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Monday, 26 October 2015

Impact of Social Sciences – An antidote to futility: Why academics (and students) should take blogging / social media seriously


An antidote to futility: Why academics (and students) should take blogging / social media seriously

are now an established part of the chattersphere/public conversation,
especially in international development circles, but
Duncan Green
finds academic take-up lacking. Here he outlines the major arguments
for taking blogging and social media seriously. It doesn’t need to
become another onerous time-commitment. Reading a blog should be like
listening to the person talk, but with links.

Before I started teaching at LSE in January, I had the impression
that the academics and researchers around the school were totally social
media savvy – prolific tweeters like Charlie Beckett and top blogs like LSE Impact are high up on my follow list.

It turned out the impression was, ahem, a little misleading. A good
proportion of the people I have come across may be brilliant in their
field, but when it comes to using the interwebs, tend to sound like the
querulous 1960s judge asking ‘What is a Beatle?’ (‘I don’t twitter’).
Much of life is spent within the hallowed paywalls of academic journals
(when I pointed out that no-one outside academia reads them, the baffled
response seemed to be along the lines of ‘and your point is?’).

So why should they rethink? Here are some initial arguments, confined
to blogs and twitter (the only bits of social media I engage with). I’m
sure there are lots of others – feel free to add:

  1. Remember that a blog is a ‘web log’, i.e. an online diary. Regular
    blogging builds up a handy, time-saving archive. I’ve been blogging
    daily since 2008. OK, that’s a little excessive, but what that means is
    that essentially I have a download of my brain activity over the last 7
    years – almost every book and papers I’ve read, conversations and
    debates. Whenever anyone wants to consult me, I have a set of links I
    can send (which saves huge amounts of time). And raw material for the
    next presentation, paper or book.
  2. Making sure someone reads your research. Look no further than the
    excellent LSE Impact blog for evidence: here’s a quick search of their
Patrick Dunleavy argues
blogging and tweeting from multi-author blogs especially is a great way
to build knowledge of your work, to grow readership of useful articles
and research reports, to build up citations, and to foster debate across
academia, government, civil society and the public in general.

World Bank research on economics blogging (with regressions, natch) concluded:

Blogging about a paper causes a large increase in the
number of abstract views and downloads in the same month: an average
impact of an extra 70-95 abstract views in the case of Aid Watch (now sadly defunct) and Chris Blattman, 135 for Economix, 300 for Marginal Revolution, and 450-470 for Freakonomics and Krugman. [see regression table here and below]

These increases are massive compared to the typical abstract views
and downloads these papers get- one blog post in Freakonomics is
equivalent to 3 years of abstract views! However, only a minority of
readers click through we estimate 1-2% of readers of
the more popular blogs click on the links to view the abstracts, and 4%
on a blog like Chris Blattman that likely has a more specialized
(research-focused) readership.
Source: Academic blogs are proven to increase dissemination of economic research and improve impact.
LSE Impact resources for twitter users include:

Source: Who gives a tweet? After 24 hours and 860 downloads, we think quite a few actually do
  1. It gives you a bit of soft power (let’s not exaggerate this, but check out slide 15 of this research presentation [ppt]
    for some evidence). Blogs are now an established part of the
    chattersphere/public conversation, so you get a chance to put your
    favourite ideas out there, and spin those of others. People in your
    organization may well read your blogs and tweets even if they don’t read
    your emails.
  2. Blogging is a great antidote to that feeling of anticlimax and
    futility that comes after you send off the paper or the book manuscript,
    and suddenly the true indifference of the universe becomes apparent.
    You can keep discussing and communicating with interesting people, and
    keep the existential crisis at bay.
  3. And don’t forget the free books, also known as ‘review copies’.
  4. And the chance to publicly insult your enemies (not relevant in my case, obvs, as I don’t have any).

“I Don’t Have Time”

The counter-argument is bound to be ‘we don’t have time’, but if you
take too long, that probably means the blog won’t be very accessible.
Reading a blog should be like listening to the person talk, but with
links. This post took me precisely 30 minutes to write, including the

Maybe Twitter’s apparent time-efficiency explains why Twitter seems
better represented than blogging (though I only found this out by
writing this post and circulating it!). In the International Development
faculty (including honorary fellows and Professors in Practice) we have
Owen Barder, Pritish BehuriaMayling Birney, Benjamin Chemouni, Jean Paul Faguet, Danny Quah, Keith Hart, Sohini Kar, Silvia MasieroRajesh Venugopal and Kevin Watkins. Did I miss anyone? Oh yes, me.

If you’re interested in dipping your toe in the social media ocean, here are some tips for bloggers on international development and a previous effort to convince sceptics. But the best thing is just to try it and see. At the very least, follow Chris Blattman to see how it’s done.

This piece originally appeared on the LSE International
Development blog and is reposted with permission. Keith
( is currently the Managing Editor of the
International Development blog. Get in touch if you want to have a go.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the
position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School
of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Author

Duncan Green is Senior Strategic Adviser for
Oxfam GB and Professor in Practice in the department for International
Development at LSE. He is also author of the book ‘From Poverty to Power’. He can be found on twitter @fp2p.

Impact of Social Sciences – An antidote to futility: Why academics (and students) should take blogging / social media seriously

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