It is by now, I hope, pretty obvious that I’m rather keen on the old science communication thing and devote quite a lot of time and effort to it. However, there is a rather annoying Catch 22 built into this that for me seems to be coming increasingly prominent and rather awkward. The more posts I publish over more time, the more readers and critically, comments and questions I accumulate (and random e-mails and messages on Facebook etc.). However, the more this happens, the more time I have to commit to dealing with them, when I feel that I’m already reaching my limit on what time I can give over to sci comms and outreach stuff (joining Twitter might turn out to be a major mistake on that front).
Leaving questions unanswered is rude. Leaving incorrect or odd statements unanswered rather gives the impression that I agree with them (potentially confusing other readers). Shutting down comments stifles proper discussions and stops me getting good feedback. Giving a brief answer is often all I feel I can do (not least when I have a whole site setup for Q&As with many more experts on there) but that’s likely to be unsatisfying for the reader.
So what can I do? Blog less to attract less interest? Not really what I want, and what about all those two and three year old posts that still regularly attract new comments? Leave things unanswered? Unhelpful at best and puts people off. Do what I can and hope it’s enough? Also far from ideal but, sadly, probably the best use of my time.
What I suspect people don’t realise is how much time this can take. For them, it’s only one question or comment, but for me it’s just the latest one. A great many of my readers I suspect only know the blog and by extension only think of me through it, so it’s perfectly understandable they want to ask me. From their perspective I’m putting myself out there as a communicator, so I’m by definition willing and able to communicate about this stuff, and by putting up a post I’ve demonstrated at least some knowledge of the issue and a willingness to write about it, and the format of a blog with open comments means that there’s an instant option to leave a question not seen with books of TV even if they reach millions more people. But for me it can be yet another question and it sucks up time I don’t think I have and not replying can make me look unfriendly or unhelpful (despite what I have done) when of course ironically if I did no blogging or outreach at all, I’d merely look hermitic and would probably never get any questions in the first place.
I rather suspect this is true of a number of other bloggers and science writers. Those with truly popular blogs get deluged in comments and questions and thus have the ready excuse of ‘I can’t do everything’. Which for me if how I feel, even if it’s not how it looks. Sorry for the whinge, but there are times when this starts to get on top of me, and it seemed worth at least pointing this out as I’m not sure people realise it.