Seth Roberts and academic blogging

I saw Seth Roberts briefly speak today (at an odd event) about self-experimentation. He tried drinking flavorless sugar water and it led him to lose lots of weight. He also did a great variety of other self-experiments over more than a decade, written up here (and IMHO the other ones are much more interesting).

I briefly spoke to him there and told him I heard about his work from Andrew Gelman’s blog. He seemed surprised to (semi-)randomly meet someone who reads it. I think this is mistaken — that particular blog seems quite popular in statistics/social science world. In fact, Gelman’s blogging of Roberts’ self-experimentation paper got picked up by the Freakonomics folks and it became a sensation and then a book deal. (Story.)

Also note, John Langford says of his own machine learning blog:

This blog currently receives about 3K unique visitors per day from about 13K unique sites per month. This number of visitors is large enough that it scares me somewhat—having several thousand people read a post is more attention than almost all papers published in academia get.

So true. Conclusion: blogs are a more effective medium for intellectual influence than journal articles.

(p.s. I wonder if free online journals will help fill the gap. E.g. PLOS or arXiv. Or in fields near and dear to Social Science++: theoretical economics, and judgment and decision-making … and hopefully others? At least computer scientists are always good about posting their papers online… this seems to be the trend for younger researchers in general.)

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5 Responses to Seth Roberts and academic blogging

  1. L2K says:

    I’m not sure I would jump to the conclusion that blogs are more important than papers. I read also, but there isn’t really that much content there. I wonder if he went into more detail, less people would read it. I’ve found the more technical my post, the less views I get.

  2. Brendan says:

    Maybe there’s a gap between fully substantive/technical writings and popular science writing or science journalism that academic blogs fulfill.

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