Science Online ’09: Nature Blogging

Bright and early Sunday morning, I hosted a session on Nature Blogging with GrrlScientist of the fantastic blog Living the Scientific Life. It was a great pleasure to work with her on this session and I want to thank her for putting most of the thought in behind it. It was well attended and well-participated in. We have developed several questions about Nature Blogging (not to be confused with naturalist blogging) involving more metaphysical, as well as practical issues.

We asked participants to write their answers to these questions on a piece of paper and hand them into us at the end of the session. We received 11 responses, out of ~30 people in the room, not too bad. GrrlScientist transcribed them and we are sharing them on each of our blogs. Our goal is that we hope this generates further discussion on each of blogs but also that our readers will cross the blog barrier and discuss with commenters on each other’s blogs. So please, let us know what you think  here then head over to GrrlScientist’s post and read her point of view and that of her commenters and contribute to the discussion over there as well. We hope to be able to use our readers responses to guide our writing for future essays on the value of nature blogging.

  1. What is a nature blog? What is the difference between nature and science blog writing? What is the difference between nature blog writing and other types of blog writing?
  2. Respondent 1: Nature blogs convey a sense of the majesty of the world around us. I almost expect to hear the sounds of the great outdoors. The sense of interconnectedness comes through more strongly than the reductionism.

    Respondent 2: No idea.

    Respondent 3: Blog focused on nature-related topics could overlap with science and other blogs, but emphasis on animals, outdoors, ecology and the like.

    Respondent 4: Any blog celebrating the outdoors, species, or some other aspect of nature. Nature blogs are adventurous, have lots of photos. Nature blogs are less structural, less rigorous. Nature blogging is more adventurous.

    Respondent 6: Nature blogs may have more observation? Science posts may have more explanation? I’d imagine Nature blogs may have more amateur (and excellent) photography.

    Respondent 7: Science blogging seems like an umbrella that includes nature blogging. Nature blogging is more descriptive, but connects observations and experiences from the field with scientific knowledge.

    Respondent 8: Blogs about organisms/ecosystems instead of research.

    Respondent 9: Nature versus Science = Natural history, conservation ..

    Respondent 10: I expect some may think a nature blog is less likely to convey the hard science and will be almost poetic (?). An appreciation for the natural environment BUT I would hope that nature blogging my attract folks who might shy away from a blog they believe is “hard science” but that once the reader is there the nature blog writer [can] convey some prnciples of ecology or some interesting fact that IS science! (versus pretty nature pics).

  3. What are (should be) the goals for nature blog writing? [This is the "why bother with nature blog writing at all?" question]
  4. Respondent 2: No idea, except that it covers all of the same reasons as the other blogs.

    Respondent 3: To educate, inform and inspire readers about nature.

    Respondent 4: Inspire people to go outside. Enchant people with the natural world.

    Respondent 5: “Nature” is so big and ranges from microscopic to grand trees and rock formations, [so] I believe there is so much to be fascinated [with]. There is something for everyone, but they may not know where to look or all the details that can be uncovered even in their own backyard. When something fascinates us, we are inspired to learn more, to discover, and with nature, an entire classroom is right outside our windows. The purpose of nature blogging is to inspire and teach.

    Respondent 7: [To] convey the joy of experiencing the natural world.

    Respondent 8: Whatever you want them to be.

  5. How important are blog carnivals for connecting nature-loving folks (e.g., I And The Bird, Circus of the Spineless, Carnival of the Blue, Oekologie…)?
  6. Respondent 2: Very.

    Respondent 3: Important to those who utilize carnivals, but not important to all.

    Respondent 4: Not qualified to answer this question.

    Respondent 5: I’m not sure how important they are, but I’ve found the tree carnival to be such a great source of fascinating posts.

    Respondent 6: Carnivals help new bloggers meet the community.

    Respondent 7: I haven’t messed around with blog carnivals lately.

    Respondent 8: No idea.

    Respondent 9: I don’t know.

  7. What do you think about collaborative global sites like: iNaturalist, Faunapolis, Firefly Watch, Scratchpads, The Internet Bird Collection, UKmoths, Identify a butterfly and Useum?
  8. Respondent 2: [I couldn't read this response, sorry!].

    Respondent 3: Haven’t utilized these [al]though [I] have looked at some. I think they are useful .. but hey, there’s only so much time in a day.

    Respondent 4: Not qualified to answer this question.

    Respondent 7: I like them in principle, but haven’t spent much time in practice.

    Respondent 8: Never used them.

  9. Who is the audience? What are they looking for, what are they finding?
  10. Respondent 2: No idea.

    Respondent 3: People interested in all nature topics [and] can pretty much find anything they might be interested in.

    Respondent 4: Audience tends to be other naturalists, hikers, conservationists, scientists, kids. They are looking for other nature fans, like people who are into comics seek out other comics fans.

    Respondent 5: I think anyone — all ages, all demographics can be an audience member to a nature blog — I don’t think we have to target every one in every post but I think one of the most important audience members would be younger students. Somewhere, someone may be just uncovering their lifelong passion via Google.

    Respondent 7: Dunno.

    Respondent 8: Naked people.

    Respondent 11: Your audience includes nonspecialists who are willing to tackle some technical information in order to satisfy their sense of wonder.

