Professors who blog: academia’s love hate relationship with social media

Why don’t professors blog?

Why am I the only professor with a stem cell blog across the globe (if there are other please let me know)?

Why do I do this blog?

I’ve written before about why I blog and listed the numerous blogs about stem cells out there that I enjoy even if they are not written by professors.

Part of the irony of the lack of fellow professorial colleagues blogging is that they love to read blogs.

For example, over the past couple years of my doing this blog, interest in this blog has exploded including from my fellow stem cell scientists in academia. Many stem cell scientists tell me privately that they really enjoy my blog as do undergrad and grad students as well as postdocs in academia.  Thus, academics love to read blogs, but they still remain reluctant to blog themselves. You might say they have a love hate relationship with blogging.

Why? I think part of it is the culture of academic science and part of it, frankly, is fear.

The consequence of this is that many professors are left out of the conversation. By relying on only traditional, slow academic journals or speaking at conferences a few times a year, these professors are slowly but surely going to be left behind as social media continues to take over. It is inevitable.

Heck, I’m not complaining that they read my blog, but I wish they’d blog themselves, use Facebook and also Twitter.

There are some scientists out there, especially more broadly not just limiting the discussion to stem cell research, who do effectively engage in social media including blogging.

A great example is my colleague here at UC Davis, Jonathan Eisen, who runs the fantastic and very popular blog, The Tree of Life.

PZ Myers of the University of Minnesota runs a blog called Pharyngula, which is hugely popular and interesting. However, as a side note, I would argue it is a bit too obsessed about atheism, which I personally find kinda boring and unscientific given the inability of scientists to prove there is no God (Why I am an agnostic. By Paul Knoepfler…..Zzzzzz).

However, part of the beauty of a blog is you can say and focus on whatever you like because it is your blog. Of course if what you say is not of interest to anyone or is boring, few people might read your blog. In PZ’s case, he writes about what he wants and gets a massive audience.

There are other professor bloggers out there too, but as a fraction of all professors we are a tiny group across the globe. As I said in my Nature piece on my first year of experiences blogging, I very much wish more faculty will blog.

If you have a favorite blog by a science professor that I have not discussed, let me know.

9 Comments


    • Thanks, Amy. I’ve heard of her, but didn’t know she blogs. I think a lot of people still don’t believe the arsenic story. Purple hair is always good!


      • #1 – Rosie rocks

        #2 – am trying to force/cajole/beg people in my lab to blog … am making it a requirement for undergrads who do research in the lab and probably will make it a requirement for everyone soon

        #3 – blogging / tweeting has been more helpful for my career than anything else I do these days — gets attention to papers, helps discover new people for my lab, best way to keep up with information, etc etc


  1. First, a few relevant blogs that I like, in addition to those already mentionned:
    http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/ by Larry Moran
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/ by Jerry Coyne
    http://bytesizebio.net/ by Iddo Friedberg
    http://genomeinformatician.blogspot.com/ by Ewan Birney
    http://oikosjournal.wordpress.com by Jeremy Fox

    (Obviously biased by the fact that I do evolutionary biology and bioinformatics – saw this post through the twitter of Jonathan Eisen.)

    Second, some junior colleagues have expressed weariness related to the type of attitudes summarized in this blog post by Sean Carroll:
    “How to get tenure” http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/03/30/how-to-get-tenure-at-a-major-research-university/
    Money quote: “Suspicious hobbies include writing of any sort (novels, magazine articles, blogs), programming or web stuff, starting a business, etc. Why? Because there’s a feeling that this kind of activity represents time that could be spent on research”

    Third, an issue which I feel is that, working in a non-English language country, I can either address my colleagues in English, or the public at large in French. On my blog I chose French, which obviously limits the relevance of my blog, whereas my tweets are mixed but mostly English.

    Finally, I wonder whether due to your examples there is more (open) blogging by grad students or postdocs in your department than elsewhere?


    • Thanks, great stuff in this comment! I’m going to explore those blogs! That quote about suspicious hobbies is on the money…laughing but shaking my head because I think it rings so true.


  2. I am not a teacher, just a retired former consultant to the ophthalmic industry, who, upon retirement (and a love of writing — more than 150 published articles), decided to begin blogging as a means of putting some of my published work online and available to historians and researchers — I wrote about contact lenses, laser refractive surgery, and new ophthalmic technologies before there was an internet!

    I then got interested in new drugs and devices being introduced to treat retinal diseases such as macular degeneration and decided to write about them in a way that both doctors and their patients would understand. I now have over 240 posts on my online Journal, including, for the past couple of years, how stem cells and gene therapies are being used to treat retinal diseases,

    This is my way of giving back after a 35 year successful career of consulting.

    If you are interested in learning what’s going on in new treatments for retinal diseases, please take a look at Irv Arons’ Journal (http://tinyurl.com/ijablog)

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