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Academics and students should take blogging and social media seriously (lse.ac.uk)
80 points by Quanttek on June 4, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments

> Making sure someone reads your research.

There are several motivations to write and publish, and being read (by the widest possible audience) is only one of them. Even if we put the most mundane reasons (publish or perish, publish to make money) aside, there is at least writing (and publishing) for the purely selfish reason of recording your ideas and, by doing so, making them more permanent and more real, as it were. I remember, during my academically active years, I never cared in the slightest whether anyone was going to read my papers or my book. If anyone was interested in my subject and were curious enough to discover them, they were most welcome to them; but it was entirely immaterial to me whether anyone actually did. This doesn’t mean I didn’t put any effort into writing those texts; quite the contrary. But writing them was a goal in itself; it was never a means to anything for which it would require wide audience.

I can’t imagine this attitude is unique.

I have worked in the academic sector and been exposed to it for a number of additional years. Reading and disseminating research, and more importantly citations, are a key intrinsic metric for researchers, and a KPI providing extrinsic motivation from administration and research funding bodies.

Research impact is a huge force in the academic world these days, and research can only have impact if read, understood and scrutinised by other researchers - as well as the public.

My internal monologue when reading this:

Imagine if people got funding based on Twitter engagement - what a disaster.


Well people buy Twitter engagement from bots.

And they don't buy citations?

Oh nooo, I can see that become a trend too. We are doomed!

I agree strongly. While it's arguably true that to survive in the tough job environment for academics these days, you have to promote yourself, I would say that this inclination towards self-marketing is harmful to the academic community as a whole and does lasting damage to science and the humanities as institutions.

I would love to see more academic scientists blogging, especially if they wrote "laypersons" summaries of their scientific papers. I think this would be a clear net positive for the world: scientific literacy would increase, people would learn about all the amazing things going on in academic labs, and professors and grad students could get more recognition (and maybe income?) for jobs that are quite demanding but often dont pay a ton

But I wonder if blogging / social media would be viewed as "not serious" by academics, or even make the blogger's peers think they are sell outs? I've heard of grant funding decisions getting denied because a researcher issued a press release, which one reviewer thought was too self-promotional. No idea how widespread this attitude is however

Most academics spend the rest of the time they're not doing research trying to simplify their jumbled ideas so that academics in their field can understand it. Most of the "epiphanies" you'll see presented in TED talks or in intro guides on the front page of this site are far downstream from what cutting edge academics are trying to express, and often take upwards of decades to purify into an easy-to-digest message.

I recently spent some time trying to explain my research to my mother, and it took me about 30 minutes just to get her familiar with the general field. Thus, everything I explained to her could apply to the thousands of other people doing nearly the same research. If you tried to write "layperson" summaries of the papers, by the time you've gotten them up to speed on the developments that don't distinguish you from them, your contributions seem trivial or overly complicated. But this is because the cutting edge is thin and poorly understood by everyone, including you.

Publishing in high impact conferences and journals is the only thing that is guaranteed to yield success. The information will eventually get out there if it's good, but it takes many years to determine that.

Here's the flow: conferences -> journals -> survey papers/wide referencing -> advanced class lectures -> monographs/textbooks -> university class curriculums -> blogs/Youtube. Each step filters out the junk, of which there is incalculable amounts. I'd estimate that for a top conference in a field, only about 1-5% of the papers will have a serious broader impact.

I blog about my research applying industrial engineering to life at home.

Today my website is popular, but it's hard to direct traffic when getting started. I should be the top Google result for Save Money On Food, but I'm beat out by others with bigger name websites.

I've been to your website before. I think the other issue is that there just aren't enough articles. I was also somewhat disappointed in the polyphasic sleep articles since I found them pretty lacking in content

> professors and grad students could get more recognition (and maybe income?) for jobs that are quite demanding but often dont pay a ton

I try to do a bit of academic blogging, and did when I was a student too, but it's tricky. To do it right still takes time, but it's generally not something that can go on a CV., and unless you have a very popular blog (and even then), it's unlikely to get you a job, or help you secure tenure. So I think it's really more a matter of time than anything else.

Honestly, its hard to boil "we found nothing of statistic significance" down to laymens terms and still sound like you made a major breakthrough.

I don't think twitter really counts as blogging. It is too low signal/noise and doesn't leave enough room to seriously cover anything "academic" other than linking to real blogs and articles

For actual blogging, there are a few considerations you need to take into account. One is that academics will probably only blog if it can help their career in some way. If you are a graduate student or associate professor it's probably very low on your list of priorities - it also has a long payoff time as you build up a following whereas a good publication has much more immediate benefits. Another consideration is that for blogging to be worthwhile, there needs to be a low number of producers for every X consumers. Right now I think academic blogging doesn't have enough producers, but the size of the consumer market is limited, so I don't think it makes sense for everyone to blog

Good post. A lot of people see platforms like Twitter as inherently terrible, but if you follow the right people, Twitter can be a very good platform to learn new things and talk to interesting and smart people on. You just have to carefully curate who you follow, remembering to unfollow anyone that posts bad or excessively polarizing or uninteresting content.

The same goes for blogs, which are often looked down upon more than they should be due to the negative connotations of referencing a blogpost rather than a paper in a published journal, even though there are clearly some blogs that are better than some journals.

Doesnt twitter still force tweets into your feed from people you dont follow?


Not if you use lists. They are one of the most underrated tools in Twitter; allowing you to clean up and arrange your feed, Not having people you're not following injected into your feed is just another bonus.

