Field of Science

Accretionary Wedge #26: The role of the Geoblogosphere

Prologue: Deep in the forest a man sitting on a large stone heard a voice. “Do you want to hear a story?” The man looked up, and wondered, because nobody was there. “Do you want to hear a story?” repeated the voice. Then the man realized that the voice was coming from the stone, where he was sitting on. “What are stories?” questioned the man. “Stories happened long time ago, my stories are like stars, they never fade away.” And then the stone narrated one story after another, until the sun reached the horizon. ”Enough for today, come tomorrow, and take with you the other people of your village.” The next day, they came, and again the stone narrated stories until sunset.” This are all my stories, remember them, and tell them to your children, so they can tell them to their children and so on.” So all stories of humankind came into being."
Legend of the Seneca-Indians (Toronto, Canada)

Just approximately a month ago, after a post about some impressions of the French Auvergne and research on the (maybe) extinct volcanoes, I was contacted by Dr. Michael Welland, and after some additional e-mails the idea for this month topic of the Accretionary Wedge was born.

“The Geoblogosphere comprises and gathers ever
y day the newest articles from more then 200 blogs (and still counting) dealing with the most various earth related themes, ranging from geological excursions, sharing field experiences, philosophizing about earth sciences, life and art, media coverage and daily rock encounters to discussion of the newest scientific discoveries on this planet and others.
So philosophizing a
round (geo)blogging with Dr. Welland many questions raised: - like how bloggeology can “impact” society and “real geology,” should and can we promote the “geoblogosphere,” and are blogs private “business” or public affairs, and institutions underevaluating the possibilities given by this new method of communication?"

"Taking the liberty of p
araphrasing, I interpret this to be asking what role the geoblogosphere should play going forward. Should it have a role in disseminating research? Should geoblogging be factored into academic- or business- employees’ evaluations? Can, and how should, the expertise and enthusiasm of geobloggers be harnessed to effectively reach and educate the broader public? In short (again, as I interpret the issue), what do you see as the purpose of geoblogging and the geoblogosphere?”

It happens by changes that the
decision to choose such a topic and the Blog exodus by Sb coincide, but nevertheless it shows how actual such considerations are (you can also affirm that there are no such things as coincidences).

The topic was formulated a b
it vaguely and general (in part deliberate, in part as necessity), nevertheless the blogs that responded to the call were a lot and the answers to the raised questions were various and very informative.

Most bloggers
have subdivided the response into various "points", dealing with different aspects of blogging and its impact on personal and public life. Many discussed aspects that are emerging are very similar, confirming that even if blogs are as various as are the authors behind them, there is a common theme that joins (I’m not referring only to links) together bloggers.

So to not repeat myself to much, and also to invite the reader to visit the original posts, I choose from every post one poin
t to discuss. These points shared and valued by all (geo)bloggers in a certain manner represent the “principles of geoblogeology” - in a certain manner define a science blog and it’s role in one’s personal and public daily life.

Maitri from "MAITRI'S VATULBLOG" presents a very im
portant aspect of blogging about geological and (as important) non-geological themes that to easily will be taken for granted: That we even can blog and (sometimes) nag around on the most various themes. To preserve this freedom we should not try to achieve a monitored “only geoblogs sphere”, but enforce to be a community (also in the Sb case many bloggers criticized the failures in this aspect and the top-down management):

“What is the geoblogosphere? Blogging is an extremely democratic medium in that anyone can have a blog and write on any t
opic of their choosing sans an editor(ial board), a publisher and a significant budget. A blogger doesn’t need the validation of a group of peers as long as he or she has studied the topic, has credibility in the area and is open to discuss and debate any claims made in the blog at hand. The democracy of blogs is furthered in that consumers, for the most part, do not have to penetrate a group or buy into a subscription in order to gain information on any given subject. Therefore, in my mind, the ideal geoblogosphere is not about circling (sphering) the blog wagons and creating an echo chamber in which only the bloggers largely recognize and understand one another. In fact, it’s not about a sphere at all. A conscientious community of online geoscientists understands that geology must be accessible to all and in as many ways and forms as possible.”

