Friday, December 02, 2005

Metablogging and the Culture of Sharing

I've been thinking about this whole setting up the dissertation blog thing, not a lot, but thinking. I'm planning to begin writing the proposal up this weekend. If I start a blog, I would write the dissertation in the blog. I would not use it to distract myself from the actual writing though I might, in addition to writing the actual dissertation, add notes or less organized thoughts.

In thinking about writing the actual dissertation in blog format and sharing it with the world, I was reflecting on this whole concept of sharing as it relates to the internet. When I gave my first talk on science blogs to a group of scientists at my school, the issue of blogging about research came up. I had mostly focused on scientists blogging about issues in the news--intelligent design and peak oil--to provide the scientific background that is often lacking in the news reports. Some suggested that blogging research might be an interesting way to collaborate. I said, yes, that sounds like a great idea and I started to get excited. But then, someone raised the issue of getting scooped. One woman was working on a new molecule structure and she said, what if I write about my progress and it gives someone an edge over me and they don't give me credit. And further, what if that keeps me from getting tenure.

Similarly, someone else in a completely different context, was also worried about being scooped. He said he closely tied his research and his teaching. If he made his research work publicly availabe and thus, available to students, he might get scooped and then where would he be. Yet, the issue of needing to share resources continues to come up as budgets and staff are slashed.

It seems to me that the whole tenure process mitigates against this kind of sharing. Academics in many fields seem reluctant to share because of what's at stake if someone steals their work. Copyright might protect them, but pursuing a copyright case doesn't help you get tenure.

I admit that I worried about this a little myself. What if someone does steal my work? What ramifications would that have for getting my degree? For me, however, I think my squeamishness comes from a different place. There aren't a lot of hard lines in my life. What you see here on this blog is pretty much what you get. But I do try to polish my more professional work and frankly, I'm a little embarrassed to put it out there in its unpolished form. What if my ideas stink? What if my writing sucks? Will my blog friends still love me? It's one thing to think out loud here about politics, my life and my work. It's quite another to try to write seriously about something that I know others have more expertise in. Seriously, these things are going through my head. Ironically, I spent years in creative writing programs where I basically bared my soul to my classmates and that did not bother me that much, even when some criticism got particularly vicious. I think I felt pretty confident in my writing ability. I wasn't the best by any means, but I enjoyed writing and wanted to improve so I withstood the criticism.

For some reason, I cannot muster up the same confidence with my academic writing. There's that erudite air about academic writing, all the jargon, the big words, the references to people I've only heard of in passing, that makes me feel like I'll never measure up. I can't spew forth all of that. Somehow I have to find a way to write academically and still be me, Geeky Mom.

I'm going to do it, start the dissertation blog, because I feel like I need to get over this squeamishness. If someone scoops me, so be it. Maybe I get the EFF to represent me. If I'm embarrassed, so be it. My goal is not the write the greatest dissertation ever, but just to write it. And I would love to have my blog friends there to give me feedback if they so choose. And I believe in the culture of sharing. Isn't that what we tell our kids all the time? Share. I want to support sharing and open access to information and all that goes with it. And yes, it's kind of scary. But it's kind of exciting too.