Does the World Really Need Another Blog Anthology?

In addition to helping judge this year's Open Laboratory science blogging anthology, I'm also the production editor (i.e., typesetting jockey). So as I go through, reading the entries in much greater detail than I ever would otherwise, I'm noticing a couple of things:

  1. All of the pieces are either about biology, or professional "life in science" stuff. Geology is represented this year by Kim's piece and my own, and is actually in good shape relative to physics and chemistry. But that's not saying much - the volume as a whole is very life-centric.
  2. Some of the pieces, um, I'm not sure what the other judges were thinking. What was useful and delightful in the ephemeral and hyperlinked medium of a blog will be faintly puzzling in print.

Maybe my brain is just myelinating into maturity, or maybe I've been hanging out with too many industrious go-getter friends... but my thoughts have turned to solving the problem, instead of just complaining about it.

And by "solving", I mean putting together a splinter group an anthology of the best of the geoblogosphere.

On a scale of dumb projects to crazy schemes, putting together a self-published blog anthology is eleventy-stupid. It is a doable amount of work for an unemployed person, but even so, it is way too much work for a vanity project. After all, an order of magnitude more people read The Igneous Petrology of Ice Cream when it was linked to on BoingBoing than will read it in The Open Laboratory, and I didn't have to do the extra work of editing for print. A rational person would use the time and energy it would take to anthologize to write more great blog entries (and a really rational person would probably quit blogging and submit those great pieces to magazines).

But writing - even science writing - is not driven by rational impulse. Until Open Lab is out of my hands, I won't be able to stop thinking about how I would pick and choose from the wealth of the geoblogosphere. The fact that this is likely to remain a fantasy project - on the same dusty mental shelf as that Did You Feel It? Facebook application, a couple of ideas for new blogs, and at least half a dozen quilts - is quite irrelevant.

My fantasy volume would make ideal optional supplementary reading for "Rocks for Jocks", with enough unique perspectives that at least one entry would be sure to hook any curious mind. I think the marketing buzzword is "relatable". I do not know if I have the l33t editing skillz required to pull off a collection of relatable geoscience blogging... but if such a collection were priced at $15-$20 for a 300 page trade paperback, would you buy it?

What would your fantasy anthology look like?

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What the world really needs is an anthology anthology.

By Trin Tragula (not verified) on 26 Jan 2009 #permalink

I would definitely buy it ... I think it's a great idea. I can contribute to helping in some way (definitely not technically since I don't even know what "i33t editing" even is).

My own entry in OpenLab turned out to be about mathematical tools from physics being applied to biology (neuroscience, specifically). I'm not sure whether that helps or hurts.

Last year, I was actually involved in judging entries, and somewhere in the various e-mail discussions we judges had about the project, I suggested doing a more narrowly focused anthology as part of the series. I'd seen a few good physics posts which I thought could fit in The Year's Best Physical Science Blogging, even though we'd never find room for them in an anthology intended to span the sciences. Like most of the ideas I propose, it went nowhere.

Speaking just for myself, I'd be more likely to buy an anthology of intermediate scope than one drawing solely upon the geoblogosphere. I'd like to see a few posts on astronomy, some on chemistry, a handful on physics, a nice showing from the geologists, notable contributions from the mathematicians. . . . But that's just my inclination.

What about an Accretionary Wedge where the geobloggers pick one of their own "favorite" blog entries, and one "favorite" that they saw elsewhere? That might give you a good resource to start from. Buying the book? I might, [ego warning:)] especially if one of my blogposts was in it!)

I would definitely buy something like that. It should, of course, at least partially be ran on submissions, much like the Open Laboratory is. I also think it could include material from related fields to provide some balance (e.g. blog posts on paleontology and planetary astronomy). Such a task could probably get bloggers motivated to write some serious science posts, or at least go digging through their archives for older ones.

By Thomas M. (not verified) on 26 Jan 2009 #permalink

Would I buy it? Maybe, if only for the "OMG I KNOW THOSE PEOPLE" factor. Would I assign it in Rocks for Jocks? Hmmmm.