alking about blogs as democratic tools it’s appropriate also to consider the personal component of blogs. Silver Fox from "Looking For Detachment" emphasises the role that blogging can have in promoting or accommodating personal curiosity and raise interest on topics often neglected by the mainstream media, like the role of woman in geosciences:

“First off, when I speak of the Ge
oblogosphere, I include geologists, geophysicists, and other geoscientists who are blogging. Some of the bloggers in this larger Geoblogospheric group don't always blog about geology or geosciences, some do all or most of the time, some do occasionally to even rarely. This wide range of types of blogging — informal, formal, science-related, more personal — is really one of the things I like and enjoy about the Geoblogosphere as it is today and as it has been over the past couple-few years that I've been reading and blogging. I personally derive value from reading from a wide range of topics, and also in knowing — and sometimes even meeting — bloggers from many backgrounds, regions, and countries. For good summaries of geoblogging and the geoblogosphere see Active Margin, Clastic Detritus and Research at a Snail's Pace. I would also like to point out that Kim Hannula, Anne Jefferson, Suzanne Franks, and Pat Campbell studied women-in-science blogs (this blog is part of the Geoblogosphere and is also one of the many women-in-science blogs), and found that a diversity of blog types and topics is valuable to women. Their results were presented as a paper at the 2009 GSA Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon, and are reported online here.”

Addendum (06.08.2010): Filipe M. Rosas as "The Lisbon Structural Geologist" describes the feeling to have discovered:

"A world where one can find Earth-scientists from many different countries, motivated by their passion for what they do geo-related, regardless if it is geochemistry, volcanology, sedimentology, structural geology, seismology, or whatever more."

Pascal from "Research at a snail's pace" summarizes the motivation behind maintaining a blog in a simple way “If I want to read a good post, I act
ually wrote one”. He emphasizes the online presence as a possibility of the specialist to propose ideas and come in touch with other specialists (because even Google is not all-knowing):

hen I started my PhD, I did like any turn-of-the-century grad student did. I searched "teh google" for topics related to my research topic. Not finding much about them on the general web, I though - if I was looking for stuff and didn't find much, I bet there might be at least one other person who's doing the same thing (finding nothing on the internet). Good general information web content often links to the more scholarly work that it was based from. And so, I started blogging so that others might stumble upon my interests and point me in the direction of useful information/people or I may help others find said information/people.

Ian G. Stimp
son from "Hypo-theses" proposes to combine the fun with the useful, the fun to write a entry for his own blog, but also the fun of a reader who came across the Blog:

“Just because I blog for fun, doesn’t mean that I, or any one else can’t make an impact on society. There are two current geoblog themes that have great
potential for impact on society. The first is Dave Petley’s remote monitoring of the dam breach at Attabad, which appears to be the main means by which technical information is getting to the general affected population. The other is Garry Hayes’ crusade to stop lawyers in California allegedly starting a lucrative litigation gravy train by sneaking a defenestration of serpentine’s status as state rock into a bill on compost. I do hope Garry succeeds, but even if he and others don’t they will have contributed to society in increasing public understanding and awareness of geology.”

Addendum (05.08.2010): Ole Nielsen from "olelog What on earth" agrees with Hypo-theses, and considers the various write-up and references done by various geobloggers of other geobloggers..mmhhh.

Regarding this particular principle, I have to post the commentary of Lockwood from "Outside the Interzone":

“My goal at the outset was to share things I found interesting or amusing, and t
here’s a lot of geology that fits that description. I have kind of hoped that people who visit my blog for the comics stumble across the geology, and to an extent, that has been the case. I agree that there’s a risk of becoming exclusionary, but I’m not seeing evidence that that is happening in the geoblogosphere broadly.”

Of course the
only true answer is 42… no wait, it’s the common interest that joins blog authors, commenter, reader and visitors, and it’s Geology, as Lockwood states in his "official" contribution:

“All that said, why should I even bothe
r trying to address the admittedly nebulous question? Geology is important. And it's woefully undervalued and ignored in our society. When I created this blog, it was mostly for my own entertainment; an online archive, scrapbook, what have you, of things that captured my attention for a while. As it turns out, about 3 in 20 of those things are geology related. That's certainly a higher ratio than it would be for a typical person. I think I came to geology for the beauty and stayed for the awesome- and I mean awesome in the old, now somewhat archaic, sense of conferring a sense of awe. Of being somewhat paralyzed by the spectacle, by the connections, by the implications of something I've learned or seen. Even a little fearful, perhaps. As regular readers know, I'm quite fearful for the fate of our species in light of what we know of the past, and what our collective decision making is like in the present. The earth, and some fraction of its biota, will abide. Humanity, if it cannot learn from its environment, will not.”

