To Blog Or Not To Blog?

David Phipps (ResearchImpact, York) was pleased to be invited to guest blog for Science of Blogging, a science blog run by @TravisSaunders, PhD Candidate, Obesity Researcher and Certified Exercise Physiologist. His blog, below, was posted on May 4, 2011. Check out the blog rolls on Mobilize This! and Science of Blogging. Each is following the other but you’ll see a few other great science and knowledge mobilization blogs there as well.
Dear Professor, To blog or not to blog?  This is not a question that you should worry about…for now. You compete successfully in three peer review arenas: publishing, grant seeking and tenure & promotion (T&P).  These three are interdependent with success in one begetting success in another.  The three are built on the same assumption: that your peers are in the best position to critique and thus make awards of publications, of grants and of tenure.  This isn’t going to change dramatically in the near future, so please don’t fret over all this blogging stuff.  Your klout score is not about to sway your T&P committee.
But note that in Canada, at least, times they are a changin’ (♫)
Canadian research funding is dominated by three federal granting councils (SSHRC, CIHR and NSERC) all of whom are rolling out new funding programs with non-academics on the peer review committees.  As I mentioned in a previous blog some (admittedly only a few) peer reviewed journals are including non academics on their editorial boards.  Campus-community collaborations are increasingly recognized by T&P committees (especially when the university based scholar and his/her community partner receives a $1M Community University Research Alliance) and there is even a national alliance to examine academic reward and incentive structures for community engaged scholarship.
But you don’t have to worry about that…for now.  
Just know that blogs get way more traffic than your peer reviewed paper ever will.  The ResearchImpact blog, Mobilize This! (hosted by York University) has received over 63,000 page views.  Blogs and microblogging services like Twitter get your research seen by more non-academics than your peer reviewed papers ever will.  The importance of this is not to be dismissed. The public believes that they deserve a return on their public investment in your public research.  This is the basis behind the Bayh Dole Act that set the standard for the management of intellectual property (IP) arising from university research that received federal US support.  Bayh Dole anticipates the commercialization of IP arising from research at US institutions and I anticipate it will remain limited to that intent. However, it isn’t a far leap to consider this philosophy of public benefit from public investments in public research applying to policy and practice relevant research.  With the creation of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Barak Obama has signalled that social innovation is as important to US federal policy as is economic and industrial innovation.  It’s not a far stretch to imagine a social Bayh Dole equivalent.  This would complement emerging public policies that support knowledge mobilization and knowledge translation.
The public, and on their behalf, policy makers, are increasingly looking to science to provide evidence to inform their decisions and to processes like knowledge mobilization to enable this connection.  The public will increasingly demand enhanced transparency from its public institutions and since social media increases transparency and democratizes knowledge, social media tools are becoming important tools for knowledge mobilization.  At York University we already produce ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries that enhance access to research and expertise. Academic blogs are another way to enhance transparency and provide access to your peer reviewed information in accessible formats.
Note what I just said, “provide access to your peer reviewed information in accessible formats”.  Academic blogging does not replace peer review.  Blogging complements peer review.  To borrow from our business colleagues, peer review is your quality control.  Blogging is your distribution channel.
But you don’t have to worry about that…for now. However…
If you want your research to matter to the public, you need to blog.
If you want your research to have an impact beyond your small circle of peers, you need to blog.
If you want to meet the needs of your research funders as they increasingly demand transparent access to your results, you need to blog.  If you don’t, they will soon be requiring it or some other form of open and transparent access of research reporting like videos reporting the results of research studies.
For research, as Bob Dylan says, times they are a changin’.