On the one hand, I have assigned John McPhee in intro geology classes, and I've sometimes wished that there were shorter essays available about a wider range of topics. So... maybe. But I think it would take a lot of work to turn typical geoblogosphere posts into essays that my students would read (and, more importantly, get excited about). (And I wouldn't assign my students to read anything that included my own writing. I prefer for students to get someone else's perspective from their readings.)

On the other hand, I'm considering asking my upper level interdisciplinary class to read appropriate blogs. (In their case, Dave's Landslide Blog - the class involves case studies of humans dealing with natural disasters, and I'm thinking of using landslides as one of the big topics this summer.)

The real issue here is: what would be the purpose? As I understand it, part of the rationale for OpenLab is as an advertisement of - and an encouragement to dip into - the science blogosphere, which might explain some of the more whimsical post selections. In some ways it's not meant as a standalone, it's an enticement. I have no idea how effective it is, of course.

We could do that, but I quite like the idea of doing something a bit different - definite, standalone articles that explain a fundamental concept of your field, or a classic field area/study, or an aspect of geological thinking, simply and well. There's a fair number of potential candidates I can think of already, although some might require a bit of work. I can see something like that having real, stand-alone value.

If it was going that way, I'd be prepared to offer my proof-reading and editorial mojo, such as it is.

On second thought... why make students buy something that they can read online for free? (The advantage to a collection is that I wouldn't have to search for posts myself, I guess. But assigning individual blog posts would make it possible to have students read about recent events, like the Chaiten eruption or about arguments in the mainstream media. I think that, if I were going to have students read blogs, I would ask them to read blogs, not a book.)

I think the purpose I had in mind was more along the lines of an advertisement for geology as a field - not in the sense of recruiting students into geology as a major or profession, but more... creating a fan base. Why I think it would be remotely feasible to market a self-published book to people who are not already fans of geology, I have no idea.

Maybe the purpose would really just be to express my vision of what physical/geo science blogs could/should be doing.

Anyway, I would not be interested in an effort to create a serious introductory text (unless someone can make the project pay a living wage). We would reach more people by spending that energy on improving Wikipedia.

Kim, I would be very interested in hearing more about what kinds of essays your intro students would find interesting.

I haven't made intro students read outside the textbook in a long time, and I'm not teaching the intro class this semester, which means I can't throw out random ideas during field trips and see what they would like. But from past discussions, I would say that different things connect with different students. Some like the X-games version of geology... EXTREME SCIENCE!!!1!! (With snow, if possible.) Some like food. (I considered assigning "The Igneous Petrology of Ice Cream" last semester.) Some like stories about weird stuff, like eating pieces of clams from vent communities and finding out they taste disgusting. Some like connections with places that they know.

You know, I've never asked a class what they read for fun. That would be worth knowing.

The appeal problem that I see is that my favorite geoblogs are ones which explain normal life in terms of geologic processes that only geologists understand. An anthology of such 'essays' would only appeal to people who already think like geologists. You might sell it at a bumper sticker stall in GSA, but it wouldn't do much for recruitment.

A really interesting idea and discussion! I'm very much with your comment, Maria, about an "advertisement for geology" and your comments, Chris. The purpose of the book should be carefully thought through - it should not be for the geoblogosphere, but rather from the geoblogosphere to the (growing) fan base. After all, the reason that we all do this is our enthusiasm for geology and the excitement of the science - and its relationship with everyday lives and global issues. Enthusiasm and excitement are not things that often come through when science is reported and so perhaps this would be an opportunity to advertise and stimulate - with a focus on how geology and geologists work rather than the scientific results themselves.

This is The International Year of Planet Earth - perhaps a celebration of geology harnessing the creativity of the geoblogosphere would actually have wide appeal and might even find a publisher! Having just been involved myself in the mysterious waters of "popular science" publishing, I do believe that there are fans out there - and potentially more. Or then again, perhaps I'm raving optimistically.

Outside reading can be quite useful. Especially if the textbook omits or has a horrible treatment of something. I used this for part of a discussion of waves and differential equations and Doppler effect last semester. The math wasn't quite so clear, but the visual made a huge difference. And the writing ain't so bad neither.

More on topic, yeah, bummer there wasn't more variety. But then, some of the best is being used as plugs for other people's books. Like Chad Orzel's upcoming one.