GeoGirl from "Eat. Sleep. Geology" is fascinated
by the technology and the connection possibilities of such various elements and platforms to form a complicated system that is the geosphere. Isn't it a little like earth - with his infinite relationships between litho-, hydro-, atmo- and biosphere?

“So w
hat constitutes the geoblogosphere? I define it as the collective geoscience communication network developed via various internet-based utilities, be they formal blogs, social micro-blogs such as Twitter or Facebook, or other academia, industry, or research-based websites. Just as the many specialties in geology diverge and converge, so do the ways in which geology can be communicated. Members of the geoblogosphere constitute individuals - professionals, students, interested non-professionals, educators, policy makers - as well as corporations, government entities, industry societies, and research groups.”

Ron Schott, the father of the Geoblogosphere, combines with his "Ron Schott's Geology Home Companion Blog" geological education with one of the most impressive visualizing technology in the internet - the GigaPan. It's an excellent example how photo skills and improved soft- /hardware use can expand the possibilities of students to learn, and teachers to show geological places and phenomena otherwise inaccessible for the rest of us.

“The internet has revolutionized communicati
ons and it is disrupting many established institutions. Is there a place in this revolution for geologists? Is the science of geology susceptible to these disruptions? If so, don’t you want to be ahead of the changes rather than lagging behind? In the midst of the revolution, are there opportunities to advance the subject of geology that weren’t possible before? These questions have a scope that extends well beyond geoblogging, but I think there is just a thin layer of alluvium between this month’s Accretionary Wedge and these bedrock issues.”

All bloggers, as I see, do agree that even if blogs are not the medium to present in every detail ongoing research or to publish results
, they are at least a possibility to reach in an easy way a lot of people, from the specialist to the layman, and to discuss science in an informal gathering. Brian Romans from "Clastic Detritus" shares his very positive experience, but also the comments focuses on a negative aspect - writing and publishing post is time consuming work, not every researcher can afford or is willing to invest time and energy in a project with insecure results:

“Blogs shouldn’t replace publi
shing in peer-reviewed journals. But I do think that blogs can be a great venue for discussing research that has been published in a journal. I think that has been successful in highlighting at least one pathway towards future online interaction related to published work. While the journals themselves could host online discussions related to a specific paper they publish, this model seems like it might be quite cumbersome for the journals I read.”

Considering blogs and g
eneral journalism, and also the media presence of public institutions, there is often a sort of aversion, Michael Welland from "Trough the Sandglass" briefly considers the relationships between blogs and journalism (Michael promised to deepen in the topic after he is back from Sand Francisco):

“There is, after all, much discussion (much of it vacuous) about the role of the blogosphere, and I've been doing a
little probing around some of the (non-vacuous) examples of this. One of the "debates" is whether blogging is journalism - in my view, this question, as such, doesn't mean much since both blogging and journalism cover such a multitude of sins. But the question is interesting in terms of the relationship between blogging and journalism, within which lies a possible future vector for the responsible blogosphere. Read, for example, the piece (and the comments) on the BBC College of Journalism blog, titled "Blogs are not real journalism."

I also would emphasize this comment by Jules on the
post, which I find very promising:

“As a layman with a fervent interest in the physic
al and biological sciences, I greatly appreciate the knowledge and time that professional scientists like Michael and others put into their blogs. Whether it is called journalism or not, the point is that these efforts are communicating diverse facts and insights usually from people with real expertise inside their respective scientific disciplines. This is part of the beauty of the internet which has provided the explosion of information at our fingertips. I often find additional information to explore from the commenters also who provide feedback and additional insight that the bloggers may have not considered or were aware of.”

