While updating the materials for upcoming workshops (Nottingham and Potsdam next month) on careers, communication and writing, I asked Matt Candeias, author of the popular blog In Defense of Plants how he got started and if he has any advice to those considering blogging. Here are his replies.
I started In Defense of Plants as a sort of motivational outlet during a small stint of unemployment. I had just ended a contract with a local nonprofit. I was hired on as a riparian restoration coordinator and was both angry and disheartened by their complete lack of interest in the ecology of the region. I am constantly on the lookout for information on botany and the more I searched the more I began to realize that people had a very strange view of the botanical world. Most of what I was reading about plants seemed to centered around folklore and medicine. Despite the fact that plants are the cornerstones of life on this planet, it felt like people simply do not care about plants unless they are useful in some way.
I wanted to read stories about the ecology and evolutionary history of these organisms. I decided to give blogging a try and thus In Defense of Plants was born. My goal is simple – foster a love, appreciation, and sense of wonder for this botanical world with a focus on plants as organisms rather than as tools at our disposal. People respect and protect what they love after all. Habitat destruction is the number one cause of extinction on this planet and so few people realize that plants are the habitat. What’s more, each species is a living, breathing, and reproducing organism with an evolutionary history much older than our own. I want to tell those stories. I think that is what sets In Defense of Plants apart from other botanically themed blogs and podcasts.
As far as advice goes, I guess I would say –
a) Learn how to write. Practice makes perfect and it is an essential tool in communication. Science is in desperate need of a new voice, one that can synthesize and disseminate its story in new and interesting ways. We spend so much time preaching to the choir that we forget that there is a whole world of people out there that have no clue (and may not even trust) what scientists are doing. Learning how to write clear, concise, and compelling stories can help science reach greater audiences.
b) Learn how to do research. Pay attention to detail and work hard on being able to tell fact from fiction. The world is full of misinformation and folklore that too few ever question. Critical thinking and an understanding of how good science operates can help us shed some of the baggage and hopefully steer us towards a better, more educated future.
c) Be tactful. The internet is full of bullies and trolls. We don’t need to add educated people to that list. Part of the issue with science denial is that scientists are often looked upon as cold, poetry assassins. We need to be more welcoming when it comes to our internet interactions. Be polite, be respectful, but be honest. Learn how to give and take constructive criticism. Learn how to debate without getting angry or emotional. There are always people who are going to disagree with you and those are the kinds of people you should be searching out. Learn how to navigate intellectual conversations because we need to branch out of our little worlds and start talking with new people who think differently than us.
d) Just keep at it. I never thought that IDOP would grow like it has but that was never the goal. I simply liked writing about plants. If you can convey passion and interest in fun ways, the rest will happen naturally. It will never happen if you don’t try.