Challenges of talking science online

As we set the stage for the India debut of FameLab, world’s biggest science communication competition that brings together science enthusiasts onto a common platform, our guest blogger Subhra Priyadarshini talks about the challenges of talking science online.

FameLab International winner Padraic Flood presenting his research at the competition

FameLab International winner Padraic Flood presenting his research at the competition

For full-time scientists and researchers, retaining the quality and freshness of blogs is a challenge. So is it for full time science reporters. It is one more job to do in the day. Writing a meaningful science blog consistently demands as much time and energy as any of the other important tasks of the day. A periodic blog – say daily or weekly – also needs ample planning to remain useful and interesting. Many blogs, science or otherwise, begin with a bang, posting daily content and then petering down to weeklies and suddenly writing their own epitaph one fine day. The primary reasons: lack of interest, incentive, time or topics to write on.

For scientist bloggers, the thin ethical line to tread on is whether a blog or tweet on their own work takes the shape of blatant self-promotion or not. Many scientists I know blog anonymously just to avoid getting into trouble. The issue has been debated at many workshops and conferences globally and my contention is that there is nothing unethical to talk about one’s own work as long as the scientist is adhering to embargo or legal guidelines set out for his/her research by a laboratory or a journal. After all, scientists are human and would love their work to be appreciated, commented and debated about!

Indians are vocal and opinionated or, as Amartya Sen would have us believe, ‘argumentative’. So as soon as a blog piece or tweet is up in India, you can expect comments of various hues – some objective and rational, some angry, some offensive and some totally off the mark. Many blog pieces run the risk of being sabotaged into parallel discussions on absolutely unrelated issues. It is frustrating for a blog owner to press the ‘moderate’ button more often than the ‘approve comment’ button.

Another nightmare for serious bloggers is spam. ‘Fake passports and driving licenses’, ‘excellent quality branded shoes’ and ‘cheapest honeymoon packages’. Spammers and trolls are relentless. You might block them regularly, but there is a spammer lurking somewhere around to pop right in. A good spam-blocker is as much a pre-requisite to start using social media as an anti-virus used to be when we all started using laptop computers.

Science bloggers in India are a nascent tribe. Recently, a list compiling science bloggers from India on Twitter found a handful of serious ones, mostly scientists, some journalists, mostly outside India and just a few in the country: Since the space is by and large unexplored, the scope is enormous. Anyone with good science writing skills has a chance of standing up and getting noticed.

By Subhra Priyadarshini, British Chevening fellow 2006-07 and Editor, Nature India
This post was first published in Current Science, and has been edited to suit the blog format.

Want to build your skills in science communication and get a chance to represent India at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK? Apply for #FameLabIndia.

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