I myself on "History of Geology" rambled around the speed of communication
that different systems can offer, and it is clear from a short historic review that blogs are one of the most fastest until now, and also sometimes they can provide in real-time corrections of misleading general media news:

“New and fast data lines have trigg
ered an unprecedented interactivity, most sites include text, images, animations and videos, also the common WYSIWG -editors enable even noobs like me to create quick and cheap an online presence in form of a Blog and related posts. The online blogs, the motivation behind it and the scientific "quality" are as diverse as diverse are the blogger personalities. Nevertheless most science dedicated posts are of significant quality, often more technical than you might read in a common newspaper and mainstream media (MSM).”

Julia on her "Stages of succession" reflects on the educational purpose and the insights in
the scientific method that blogs can offer, not only for the common “googler”, but also for the student, and also (we often forget about that) the educator:

“Firstly, it's a resource for me. Sometimes I find myself teaching outside my comfort zone. I'm very happy teaching anatomy and physiology, and ecstatic teaching ecology and evolution. But
there are aspects of climate change, soil science and plate tectonics where sometimes it's nice to have a refresher. Just after Easter, when many of my students were stuck overseas due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, I was able to get maps, diagrams and some awesome images via the geoblogosphere (especially these awesome sunset photos from Highly Allochthonous) to show the students and explain a bit about why there was a volcano in the middle of Iceland.”

Jessica Ball (AKA Tuff Cookie) from "Magma Cum Laude" offers us for FREE an entire post!
Joke aside, I think It’s an important consideration that not all of us have the possibility to access peer reviewed literature, posts on a scientific problem or discussion and presentation of the contents of a paper (in the limits of copyright of course) by a dedicated blo
gger can provide a legal access to the information’s in it and give students, interested people and educators access to the material:

“The geoblogosphere is a fantastic way for a person who doesn't have access t
o continuing education, or who never had an opportunity to take a geology class in high school or college, to learn a little bit about the Earth. Not only do they get to read what we as geologists find interesting, but they can ask us to talk about what they find interesting - through emails, comments, requests for posts, etc. It's a step toward breaking down the idea that scientists are somehow elitist and removed from society. I don't want people to think of us like that; we're not from another planet, after all, even if we sometimes study them.”

Earth history is a wonderful and very, very, very long tale finds Garry Hayes on "Geotripper", and what begun around a campfire will adapt to the technological development and proceed around the digital fireplace. Methods change, but the idea of context of stories to explain the world not:

“Geologists are story-tellers. Sometimes those stories take the form of peer-reviewed research, sometimes it is in the form of a classroom lecture, and sometimes it is
a story told around a campfire, or over a round of beers. The geoblogosphere is a wonderful new forum for geologists and teachers to tell their stories.”

Can blogs have immediate effects not only by educating and providing slowly but steadily scie
nce, but actually by calling for action now? YES says Jim Repka from "Active Margin" and he calls for Activism by presenting a long list of wrongdoing of politicians and decision makers that were gathered, compiled and debunked by (you guessed it) various other bloggers:

“Last year Kim at All My Faults was a prime mover in promoting the highly successful Donors Choose/Giving Kids the Earth program. This week Jessica at Tuff Cookie is promoting the International Volcano Monitoring Fund (please give, if only to spite Bobby Jindal). Out here in the west, the big (non-budget related) story has been the attempt to strip serpentine of its designation as California’s state rock. Among those trying to make sure that politicians make decisions based on solid science are Garry Hayes, Andrew Alden, Brian Romans (also @perrykid and @cbdawson in the twitterverse). It remains to be seen whether we win this, but this previously ignored bill is now drawing attention of major media outlets across the state as well as inside and outside the country, and supporting editorials in major newspapers.”

The joined effort of Anne Jefferson and Chris - the "Highly Allochthonous" bloggers- focuses on the community and it’s grow beyond a simple collection of geological facts. Like in real live the key is diversity, adaption and evolution.

“But, as Geo Girl goes on to say, “the value of the geoblogosphere is greatly unrealized by those who are not a part of it.” One way to share the value of the geoblogosphere is to proselytize to anyone will listen about how their life would be so much richer if they just took up twitter and blogging….but I don’t think that’s necessarily the most effective way to expand our reach. Instead, I see ways that we can expand what we are doing, to make our community bolder, more inclusive, and more outwardly focused. Building that sort of community allows us not just to provide camaraderie and support for one another, but also to act as agents of change beyond the borders of the internet.”

