December 30, 2013

Blogging (Bio)Archaeology: Good, Bad, Ugly

I am slow to join Doug Rocks-Macqueen's excellent blog carnival/SAA session on Blogging Archaeology due to maternity leave, but I wanted to jump in and answer December's prompt before the year is out. Doug asks us this month to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly about blogging. Having written a blog for over a decade (although PbO in its current incarnation is only about three years old), I can honestly say that the positives far outweigh the negatives. So let's start with them...

The Good

The most immediate and lucrative rewards for me have been related to my job. But first, a bit about how this blog began... Although I've been using social media as a platform for my ideas for many years, Powered by Osteons really took off with my "Gay Caveman! ZOMFG!" post in spring of 2011. This post was linked to by John Hawks and was StumbledUpon, tweeted, and Facebooked. As a result, I got a call from CNN seeking a comment for a news story. I was terrified--it was the first time anyone had been interested in my professional opinion (outside of peer review), and I freaked out a bit, dipping into my impostor syndrome fears, but ultimately gave the interview. This minor celebrity happened to fall right before the national physical anthropology meetings, so suddenly people knew my name and started introducing themselves. That's when I decided to keep up the momentum, writing new posts accessible by the public, giving interviews to trusted science reporters, and reviewing Bones to capture another audience.

Without belaboring the point, this sort of notoriety has greatly helped my job. Interest in my posts has generated interest in my publications, and vice versa. Several of my posts here have been cited in peer-reviewed publications, which tells me my colleagues find value in my blogging. My version of outreach is appreciated by my university, which has a large public archaeology program. Social media has even led directly to benefits such as: inclusion in Open Lab (which I plan to count as a publication for tenure purposes), a position writing for Science Uncovered, trips to several countries and US cities to give public talks about my work, research money through crowdfunding, good relationships with science journalists willing to cover my research, and the creation of a social-professional network that cross-cuts various academic disciplines.

The Bad

I see two main negatives to blogging, but I have not yet experienced them myself. First, putting energy into a blog may detract from the time one could put into writing an article or a grant proposal. Professors at research universities, therefore, may not benefit from blogging pre-tenure. In my case, since I am at a regional university with no PhD program, the expectations for tenure rest nearly equally on research, teaching, and service. I am making the case that PbO is primarily service, but inclusion in Open Lab this year also means I'll argue it's a publication venue. The second possible drawback to blogging (and to contributing to any public social media platform) is that you open yourself up to personal criticism, which could affect your job. For this reason, I have a fairly well-crafted blog/Twitter/G+ persona (for lack of a better word) and only write about and comment on topics I feel I can defend. Sometimes the personal spills over into the professional on social media, as it does in real life, but I am generally wary of using a public platform to discuss anything other than superficial aspects of my life.

The Ugly

That said, I am worried about the uglier aspects of use and abuse of social media.  Just the other day, the Board of Regents at the University of Kansas severely curtailed the ability of its professors to use social media to speak their minds. This seems to have been in response to a particularly caustic and tasteless tweet a UK professor fired off in September. That is not the way I use social media (for this very reason), but I don't want to lose my job simply because I blog. What if my post on crucifixion is deemed controversial? Or my criticisms of maternity leave in this country irritate my university administration? I try to use social media as a professional, but I also blog without regard to the fact that I don't have tenure. I stand by my blogging and other outreach endeavors, and I'm not interested in living in fear of professional repercussions.

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I'm looking forward to next month's prompt, and to being a little more coherent when I'm back at work and not typing in the dark while my three-month-old sleeps in the crib next to me.

2 comments:

thesebonesofmine said...

Fantastic to see you join the carnival!

Rachel Perash said...

Your blog has been an inspiration to me. My blog is a personal one but since starting my MS I've been trying to post more anthropological articles. Thanks and great job!

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