The Results are In: Who Reads Science Blogs? The Highlights.

Lab Note #23
Apr 24, 2016

Who reads science blogs, and why? This broad question started this Experiment.com project, and now the results are in. Lance Porter (LSU) and I surveyed nearly 3,000 science blog readers from approximately 40 different (randomly selected) science blogs. While some of our findings are currently under review for publication, below you can find some of the highlights.

Who reads science blogs? Demographics:

The science blog readers we surveyed have some interesting demographic patterns. First, they aren't as young as science bloggers themselves tend to be. A majority of science blog readers are over 30 years old, with roughly half of them over 40 years old and over a third over 50 years old. Of the readers we surveyed who provided information about their sex, 60% indicated male and 40% indicated female.

The science blog readers we surveyed predominantly reside in the United States (58%), the UK (11%) and Canada (6%). This is likely because we surveyed readers for only blogs written in english. Roughly 7% indicated residing in Europe and 11% elsewhere.

Science blog readers tend to be highly educated and knowledgeable about science. Of those with at least a 2-year degree, 73% of them indicated having a degree in a science-related field. However, at least 23% of the readers we surveyed indicated not pursuing a career in science, with the rest currently pursuing, having already pursued, or maybe pursuing a career in science.

Previous research has demonstrated a link between using online sources of science information, especially multiple sources, and greater scientific knowledge. Some of this may be attributed to the fact that individuals with higher levels of education tend to seek out information online. But we found via this survey that the number of science blogs a reader follows on a regular basis positively predicts performance on a general science knowledge quiz, even when taking into account other known predictors of science knowledge including age, gender, level of formal education and online science information use.

This finding is a promising indicator that science blogs may be promoting greater scientific knowledge or science literacy - at least for some readers.

Figure based on unpublished data, Paige Jarreau and Lance Porter.

Blog reading habits:

We asked blog readers how often they read the ~40 blogs we surveyed for. Roughly 21% of readers (with 2955 total survey respondents) indicated having only read 1 or 2 posts on the blog - these were "new readers." Of the remaining readers, a majority (63%) indicated they read the selected blog 2-3 times a month or more. Thus, apart from new readers, it appears that most survey participants who read a given science blog continue to read it fairly often.

The most common way to "follow" a blog among our survey participants was visiting the blog directly (23%). Roughly 15% of blog readers subscribe via an RSS service to the blog, 18% learn of new updates via Twitter, and 12% via Facebook. Less common means of following a blog are via Tumblr, another social media platform, Google+ and Instagram, in that order.

A majority of regular blog readers read blog content without sharing the content across social media - an aspect of blog readership that science bloggers shouldn't forget. Approximately 22% of blog readers never share blog content on social media, 22% rarely do so, 26% occasionally do and only a little over 6% often or very often do so.

What other forms of science media do blog readers use?

Science blog readers tend to be active consumers of multiple sources of science-related online content. A majority of the readers we surveyed (51%) indicated very often or always actively seeking out science-related information online. Less than 2% indicated rarely or never doing so. A majority of blog readers also read news stories related to science, with 40% very often doing so, 39% often doing so and 14% occasionally doing so. Again only 2% of blog readers rarely or never read news stories related to science.

When we asked blog readers to list their primary source of science-related information, 23% of respondents indicated online news media (newspapers and magazines), 23% indicated academic journals and 12% indicated blogs. Less prominent primary sources of science-related info were Wikipedia (6% of respondents), Twitter (5%), print news media (5%), Facebook (4%) and TV (2%). A majority of science blog readers we surveyed indicated reading more than one science blog on a regular basis.

Are science blog readers also content creators?

Counter to some popular beliefs, science blog readers aren't simply other bloggers (e.g. the "echo chamber" debate). We asked our survey participants how often they create their own science-related social media content. A majority (56%, or 1,627 participants) indicated almost never or never doing so.

Of those who do create their own science-related social media content, 23% (673 participants) said they post to Twitter, 13% (389 participants) write a blog, and 5% (151 participants) create science-related videos. Of those who indicated that they almost never or never create their own science-related social media content, a majority (60%) indicated that they don't plan to do so in the future.

This means that most people reading science blogs aren't science content creators, just as most blog readers don't share the content they read with others via social media. This "silent majority" is easy for bloggers to overlook, but it is encouraging that blog readers aren't limited to those folks interested in creating content themselves.

Motivations to read science blogs:

One of the most interesting questions we asked in our survey, in my opinion, was a multiple-item question about motivations to read/use science blogs. We asked science blog readers to rate their agreement with 15 different motivational statements related to why they use these blogs.

Overall, the most prominent motivations to read a given science blog were "because it stimulates my curiosity" (with a mean rating 4.6 out of 5), "as an educational tool" (4.18 out of 5), and "for information I don’t find in traditional news media" (4.15 out of 5).

Other prominent motivations include for the author's perspective, to keep up with current events in science, and for expert opinions on science issues.

Figure based on unpublished data, Paige Jarreau and Lance Porter.

This information, related to why people read science blogs, may help science bloggers understand what they can offer that readers are looking for.

What's interesting though is that different types of readers may have different sets of motivations that drive their use of science blogs. For example, there appears to be a small but avid cluster of science blog readers who read blogs to feel involved in an online community. (You'll notice that overall, this motivation ranks fairly low in the list of motivations that appear in the figure above). In a twist, these readers are also the most avid online "sharers" of science blog content - so they shouldn't be dismissed by bloggers seeking to expand their reach across the web. A full discussion of these different types of readers that we discovered, and their patterns of using science blogs, is beyond the scope of this blog post. But Lance Porter and I have a publication underway on this, so stay tuned!

More to Come.

These are only some of the highlights of the large-scale survey of science blog readers made possible by this Experiment.com project. In the coming weeks and months, we will be sharing more of our results, hopefully in the form of peer-reviewed papers! You'll hear more from us soon. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts here or on Twitter using the hashtag #sciblogreaders.

Tweet me, I'm @fromthelabbench!

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