Published online 22 January 2007 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news070122-2


Science blogger Bora Zivkovic

The editor of a new book, an anthology of science blogs, talks about how his blog saved his career in science.

Bora ZivkovicBora Zivkovic

Three years ago, Bora Zivkovic, a zoology graduate student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, was in a tough spot. Burnt out by years in research and losing motivation as he was writing his thesis, he left the lab. Instead, he took up political activism, posting on campaign blogs during the run-up to the 2004 US presidential elections.

Soon he was blogging on his own about politics, education and science, and has since become a prolific science blogger. He's also at the centre of an emerging community; he co-organized the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference, which took place on 20 January on the campus of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with about 170 people in attendance. He has also edited an anthology of science blog posts, The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2006, which came out last week.

Now, thanks to his frenetic blogging, he's rediscovered his love of doing science and is finishing his thesis. And through his connections with the science blogging world, he'll return to the lab as a postdoc later this year, working in a cancer lab run by a fellow blogger he met online.

During the conference, Zivkovic spoke with Nature Network Boston editor Corie Lok about his book, his blog and the state of science blogging.

Why did you do the book?

The idea actually came from the publisher. I realized it would be good to put together some of the best science blog articles in a format that's going to appeal to technophobes — people who've never read blogs before — so that they can see that there is good stuff out there, that blogs aren't just about adolescent angst written with bad grammar. Maybe this will prompt them to switch on the computer and read science blogs.

How have people reacted?

There has been a uniformly positive response to the book. I think there were about 50 blogs that have linked to it. We're definitely going to work on making this book an annual thing.

Why do you blog?

I'm addicted! My current blog is a fusion of the three blogs I had before: one was covering politics, one was on education and one on my area of science, which is circadian rhythms and sleep. What I did on my science blog was practically write a textbook, post by post. I got great feedback. My advisor teaches a class on biological clocks. Several of his students were my students from previous years. So when I had a few 'chapters' written — I call them clock tutorials — I told them, check out the blogs and tell me whether they were useful for your class. They told me that every week, they would go to my blog first to understand the general concepts, and then they would go to their notes for the details.

Are those some of your most popular posts, the educational ones?

Yes, they are very popular. My most popular post is called "Everything you ever wanted to know about sleep but were too afraid to ask." It starts out about the science of sleep and sleep timing and regulation. The second part is more of a social critique, about how we as a society treat sleep and how we treat people with different sleep patterns. And it also has some practical advice: what do you do if you have sleep problems. It was posted two years ago and I'm still getting traffic on it.

What do you get out of blogging?

For almost three years, I didn't write my dissertation. I recently went back to it and read it. Oh my God, how could I write like this? Such dry science-ese! I now write much better. Three years of writing a blog really improves your writing.

Has blogging changed the way you think about science?

I'm better now at critical evaluation of my own work and of other people's work than when I was in the lab constantly surrounded by scientists. I think the way some of the best science bloggers dissect papers taught me how to read papers better than anyone else in the department.

In another exercise I did, I went back to the papers I published in 1999, 2000, 2001 and rewrote them on my blog in a new voice, adding more context and talking about what has happened in the field in the meantime. It made me appreciate my own work more than I had done at the time it was published. It really hyped me up to get back to my dissertation. There are unanswered questions I want to ask in the lab. I have to get back to the lab.

Where do you see science blogging going in the future?

It's going to grow, especially with the younger generations who grew up online. The most popular science blogs now are the ones that delve into controversy, such as creationism and politics. I think there's going to be more and more science blogs that will stay away from that. They'll be more teaching blogs, blogs that popularize science and other types.

Do you think blogging will ever have the same impact in science as it does in politics?


One of the posts that's highlighted in the anthology is by a guy who had just started blogging maybe a month or two before. In a few blog posts, he got someone fired: a Bush appointee at NASA who lied on his resume and was censoring the climate scientists, preventing them from speaking out on global warming. So a small, unknown blogger, but he had connections. People picked up on his posts and each one of his posts has more than 200 comments. It was a big deal.

A number of people who were involved in the Dover [Pennsylvania] trial — the creationism trial — are bloggers. They honed their skills debunking creationists' claims online for several years. They were really great on the stand in Dover. That's a big impact.

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