While I see worth in twitter the idea that in order to succeed in academia one needs to participate in that stuff is stomach turning. It should be something we resist, not encourage.

Academia shouldn't be a popularity contest. Social media is.

Why do you feel it is a “popularity contest”?

When used in an academic context, I see it as a tool to more widely disseminate research, with the particular benefit of reaching non-traditional consumers.

I agree. Not everyone uses social media as a popularity contest. No reason why academic uses of it would need to be like that.

And trying to reach a wide audience is not the same as engaging in a shallow popularity contest.

Fully agree. Academic career is already demanding enough without having to force each scientist to run his/her own PR operation. Outreach is important, but it is better done at the group or institutional level.

Hello from the world of mathematics.

We already have ArXiV[0]. Think of it as a blogging platform. Any result worth sharing ends up on ArXiV way before it gets published, and anyone who cares about it will get notified.

This addresses all problems the author writes about: the research doesn't live beyond a paywall, and people who are interested and qualified to read your work will get notified about it.

Of course, putting a paper on ArXiV doesn't mean someone will read it. That's what conferences are for, for better or worse: spreading the word about your work, whether it's giving a talk, a poster, or just having a conversation over beer (non-drinkers must have an awfully hard time in this field). Mathematics is much more about people than one might think, and the best way to spread ideas is to talk to people who can be interested in them in the real world.

Does it mean there's no place for blogging? Absolutely not; papers that get posted on ArXiV often are too dry to understand, and lack the informal motivation and intuition behind the research. We have lost the tradition of informal writing in mathematics, and it needs to come back.

To that end, mathematicians do blog, but the thing is: it is hard. It is very hard to express the idea in a few words, to popularize it even to the peers in your field. It certainly doesn't take 30 minutes to write anything that others would be able to read. So math blogs exist, but are rather rare.

And most certainly, Twitter is not the right platform for that.


TL;DR: the author should take ArXiV seriously.


> mathematicians do blog, but the thing is: it is hard

I'm on the applied side of science and I think it's definitely hard but worth doing when on the applied side. I have blogged and if you're purely theoretical, I have no idea if it would be worth it. My research has a 1 sentence tagline that's awesome, but as soon as anyone wants more than that 1 sentence, they look under the covers and take a real pause as they see the writhing mass of intertwined domains involved.

To get people from sentence 1 through to a basic but sound understanding of the issues, from which I can start talking about 'where do we go from here' requires what I dare say borders on performance art. Over several years and untold presentations, I've gotten it down to about 7 minutes with the right words and pictures and audience, and the audience response will be that sort of perfect moment of hushed silence at the end, but the piles of errors and failures, reams of words never read, data never even looked at, reels the mind. I think back on all of that and cringe even as I wipe the sweat from my brow and uncramp my fingers.

It doesn't border on, it definitely is performance art.

And yes, totally worth it; just wanted to point out that doing something like that is not as easy as the author of this article makes it out to be ("look, I made this in 30 minutes, so everyone else can, too!"). No appreciation for the sweat and dread you went through to get there.

Wait so now academics have to take social freaking media seriously ? Like society's best brains have to take something that goes by the name of Facebook (like a book for your ugly face ??) seriously. I doubt that the people who take FB that seriously so as to get their information from it have the brains to digest new knowledge. And there's Medium - the so-called publishing platform that doesn't support math equations. The only blogs I will ever take information from would be the Github pages because somebody atleast went to the trouble of setting up Jekyll or even writing their own css and putting it on Github. Not some website that has blue or greenish black colored shit painted all over their UIs.

This blog post demonstrates the exact opposite of the authors intent. The post could have been reduced to 2 or 3 sentences. It is opinion supported by anecdote. A post written in 30 minutes isn’t worth the 30 seconds it takes me to read it.

Youtube, maybe. Put all your talks on Youtube for sure. But twitter is purpose-built to for bullshit and manufactured outrage. I fail to see how it can be useful to a scientist in any way other than to mine the firehose stream for data.

I'd put youtube right up there, especially considering how many high quality introductions and how-to's are out there.

This is actually something I really want to work on. There are many very poor academic-oriented videos on youtube, most of which are either someone with a tenuous grasp of the material explaining something in poor english, or a straight copy of a long lecture.

I think there is definitely a niche for bite-sized 5-10 minute videos covering focused topics in the undergrad/early grad curriculum in Math and CS. Like this is what a doubly linked list is, this is what dropout is, this is a walkthrough of a real analysis proof, etc.

You could add links to code snippets, github repos, latex papers, etc. And use animations/editing to make the presentation concise and visually appealing. Dabbling in something like this has been on my todo list for almost 4 years at this point

The academics putting stuff on youtube is almost laughable. It really exposes their flaws outright. Their lectures are boring and dull. Heck, it even shows how poorly some of these people are at teaching. Sure, we get it, you have a PHD in physics and you're smart but who cares about that if you can't actually teach the material.

No wonder so many kids these days are flocking to youtube to learn stuff. It is because of how horrible the current education system is. We put people in teaching positions when they can't even teach in the first place.

The truth is youtube, the internet and computers are absolutely game changing technology when it comes to education. With the right tools, youtube + internet + right computer tools will be able to provide the best learning experience for the student, even beating out top-tier education institutions.

Add basic web design to the list. I'm sorry but it is 2019, stop creating websites that look like they're designed in 1995. It isn't cool. If you have limited web skills, at least use wordpress with a template so the website looks at least somewhat aesthetically pleasing on the eye.

Always hated the misuse of "web log" to mean some kind of diary.

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