Why all scientists should blog: a case study

Posted by Lauren Hertel on Monday, January 6 2014


Lauren Hertel

Editor's Note: The following post is originally from the Science of Blogging blog by Peter Janiszewski, Ph.D. It is reprinted here with his permission.

I started blogging about 2 years ago.

At that time I was 2 years into my PhD and had a respectable number of peer-reviewed publications to my name.

I should have felt supremely proud to have joined the elite circle of publishing scientists.

Unfortunately, despite the publications, I longed to feel that any of my work was making an impact beyond the traditional boundaries of academia: peer-review publications and scientific conferences.

As I was not a full-fledged PhD with a ton of experience, my opportunities for media appearances and invitations to give presentations around the globe were appropriately limited.

So, with my good friend and colleague, Travis, I started a blog.

Our first post may have been read by a total of 6 people – assuming our girlfriends (now fiancées) and both sets of parents read the link we sent via email.

Fast forward to 2 years later, and our little blog is now hosted on the freshly launched PLoS Blogs network.

I have just published the final study from my PhD in the prestigious journal, Diabetes Care.

Despite the wonderful journal, presentations at international conferences discussing the work, and a message that I thought was rather important to the field, the work was met with complete silence.

To date, the paper has yet to be cited according to Google Scholar.

Despite the lackluster response, I still thought the publication was a plus as it gave me some great fodder for our blog. So I decided to do a 5-part series on the topic of metabolically-healthy obesity, the grand finale of which was the discussion of my recently published study.

Although the PLoS Blogs network was rather new and traffic to our blog was lower than usual, the series hit a nerve.

The biggest nerve I managed to hit was that of BoingBoing.com, a very popular aggregator of interesting news stories which sent a good chunk of traffic our way.

All of this interest resulted in a total of 12,080 page views and over 70 comments from readers during the week of the series.

Put another way, the same research which I published in a prestigious medical journal and made basically no impact, was then viewed by over 12,000 sets of eyes because I decided to discuss it online.

And it doesn’t end there.

Soon after, I was contacted by a reported from MSNBC.com who wanted to do a story on my study – the same study that had been published for over 3 months at this point.

After I did my interview, I also directed the reporter to a number of colleagues in the field who are also doing seminal work in the area.

A few days later that article was published on MSNBC.com.

The article highlighted my recent work, and the work of other colleagues, including a close friend of mine who did her PhD in the same lab as me.

To date, that article has generated 119 reader comments and has been spread via twitter by even more readers.

How is that for knowledge translation?

To the internet elite, these numbers are not earth-shattering. But keep in mind we are talking about scientific research here.

It’s not quite Britney Spears shaving her head viral, but as far as engaging the public about recent developments in science, it ain’t too shabby.

And if my prior post was any indication, due to this tiny splash made possible by a simple blog post, my study might just get a few citations.

My fingers remain crossed.

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