There is currently a blogging debate going on about the absence of science from science blogs (initiated over at bayblab). Why are the most popular science blogs full of religion, politics, and controversy?
Larry at Sandwalk has also weighed in on the issue and notes that his posts devoted to geniune science get only a fraction of the readers that his more controversial posts get. There is no doubt that the evolution and creation controversy draws people - I see that in my traffic stats too.
So what should science blogs be about? I agree with Larry's point that a blog should be about whatever the writer is interested in; if you want to write about religion, science, or maybe even Thomas Pynchon (check my labels), go for it. But do you need to avoid the science to draw readers? Are most readers just bored to tears by our blogging on peer-reviewed research?
Not by a long shot, but you have to go out and find those readers. There are millions of readers who love to read the NY Times science section, Scientific American, Discover, and a bunch of other magazines like it. Books like "The Best American Science Writing" do reasonably well every year. These publications cover controversies, but they primarily have really good science writing - and maybe science bloggers could learn something from them.
Those of us who are professional scientists are so used to writing for our colleagues or blogging peers, and we think that with a few tweaks, it should be easy to get the reader off the street interested too. If those readers aren't interested, we take it to mean that few people care about real science. But I don't believe it. It's hard work to write about science well for the average National Geographic or Discover reader, and those of us who are used to writing NIH proposals may have a lot to learn.
If your major goal is to have your posts linked to by most of the other science bloggers around, that's fantastic and admirable, but it's not the same thing as writing for a big popular audience. When we write science mainly for other bloggers, we're not going to get a lot of traffic for our serious science posts.
The other problem is being found in the overgrown jungle of cyberspace. It feels like there are more blogs than people out there, about all sorts of crazy stuff; so it takes a lot of work for an interested, non-professional science reader to dig up the good stuff. Things like Digg and reddit make it easier, but it's still hard. You probably know where I'm going if you've been following my blog - the other place I write for, Scientific Blogging, is focused on writing about science for a really broad audience. It has double the traffic of ScienceBlogs, so clearly it's reaching a different audience. The readers are out there. (And anyone can go sign up for a blog on Scientific Blogging.)
Money has also came up in the debate - should bloggers be paid? I don't do ads here, but Scientific Blogging does give the larger share of the ad revenue back to its writers, who are free to write what they want (as long as it is about real science - real being the key term here). So I write there, and get paid. But if you write a book, you get paid. If you write a science piece for the New Yorker or National Geographic, you get paid. The pay for blogging for me and most of the rest of us doesn't come close to the value of the time I put into it - those of use with day jobs are not about to get rich from this. I'm hoping to be able to head over to Amazon a little more often, and to not have to stop buying coffee at my favorite roaster when money runs out about a week before I get my pacheck. But I do this primarily to talk about science - if money was my major motivator for doing things, there is no chance in hell I'd be a postdoc right now.