Blogging and history of science

Ben Cohen over at The World’s Fair has gotten me thinking about something: is there really a readership for blog posts about the history of science [HoS]?

My own experience is that there may not be such a readership, or at least may not be one that engages in commentary. Admittedly, my evidence is fragmentary. Over the past two weeks I have been posting HoS-based material, namely a series of book reviews and a commentary on the value of HoS for science education. The former series generated virtually no comments and the latter a meager nine comments (it also wasn’t picked-up by any other blogs, as far as I know). So I’m wondering whether there is an audience for this type of material or whether pictures of cute mustelids and rants at creationists are as likely to get attention and commentary?

As a related issue, are there any good HoS blogs out there? What other historians of science are writing online?

Update: The Isis paper has been commented upon by Bora, Will Thomas, and Hopeful Monster while Ben Cohen has started a discussion on, well, discussions about such issues.

Update #2: Here’s what we have for historians of science who blog. Suggest more if you know of any …

Update #3: Among the Sciblings, Wilkins, Brian and Dave have all also chimed in on the topic of the value of history of science. So perhaps it we’re getting close to getting a discussion going!


22 thoughts on “Blogging and history of science

  1. You know I’d read it.
    Incidentally, I’m supposed to have a history of science article going up on Smithsonian Magazine’s website any day now… keep an eye out!

  2. Bora,
    I’m more interested in seeing if (a) there are historians of science blogging, and (b) whether there is a self-sustaining commentary going on. I’m not sure that the apparent success of Giant’s Shoulders can answer those questions.

  3. If Sage Ross, John McKay, Will Thomas, Michael Barton and you begin, and others who regularly post on history (Laelaps, Jennifer Ouellette, Larry Moran, John Dennehy, John Wilkins, etc.) join in, and everyone contributes to Giant’s Shoulders, then a conversation will gradually develop: people with interest in the topic will be able to more easily find each other, follow each other, get comfortable in this new ‘community’, read and comment. Don’t you think it’s worth trying?

  4. I really appreciate HoS blogs and find them very interesting to read (most of the time), though I admittedly am not one to comment on them under most circumstances. I think that rants on creationists will always spark a discussion whereas pieces on the history of science are meant to be thought provoking rather than inflammatory.
    Hos blogs are really interesting and helpful to both the scientific and lay communities and I encourage them.

  5. As far as readership is concerned, my history of science posts are the highest trafficked posts I’ve written. Considering how much lower my regular traffic is than any of the SciBlings, that’s not saying much.
    Comments are another matter. I can generate more comments by making an off the hand boomer/geezer comment like “am I the only one who still calls unlined paper ‘typing paper’?” than I do from posting a well researched HoS article that I spent a week or more on. File that under “Justice, Ain’t No.”
    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Coturnix. I’m working on something for the next Giant’s Shoulders.

  6. Few comments don’t necessarily mean few readers. A good rant will get lots of people to chime in agreeing or disagreeing, but a good quiet history lesson could well have just as many interested eyes reading without necessarily having something to add.

  7. Don’t forget the barrier to entry: really technical posts like HoS can be intimidating to a lot of the readers who don’t feel qualified to chime in with anything relevant on a post like that. I know that *I* feel that way when I read a great post outside of my field – I’m a behavioural ecologist, what do I have to say about that really great physics post I just read? It doesn’t mean I didn’t like the physics post, it just means that I don’t feel informed enough to contribute.
    On the other hand, rant posts / YouTube posts / etc. are open to anyone with enough skill to type their name on a keyboard (though some trolls will disabuse me of that notion, I’m sure).

  8. Thanks for getting the conversation going John. It seems to me that there is much talk of interdisciplinary projects at humanities conferences but little action. Ultimately I think that disciplines are structured to discourage jumping over the fence too much. For example, no professional benefit accrues to historians of science talking shop with scientist via blogs. These are not things that can be quantified on a CV or in a report for tenure. For professional purposes, lets face it, it’s better to publish in a flagship journal and have an article go unread (and uncommented on) than stir up conversations such as this one. At least, this has been the model to date. But as you and Ben and Will have shown, there are lots of us in this field because of our interest in debate and our fascination with science, even if we put on our critical historian hats when discussing it.
    In a piece I wrote this week for The Space Review, I’ve found it interesting that the most positive reactions have come from scientists.
    All best,

  9. Like Kevin, I read them but rarely feel qualified to comment. So I’m probably part of the silent majority in that respect at least.

  10. I think Winawer in comment #11 hits the nail on the head. Many of us love reading those posts, but don’t have much to say in response to them since that’s not our field and unless we spend a couple of weeks ordering books/grabbing stuff from the library and reading on the topic we won’t be in a position to contest or support the statements made which makes us (or me, at least) feel awkward about posting responses to these things. That said, I myself love HoS posts since it helps me pick up nuggets of information that I wouldn’t acquire otherwise since I’m still in the process of building my HoS section of my personal library (and finding time to READ those damn things since I have a broad range of interests). The Laelaps blog is one of my favorites, for this very reason (among others) and I think he should be mentioned since he does a pretty damn good job, even if he is not a professional historian of science.

  11. I always enjoy reading your HoS posts. I haven’t commented on the posts because I didn’t have any questions, disagreements or anything to add to what you wrote. I suppose I could leave a simple “Thanks for the post” comment or, you could try and make them less clear and I’d ask for clarification in a comment ;-).

  12. I read history of science posts. I don’t comment because I’ve got a double barrier: I’m not a historian, and I’m also not a biologist or physicist (and those two sciences seem to attract the most attention from philosophers and historians). Now, if Naomi Oreskes had a blog, I would read and ask questions regularly.

  13. I come here every day and I even comment occasionally, as you might have noticed. I am a practicing historian of science so I like to visit history of science blogs. My own area is the mathematical sciences in the early modern period and like most people I tend to become somewhat obsessive about my own work. To counterbalance this I try to educate myself about other areas and periods of science, your blog is one of the ways I have of doing this.
    Because I basically come here to learn I usually don’t have a lot to say beyond “thanks for another great lesson!” so on the whole I don’t say anything. I will however take this opportunity to say that through your efforts and those of the Aussie Anthropoid I now have a fairly good overview of the development of the biological sciences in the 18th, 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. This of course also involved some reading of books recommended by yourselves. So I will just say thank you and keep up the good work.

  14. Here’s another audience member for HoS posts. I have a background in chemistry (undergrad major and M.S.), biology (undergrad minor) and rhetoric (M.A. and, so far, ABD), with graduate coursework in HoS. I’d love to see more in this area.

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