  11. How much science is (and should or should not be) associated with nature stories and pictures?
  12. Respondent 2: As much as people want.

    Respondent 3: Totally up to the blogger — could be full of science or have almost no science (just pics and stories).

    Respondent 4: This is up to the blogger and their writing style. Science is less crucial in nature blogging, it can be just a curious question, “What’s this mushroom I saw on the trail?”

    Respondent 7: I think it should be used as an excuse for talking about science.

    Respondent 8: As much as you want.

    Respondent 11: Your audience includes people who are willing to learn the science that goes with the stories. In fact, this is your opportunity to help people understand the nature of science, which in these days of pseudoscience is an important role [that] a nature blogger can play.

  13. What is the best nature essay you’ve read in the past year or so? Why did you like this essay so much?
  14. Respondent 2: Can’t name one! how embarassing! On second thought — does an essay/article on why the Chesapeake Bay has not been cleaned up and the political (state-centric) system of focus count?

    Respondent 3: Can’t think of one that stood out that much, but if there were one, it’s probably from Chet Raymo.

    Respondent 4: An essay about the ecology fund in the tops of California (Really big trees). It was a new world, a unique adventure.

    Respondent 6: I really enjoyed a painting (this is what comes to mind instead of an essay) by the artist, Jacqueline Dillard, entitled “Yellow.” Inspired by yellow finches in her area, she painted numerous local yellow animals together. [NOTE: If anyone finds the link to this artist or this painting, I'd appreciate the information]

    Respondent 7: Dunno.

Other comments:

Respondent 1: It would have been great if we had covered:

  1. best nature blogs
  2. how nature blogs can be effective in making a political difference
  3. how to generate more traffic to a nature blog
  4. copyright/photo use permission issues
  5. optimal techniques for capturing and uploading nature audio/video
  6. clever use of nature blogs with GPS, geotagging, relationships with nature museums or clubs

Respondent 6: Fantastic session!

Respondent 9: Good site for schools/teachers, see Discover Life dot com [NOTE: if someone knows the correct URL, please let me know which site you are referring to and I'll add it here]

Respondent 10: Thanks! This was great, very thought-provoking.
PS. I am trying to encourage our scientists/researchers/engineers to blog on the agency’s site — would love to hear if you have thoughts on how I can relay the significance and impact of blogging — just starting out!
[NOTE: GrrlScientist has this respondent's email address if anyone would like direct contact]

I have lots of thoughts on these questions, but would like to hear from you!

Kevin Zelnio (886 Posts)





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7 comments on “Science Online ’09: Nature Blogging
  1. Britney & Porn???!!! Where??!! ;)

    #1 I’m guessing that for many people the line between nature blog and science blog can be quite fuzzy. There are some blogs on the Nature Blog network which fall into the pretty pictures, poetry, praise and celebration of the more emotional or even “religious” aspects of biophilia.

    But there are so many others which are often focused to the science and trying to communicate the science in an understandable way but also just provide a beautiful way to find out “just a little bit more” about something out there we already find beautiful. Then it’s just one step from there to the even more focused sci blogs which the report science at a more specialized target audience often.

    It’s a continuum that has no clear boundaries, and even no clear end points. Is Eclectic Echoes not a nature blog because I don’t blog so much on nature there (less than 40% of recent posts). The number of nature oriented posts that’s left is primarily birding and reporting on science that doesn’t fit the TO95 mission so my extended family “gets” what I’m studying and interested in though few of them have a background in science. Larval Images was supposed to be a nature blog – just pictures I took or found online of larvae along with an ID of the common and scientific name and maybe a bit more…but then I started adding the cool science bites to it as well. So is it science blog? No, but it it a nature blog? No, not really.

    #2 Another continuum – if I had to make up a definition I would say then that “nature” blogs are about inspiration through the aesthetics of nature, while science blogs are about the inspiration through information and understanding. So then the goal of nature writing would be to inspire others view of nature through your writing/photography/art.

    #3 As for carnivals, at TO95 we have waxed and waned in our participation (our readership waxes and wanes too but is it correlation?) as our work loads at other blogs/school/family/etc have shifted and changed. I don’t think the carnivals are necessary but they are fun and do help bring in new readers and explore new blogs/other writers.

    #4 I like the collaborative sites in theory but have not had much time to use any. I have contributed photographs to Flickr ID groups and to conservation groups that operate similar type of sites and enjoy the limited participation I have had.

    #5 The magic question. Is it a build it and they will come via the almighty Google? (That and the other geeks will find it through the interweb tentacles)

    #6 As much as you can. None. Both are correct.

    #7 Actually the best nature essay that stands out as a nature one was one by The Natural Patriot about his backyard efforts. Of course his writing is tops with me anyways… but there you are…a decidedly scientific blogger who writes both science and nature posts (with some personal and academia posts thrown in for good measure). What is his blog?

    Now where’s the all natural osedax porn ?? Crickets? NURSE!!!!

  2. Since I can’t figure out if I’m a nature blog, or a science blog, I’ve found this post particularly interesting. Thanks for logging the time to put it together.

    • That was about 20-30 minutes of discussion that we opened up with! We heard viewpoints across the spectrum.

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