Dead Science? A Biogeographer’s Call for More Blogging.

29 Feb

Is blogging an adequate cure for a „dead science„? The biogeographer Richard J. Ladle („Catching fairies and the public representation of biogeography“ in: Journal of Biogeography 35, 388-391) suggests that biogeography is not a vital discipline, because it is poorly represented in the public sphere. He realizes „a pressing need to close the gap between academic knowledge and understanding and the public perception of biogeography“ (p. 391) To promote biogeography he recommends weblogs (see also Let’s blog“ by Miguel B. Araújo in the International Biogeography Society Blog.

It is rational, useful and inspiring to stroll around, doing fieldwork, making excursions – and after this sort of work to write again. As being home again (or in the office), you are confronted with the question how to write new texts. Another question is where to publish. I for my part, have missed important opportunities to publish in academic journals due to my „mutation from an ecologist to a human geographer“ (as a geography professor labeled this part of my academic education). Nevertheless, I view myself still as an ecologist, botanist and biogeographer. But I’m not hesitant to call myself a human or cultural geographer, too. I have some problems to tell someone that I’m a researcher. Most of my work is teaching at Universities. That’s what I’m paid for – almost entirely at institutes of human geography. What should my daughter say, if she is asked about the profession of her father? Biologist, Botanist or (*-)Geographer? Perhaps scholar would be suitable – and elevating.

Well, how about my publication list? It’s not very long, it’s shamefully short. Sometimes, when I take a look at publication lists of researchers and professors, for everybody visible at the homepages of ecology or geography institutes, I feel a little bit embarrassed and discouraged. Do I have dropped out of a driving train? At the same time their lists give the impression of something bizarre. Huge and exhaustive enumerations, understandable and interpretable only for those, who can decipher the titles while having a deeper insight into the diversity of scientific journals. I don’t want to struggle about quantity vs. quality, actually I don’t feel authorized enough. But often enough it’s a painful impression of never-ending work, nearly nobody cares about. The classified enumeration is what counts for certification.

I’m satisfied with teaching and writing for my blogs, taking photographs an so on. Biedermeyer style? Perhaps. But if I would publish more, I would organize my publication list in a Tumblelog (for example Tumblr). Therefore, this medium, similar to a blog, seems to be suitable. Meanwhile, I am arrived at the true motifs of writing this post. Richard J. Ladle („Catching fairies and the public representation of biogeography“ in: Journal of Biogeography 35, 388-391) is worried about the status of biogeography. „What, specifically, do the public know and think about biogeography, and does this have any consequences for the development of our discipline„, he asks. He conducted an internet-based research. His results (p. 389): Biogeography is „almost invisible in terms of global newspaper coverage. […] Website coverage was far more extensive, […] although only 8251 weblogs (blogs) – perhaps a better indicator of subjects in the current public discourse – mention the term biogeography.“ The most famous biogeographers seem to be Charles Darwin and Edward O. Wilson. I doubt that they would call themselves biogeographer – probably biologists or ecologists. Other biogeographers, who have written important textbooks (e.g. Mark V. Lomolino, Robert. J. Whittaker) have got a low level of representation, too (see Ladle, p. 390).

„This perhaps illustrates that even leading members of the academic community, who have put considerable effort into promoting the discipline, may, in some respects, be mostly talking to other academics and university students“ (Ladle, p. 390).

I would state that this could be diagnosed for other subfields of geography too. Geography is still vehemently misunderstood and underestimated. There is a „lack of understanding of the subject area and its relevance in contemporary debates“ (Ladle, p. 390). Therefore, it’s not surprising that there is a mismatch: Biogeography as a term has very little presence in the public sphere, it is poorly represented. At the same time, biogeographical subjects are richly covered across the electronic and popular media (Ladle mentions ‚islands‘, ‚biodiversity‘, ‚extinction‘, ‚global warming‘, climate change‘, ‚conservation‘, see p. 390).

Ladle appeals to the community of biogeographers:

As the communication age unfolds around us, there is a pressing need to close the gap between academic knowledge and understanding and the public perception of biogeography. It is important for biogeographers, as a community, to present the discipline as a vibrant, modern science that has important things to say about climate change, biotic homogenization, conservation science policy, and may other disparate issues relevant to shaping the future of life on this planet.

To avoid that biogeography is being seen as a „dead science that has barley progressed since the times of Darwin and Wallace, Ladle makes his recommendations. And this is why I feel confirmed as a scholarly blogger. I have been happy to read:

One simple way to increase our public profile would be to make more use of new electronic communication platforms such as blogs. For instance, research supervisors could encourage their students to blog while also providing training in science communication and dissemination. Biography research groups and peer groups could also create weblogs for the discussion of new ideas and the dissemination of their research findings beyond the narrow confines of academia.

I would welcome to see geography institutes creating and fostering a blog. I wonder, why there is not anything like Xing for academics. Even something like MySpace for scientists would be useful and entertaining. I have decided to create a MySpace-Account (MySpace of SpaceFlaneur), but there is some work left to pimp my profile.

2 Antworten to “Dead Science? A Biogeographer’s Call for More Blogging.”

  1. Lydia Januar 25, 2009 um 12:32 am #

    Great article, I like what you say here. Publication in peer reviewed journals puts you under commercial control, only to be read by those with access through a paid subscription. Some research institutes have started their own open sourcing, writing articles and developing tools for free download online so as to grow the pool of knowledge, sort of like Linux and other open-source environments. Great blog.


  1. Biogeographers ain’t doing ‘Dead Science. And Something about the Greatness of Blogs. « SpaceFlaneur - März 7, 2008

    […] But there you find a different sort of posts (see for example tumblr.). I’ve just posted (Dead Science? A Biogeographers Call for More Blogging) summarising an article by the biogeographer Richard J. Ladle (Catching fairies and the public […]

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