gender, so this is my focus, but that is not to say that other types of inequality do not need to be addressed.

The problem can be split into two areas:

1. There are not enough women science bloggers
2. Women that do blog are not as celebrated as their male counterparts

Many reasons for these imbalances were discussed:
  • Aggressive blogging environment
  • Unconscious biases against promoting women
  • Women less likely to promote themselves
  • Women tending to blog less frequently than men, maybe because of lack of time - high profile blog networks require frequent posting
  • Less women in science careers

I certainly associate with low frequency posting. I currently blog every one to two weeks, which is the right balance for me and my family. There was a brief discussion of how women tend to spend less time socialising online, which was countered by the mention of huge communities such as mumsnet and British Mummy Bloggers. I'd just like to add, as someone with a toe in the mummy bloggers pond, that writing a science blog post is much more time consuming that writing a mummy one, mainly in terms of the research and fact checking.

What can we do about it?

Some things, such as increasing the number of women in science careers, equal sharing of childcare and domestic tasks and the bias against promoting women, will involve long-term shifts in society. They need discussion, but I want to think here about more immediate solutions.

Improving the profile of existing bloggers
  • Existing high profile bloggers and blog networks could offer a platform to less well known bloggers
  • Creation of new blog networks to gather together up and coming bloggers
  • Job sharing - if blogging frequency is a problem then recruit two bloggers rather than one. I like the way blog posts are scheduled on the Last Word on Nothing network.

Encouraging more scientists to blog
  • Give space on existing blogs for scientists that don't normally blog. For example, Body in Mind feature one off posts from a range of academics (often recently graduated PhDs)
  • Introduce new bloggers on twitter (there was a nice comment from someone at the Science Online 2011 women bloggers session where a higher profile blogger was thanked for a valuable introduction)

What I plan to do
  • I'm currently in the process of building a database to store Martin Robbins' women science bloggers list - this will make it easier to search, update and add new entries (update - it is here)
  • I will invite people from the database who blog on the same topic as me, and scientists who don't normally blog to guest post on my blog.
  • As database administrator I will send out a tweet to welcome any new bloggers. Please pass it on.

Any other ideas?

Update - other blog posts on the evening:
Confessions of a (former) Lab Rat  Richard P Grant
Contagions - Michelle Ziegler
I Science Andrew Purcell
ABSW Andrew Purcell
The Guardian Martin Robbins
Wilma - Womens science bloggers database

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the write-up. I signed up for the talk but couldn't make it in the end - had to bake cakes/get sorted for my 10 year old's birthday next day. This is possibly ironic, I'm not sure.

    Sounds like an interesting session. I did have somewhat mixed feelings about the topic, as someone who blogs (but not about science), and reads science blogs (but is not a working scientist).