The political scientist as a blogger

Ten years ago, John Sides wrote a paper titled The Political Scientist as a Blogger. Despite the fact that the internet is not the same today as it was ten years ago, it is still an interesting read. Specifically, the paper made me think about why political scientists should (not) blog in 2020, why I don’t like most political science blogs today and why I continue to write blog posts.

It’s quite simple. You can blog for various reasons but I believe this point from the paper sums it up: “Despite the occasional frustration, blogging can be fun — in fact, this is probably the first and best reason to do it. Once blogging starts to feel like work, you are probably not long for the blogosphere.”

I agree with this statement. Especially as a consumer of political science blogs. In fact, it is the reason I don’t read The Monkey Cage anymore (the paywall is another good reason though). It used to be great (pre-Washington Post) but the average quality is low nowadays and reads more like university press releases for mediocre studies. The reason is that most contributions to the blog today are ‘blogging for impact’ (pretty much the opposite of fun). Specifically, the blog is primarily researchers using the platform to write up a few paragraphs on their new research (to increase the public outreach of their work). Write a paper, write a blog post and aim to put the ‘Monkey Cage’ hyperlink on your CV. That is the mindset. And it shows.

Noteworthy, this is not to say that there are not good political science blogs out there. For example, I really enjoy the new blog Broadstreet (a blog on historical political economy). See, for example, this post on the recent quantitative work on the Nazi extermination and concentration camps (with a focus on testing individual-level psychological theories, post-treatment bias and other relevant issues). However, it is the exception compared to what blogging looked like ten years ago.

I guess the reason is that there is no need to blog as a political scientist. Supply and demand and nobody cares. If you want to build up a profile/brand/identity as a political scientist, create a Twitter account and engage directly with the political science community. Share your work (e.g. using the #polisciresearch hashtag), retweet interesting takes, reply and discuss, follow people who share relevant observations and material. No need to blog.

Actually, blogging can be a huge waste of your time if you take the opportunity costs into account. However, there’s a lot of ways to waste time and blogging is a fun way to do it. I guess that most people blogging today are those who care the least about building a huge audience (again, Twitter is the place to be if you’re in that game). Interestingly, the more I expect a lot of people will read my blog, the less I enjoy it.

I used to share my blog posts on Twitter but I stopped doing that. The moment I share a blog post I begin to care about the metrics. The quantitative assessment of the quality. Do people like or/and retweet the post? What do people say? And that’s funny because I usually don’t care about such data (or, that’s a lie). For that reason, I found it better to ‘detach’ my blog from everything else and try to let it live in its own universe.

However, that’s not the same as I don’t have an audience. And part of that audience is made up by political scientists. There is a certain ‘pre-social media’ nostalgia related to blogging that I enjoy. I guess at least some of my readers share that longing for old school blogging. I believe most of my readers are familiar with RSS-readers and, for that reason, I don’t pay attention to whether there is a coherent theme in my blogging (i.e. a target audience). I blog about various topics (political science and non-political science related). I blog in Danish and English. I blog about personal and non-personal stuff. In sum, I don’t consider my blog a political science blog per se.

Also, another aspect I found useful in order to further ‘detach’ my blog from any metrics and considerations was to schedule each written post for some point in the (distant) future. I believe there are two advantages to this. First, when writing a blog post, I pay less attention to whether/when people will read it and what they will say when it is published. Second, I have noticed that it is great to have a few months to read a post again and maybe add a few extra considerations (or hyperlinks) if I stumble upon something interesting (for example, I added the hyperlink to the tweet by Paul Ford after having written the first draft of this post).

There are good reasons to blog as a political scientist, but these are most likely not reasons for early career researchers (or anybody else) to begin blogging. If you are a political scientist considering the blog format, I recommend you focus on your research and send your blog posts to the Monkey Cage. That’s my simple career advice when it comes to political science blogging. And that’s why I don’t read a lot of political science blogs these days.