There’s this thing in ecology called the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis which basically says that ecosystems that experience a moderate-level of disturbance — not too little and not too much, but just the right amount — produce maximum levels of biodiversity. (You might think of it as the Goldilocks rule, if that helps.) Because these slightly mucked-up ecosystems harbor changing habitat conditions, species are always turning over and filling or expanding new niches. Generalists species tend to do really well in places with intermediate disturbance. Alternatively, ecosystems that are super stable are dominated by just a few species that have out-competed all the others because they are just so good at what they do. These may tend to skew toward specialization though, and if their habitat does change… well, they may not fare so well. Of course, there is room for tons of discussion as to whether this holds true across the board, but it does paint a decent caricature.
I think the IDH is also an apt metaphor for the changing state of the media landscape and science blogging ecosystems. For awhile, things stayed mostly the same and the media landscape was in this stable ecosystem state. Then along came blogs and uploading and Craigslist and blah, blah, blah, you know the rest… there was this major disruptive force that caused the media ecosystem to change in a big disruptive pulse. And now, there are constant small disruptions — some of it caused by innovative new technologies (like Twitter, for example, which I think has pretty much killed any list-serves I formerly wanted to be a member of), and some of it caused by the collapse of financial support for older technologies (like print newspapers). Whether or not this mid-level, constant disruption is also maxing out the diversity of the media landscape for the better is yet to be seen, at least in my opinion, especially when it comes to good reporting. (I think we’re still sorting things out on that one.) But I also think the minds and personalities and organizations that want to shape things for the better are doing so; yet, there is still a lot of flotsam and jetsam swirling around out there from past and current media ship wrecks and it’s gunking up our communication channels and the public’s trust.
The latest disruption seems to be the implosion of ScienceBlogs.com. I have not written anything previously on this whole debacle but I’ve watched the wreckage and diaspora from across cyberspace (or, as Ed Yong called it, the “DiasBora.”) While I know a few of the bloggers who left, the reason I have not commented on it are: one, the limitations of my time; two, so many other people covered it so well, including Newsweek, and I didn’t feel I had much more of value to add to the conversation; and three, because frankly I’m still forming my opinion on where science blogging fits in the new media ecosystem and my own roles in both professional writing for payment and blogging for free. Bora Z. has tapped out two detailed and thoughtful posts (first and second) about the changing ecosystem of science blogs and their future, and I’m still chewing on those too.
In Bora’s opinion, the emergent post-ScienceBlogs.com ecosystem demands that bloggers be a part of a network and that emergent networks link to other networks so in essence you get a network of networks. This may be true if your intent with science blogging is to become known and cultivate a wider audience. If you don’t care to do that, and if you just want to blog to get something off your mind, then I don’t think that joining a network is necessary. And I think I’ve placed myself in that latter category for the first year of Wild Muse’s existence. Maybe it’s just been a dopamine jackpot everytime I hit “publish” and that was all that mattered. But since Wild Muse is turning One Year Old on July 29th, I guess I’m beginning to mull over whether that’s what I still want to do with my blogging. To be honest, I really don’t know. And the moment’s been forced to its crisis, J. Alfred Prufrock style, because in the ScienceBlogs.com aftermath, I’ve had two offers from emergent networks to join up with them. Both of which came as a Way Big Slack-Jawed Surprise to me. (People read this? All the way to the bottom? For realsies?) In all seriousness, I sincerely thank both entities for their offers. And I hope that my musings here are of some value to some people, even if it’s just edutainment. I guess that simply by writing and putting your thoughts out there, you become a part of an informal network whether you wish to or not, of people who communicate similar or complimentary issues or who just share a common interest or maybe a key node in a social network.
As my dad would say, it’s time to either fish or cut bait. Or, as T.S. Elliot asked, “Do I dare/ Disturb the Universe?” And “Do I dare to eat a peach?”