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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 01:24 | SYDNEY

Why academics should blog

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16 February 2012 12:12

The blogosphere is the gift that keeps on giving. Just this morning, I discovered Stephen Matchett's The Common Room, a higher education blog run by The Australian which looks to be well worth bookmarking.

I was particularly interested in Matchett's lament from Tuesday that academics aren't trying hard enough to get involved in the public policy debate. There are notable exceptions, says Matchett, but 'in general economists and social scientists write for each other and publish in journals, which the Australian Research Council rates and university managements accordingly expect.'

Given that professional incentives for academics are so skewed towards publishing in journals which only other academics read, maybe it's remarkable that we get even our current level of participation in public debate.

Incentives are clearly important, but one conclusion I'm flirting with, having edited this site for more than four years, is that there might also be cultural factors at play within institutions. The vast majority of academics who write for The Interpreter are from the ANU, which seems to have a far more vibrant blogging culture than any other Australian university, at least when it comes to various specialties we might lump together under the term 'international policy' (New Mandala and East Asia Forum are but two examples). I don't know why, but blogging seems to have become normalised at the ANU in a way that hasn't happened at other Australian universities.

It may also be that Australian academics still need to be convinced of the benefits of engaging in public policy debate through blogs. They won't be first-order benefits like the points you receive on being published in a highly rated journal, but as Professor Roger Pielke Jr from the University of Colorado pointed out in his speech to the Lowy Institute last week, blogging has had a directly beneficial impact on his research: 

(Blogging) is a remarkably powerful tool for refining ideas, for collecting intelligence, for making contacts. I get routinely better feedback critique from ideas, arguments, I put out on my blog than I do in the peer review process...My book, The Climate Fix, is very much a product of the blogosphere, blogging on climate change, for a number of years.

Just to restate that, Pielke not only gets better feedback through his blog than through academic peer review, but the ideas he puts down on his blog help him to write books. Those ought to be powerful incentives for any academic.

Image courtesy of The Literary Gift Company.

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