Even if geology and earth-related blogs are a minority compared to other fields of research (consider biology), the number of blogs with geo-related content grows steadily, so there is the danger that “smaller” blogs get “lost” or overlooked.
Even if aggregators can help, to promote good posts an important factor is still the cross-linking by the single bloggers inside the community and sometimes the resulting friendships between them:

“Now, things are substantially different. Now there must be considerably more than a hundred active geology blogs in the allgeo feed, and their combined output has turned it into a bit of a firehose, which is itself only a fraction of the wider geoblogosphere. While it’s wonderful that new voices are continually being added to geological conversations online, I worry that perhaps they are getting a little lost in the background chatter, and not getting the attention and encouragement that they need, and deserve. It’s a good problem to be grappling with, but it is a problem nonetheless.“


Wow, that was an intense Accretionary Wedge, I’ m overwhelmed by the thoughts that bloggers from around earth brought to our attention - thank you for sharing you posts and blogs !
The call of the Accretionary Wedge itself proves many presented considerations, to an anonymous post on a obscure blog people all over the planet responded, presented they ideas to discuss in the public, willingly to teach, but also to learn.

They all agree that blogs are a simply, but useful additional, not exclusive, free tool to have fun and share news or ideas. Sometimes blogs can have an impact on his personal live by bringing people in contact; sometimes they have an impact in the public by promoting good science or debunking incorrect political decisions. There are not such things as “strictly geoblogs”, and the proposed principles will improve every kind of online presentation, without (to much) publicizing it, because a good post will find his interested readers.

We should not forget that when referring to blogs, we are only referring to a tool, and it depends from the author, so from us, what we make of these tools.

And what about the future of (geo)blogging ? I like to copy-past – äh… cite the concluding remarks of Lockwood as one of the host of the original AW-blog:

“In short, as with the diversity of life, I think the diversity of geobloggers will surprise and delight me by their unpredictability. They will surpass my imagination. Some will be astonishing successes, some, sadly, will not. As I said earlier, I suspect the majority of us do this with free-choice learning at least in the back of our minds, but let's be honest: the main reason is that we love this stuff, and we think others should too. That they don't can only be due to a lack of opportunity, in our minds.”

Or, the abstract version by Silver Fox: "Into the future!"

Regarding the future, remember that the Accretionary Wedge is always on the scout for hosts – if YOU are interested to host the future (maybe even the August) AW simply post a reply on –where else- the Accretionary Wedge blog.

P.S. (18.08.2010) There is an intense discussion and project development ongoing on the role that blogs can have between Society and Geology:

The dawn of Scientopia and the evolving science blogging ecosystem

Podcast: Current Issues in the Geoblogosphere – Episode #1


  1. Awesome Wedge and write-up! Love the jokes, too.

  2. This is a great one! So much to digest. As I commented on the AW announcement, I think this is likely to trigger quite a bit of on-going discussion. Thanks for the great topic and the terrific write-up!

  3. Excellent, exhaustive (and probably exhausting) writeup! I can't wait to read all of the individual posts in their entirety. Let's not lose the momentum on discussing and realizing some of these topics! For instance, how can we increase the outreach of geoblogs to schools and universities to attract and retain the science-minded folk and geologists of tomorrow?

  4. very nice, thanks so much for hosting and putting the work into this summary

  5. Wow. Impressive write-up. Lots to read about. Good thing it's the weekend.

  6. Thanks for putting this together. I do not have a blog but I really enjoy looking at the blogs out there, especially the ones on geology. Geology has always been my favorite subject but due to life circumstances I got away from it. The geoblogs make me feel like I'm connected to it again. They remind me of the times we would go on field trips and toss ideas around as to what we were seeing. We knew no one idea was totally correct but that it would change with time. Its nice to see how the ideas are evolving.


  7. A great write-up of a fascinating Wedge. Thanks for putting it together.

    It's interesting, really, that this carnival is itself one of the things that makes the geoblogosphere unique - I don't know any other examples of themed carnivals, and it's a great way of showcasing the number of thoughtful individuals who contribute to our online community.

  8. I came across of this scienceblog community (in part someLazarus-blogs of the great Sb-event) , there are some complains that geobloggers are unwilling to join, I´m not sure what to make of it, but maybe for somebody it´s an interesting to know about it.


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