THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

October 6, 2011

It is probably no coincidence that academic blogging has risen alongside the advent of the impact agenda, which has put pressure on researchers to share their work.

A related development is the growth of official university blogs, such as that recently launched by the University of Northampton.

Experts at Northampton is described by Claire Bicknell, public relations officer at the university, as an effective way for academics "to share their opinions on their research areas and interests to a wider audience".

While some scholars might baulk at participating in institution-led initiatives, Northampton is not alone in creating such forums, with the London School of Economics another pioneer in the field.

In a recent post on LSE's Impact of Social Sciences blog, Sarah-Louise Quinnell explores the aims of academic blogging. "The purpose of the blog is to enable its author to make an instant contribution to a topical debate, as the time taken to go from blog to live online is infinitely shorter than it is to go from text to published journal article," she writes.

The LSE's reasons for setting up the blog echo that view. The site is part of a project "that aims to demonstrate how academic research in the social sciences achieves public policy impacts...and informs public understanding of policy issues and economic and social changes".

The blog is not the only forum of its kind at the institution. British Politics and Policy at LSE aims to "increase the public understanding of the social sciences in the context of British government".

Both blogs are open not only to LSE academics, but to outside contributors with looser connections to the school.

Patrick Dunleavy, professor of political science and public policy at the LSE and founding editor of the British Politics and Policy at LSE blog, said the forums represent an evolution of the blog format. "We are very interdisciplinary," he said. "Single-author blogs are completely out of date now; we've got a different concept." One of the main benefits of blogs is that "you can do so much because it's fast", he added.

"The potential for universities is huge. Academics have lots of expertise on time-relevant topics, but they have become fatalistic because they think no one would care (about their opinion) and it takes two years to get anything published," he said. "As a result there are lots of things that go unreported."

Professor Dunleavy said the blog, which was originally planned as a temporary site in the run-up to the 2010 general election, has grown rapidly - evidence, he said, that it addresses a need.

His claim appears to be borne out by the size of its readership. British Politics and Policy is ranked fourth in the "economy" category of a respected blog ranking and 30th in the "politics" table, above the work of big hitters including Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, and the TaxPayers' Alliance lobby group.

"I've done many academic projects in my time - I'm a serial academic entrepreneur - and this is the one I'm confident will have the greatest success," Professor Dunleavy said. "It is the quickest and certified lowest-cost venture, with tremendous potential."

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