Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Posted by Jean AdamsI went to my first science communication conference at the weekend. I’ve wanted to do this for ages. Going to my two favourite academic conferences – the annual meetings of the Society for Social Medicine and the UK Society for Behavioural Medicine – makes me feel so alive. They are environments where I feel entirely immersed in my people, buzzing with ideas, invigorated to go back to my desk and do new and better things. And also often both physically and mentally exhausted.

I thought a science communication conference might make me feel more part of that community. Oddly, it didn’t. Probably because I’m not part of the scicom community and one conference a community member does not one make. Probably this feeling of being a little out of it and like I’m not absolutely sure I’m following the conversation is exactly how I felt the first time I went to SSM in Oxford all those years back. 2001 if you must know.

At SpotOn London 2013, I was taking part in a session on scientist-2-scientist communication – primarily via the medium of blogging. If you happen to be interested (and have an hour to kill), you can see a video of the session here.

Beforehand I’d been worried that talking about blogging at a scicom conference was a little passé – preaching not just to the converted, but to the evangelical. A quick show of hands on the day confirmed that about 90% of the 40-50 people at the session were bloggers.

But it seemed to go okay. The session generated a lot of Twitter chatter (#solo13blogs). Predictably, although the panel discussion covered a lot of ground, the audience conversation seemed to get a little bogged down in the very last (and, I think, maybe least important) issue we discussed – if it matters whether or not people comment on your blog.

Are we in the Wild West of science blogging?
I’ve previously whinged a bit that hardly anyone comments on this blog. But I’ve got used to it. I know that posts can generate discussion in other forums and I’ve started to believe that people genuinely do read these posts – that we’re not just sending words into the void. It was still nice to hear that we’re not alone in our virtual comment-less-ness. One of the science correspondents at The Guardian confirmed that only about 0.5% of visitors to The Guardian website leave a comment and that about 80% of those are left by the same hard core of commenters. There are just a lot more comments on The Guardian website because they get a lot more traffic that the Fuse website (hard to believe, I know).

The other thing the guy from The Guardian pointed out was that building community takes time and effort. I know this. Who could not? But it’s nice to be reminded of it. I think that we could do more to build community within and beyond Fuse and I’d be interested in your thoughts on how we might do this. You could leave a comment if you’d like…

When I was originally asked to take part in SpotOn, I was pretty hesitant. I don’t think I’m some massive expert in blogging, or science blogging. I feel like we at Fuse came to the blogging party pretty late and that we are a fair way behind the curve, not in the vanguard of some great revolution. For me, this is okay. I mean, we’re a research organisation run by committees of academics, not a hack day run by precocious teenagers. But the current situation of science blogging was described by one participant as “the wild west” – a place with no rules yet, where only the strong enter and only the brave survive. I’m still not sure how much I agree with this. But it brought some fun images to mind.

With thanks to Roland Krause and Ingo Helbig of Channelopathist; and Lauren Tedaldi of What’s a PhD to do? for being part of a very well behaved and easy to manage panel.


  1. I rarely comment, but the Fuse Blog is one of the "must reads" in my feed reader. The 3 or 4 comments I have left here probably out number what I've left on The Guardian website - so maybe I'm one of the Fuse Blog hard core commenters!

    It may be worth mentioning that commenting on Blogger doesn't work particularly well on my tablet - not at all your fault, but another potential barrier to commenters (and example of poorly integrated thinking at Google, since it's an Android tablet!)

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  2. Well thanks for your support! Nice to hear. I know that about Blogger and commenting - it's not even as easy I think it should be on a desktop running Chrome. But I'm also not sure if other places are better. Is WordPress easier? What about other things I haven't thought of?

  3. I haven't come across a particularly good solution yet. I haven't seen anywhere where it's done particularly well - but will keep an eye out and let you know if I do :-)