Blogging Bioarchaeology- when going public becomes a contentious issue

Earlier this week I read a post on the great These Bones of Mine blog, drawing attention to a paper in the American Journal of Human Biology, Engaging Bodies in the Public Imagination: Bioarchaeology as Social Science, Science, and Humanities¹. In this paper, W. Duncan and C. Stojanowski highlighted the disconnection “between bioarchaeology’s traditional research emphases, emerging research foci, and findings that actually spark the public imagination.”. So far, a fair enough and important argument- we all know (or should be aware) that more and more voices raise the issue of public engagement and the public role of  scientists in the contemporary world. Of course, as we also know all too well, this is easier said than done, as being in academia puts you under certain constrains: you need to write for a specific audience, and comply to a certain format and (often dry) language  in order to progress in your career  (in this line see 2 spot on pieces, one in The New Yorker: Why Is Academic Writing So Academic?  and the other in The New York Times, Bridging the Moat Around Universities ).

However, the way the argument of this article went (rightly) upset quite a few bloggers. To name just a few, Powered by Osteons for starters, and These Bones of Mine. The authors of the paper claimed not only that blogging is not enough to reach your audience, but that it’s designed mainly for an academic one. Though this may be the case for my blog (even though I am trying to avoid that), it is definitely not the case for the above mentioned ones (quoted in the article as well).

You can read more about the “against arguments” here , but in short the analysis was not quite right because it underestimated the impact that blogging has. In fact, blogs such as Powered by Osteons, These Bones of Mine, Bones Don’t Lie or Deathsplanation (to name only my favourites) hit several dozen thousand views a year/a post, their work is being picked up by the media (CNN, BBC etc.) or Wikipedia, they receive e-mails from the readers and some have even advised for TV shows. Therefore, I support my (blogging) colleagues in their reaction toward this journal article and strongly think that blogging can be a great way for turning our discipline in a public endeavour.

Last but not least, I recommend a great overview of the topic of blogging in Bioarchaeology, with examples, limitations and perspectives, written by Katy Meyers (from Bones Don’t Lie) and Kristina Killgrove (from Powered by Osteons) in the SAS Bulletin (spring 2014 issue), which can be read here.

¹The open accessibly article of Stojanowski, C. & Duncan, W. 2014. Engaging bodies in the public imagination: Bioarchaeology as social science, science, and humanities. American Journal of Human Biology. In Press. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22522. can be read here.


5 thoughts on “Blogging Bioarchaeology- when going public becomes a contentious issue

    • There are not too many instances in which blogging archaeology (or any other social media as a matter of fact) hit the “serious” journal articles. Also, despite the flaws of the paper’s analysis, the good that came out of this is this reaction of yours and Kristina’s (and maybe others too?) and the “”dialogue” between a printed piece in traditional media and the on-line community. I wished only that this situation became known a little better, as I think it is a very relevant topic for debate.

      • I have to say I have never really thought about it in those terms per se (I’ve been run off my feet recently with work!). I have to say I fully agree, perhaps this deserves a more in depth response at some point, especially the interaction between print and new social media. There is little point in battling between each other, when we have so much offer one another! Shame it isn’t (or rather wasn’t) a real dialogue, but we can certainly hope for the future. My response was rather quick and curt, I am honoured to be mentioned in a journal article at all, but I do agree that perhaps their analysis lacked somewhat.

  1. Pingback: Blogging Archaeology: the gap between “serious” academic work and blogging | Bodies and academia

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