Can bloggers help draw attention to academic papers?

by Henry Farrell on August 8, 2011 · 2 comments

in Blogs

Via Chris Blattman, evidence that they do in economics.

Blogging about a paper causes a large increase in the number of abstract views and downloads in the same month: an average impact of an extra 70-95 abstract views in the case of Aid Watch and Blattman, 135 for Economix, 300 for Marginal Revolution, and 450-470 for Freakonomics and Krugman. [see regression table here]. These increases are massive compared to the typical abstract views and downloads these papers get- one blog post in Freakonomics is equivalent to 3 years of abstract views! However, only a minority of readers click through – we estimate 1-2% of readers of the more popular blogs click on the links to view the abstracts, and 4% on a blog like Chris Blattman that likely has a more specialized (research-focused) readership. There is some spillover of reads into the next month (not everyone reads a blog post the day it is produced), and no evidence that abstract views and downloads lead blog posts.

The paper is here. We are probably in roughly the same position as Chris Blattman in terms of readership and attention (although we cover a wider variety of papers than he does, which may cause our clickthrough rate to go down. It would be interesting to do an experiment to see if these findings bear out when one takes account of unobservables like paper quality and general interest – do some random assignment, so that e.g. a blogger only publishes posts on a randomly assigned 50% of the papers she has enough interest to write up in draft form, to see if there are any measurable differences between the published and unpublished population.


Ron August 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

The problem with most academic papers is that they are behind a paywall so that only if your blog is read by academics with the same access to academic journals they may actually access the full research. And usually the information you would put into a blog post might go deeper than the abstract (so click-through rates to abstracts are not that meaningful).

For me, blogging about academic papers is more about bringing attention to their findings for people who don’t have access and to do so at a time when these findings are most relevant to the audience that may read my blog. I’m not sure that beyond that I create particular attention to the papers themselves. Most relevant may be that they may become more easily findable in non-scholarly search engines.

Lukas August 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm

David Philips at UCSD and his colleagues did a study that showed that being written up by the New York Times meant you’d be cited more times — and with a clever natural experiment, showed that it was the NYT ink driving the cites, not just the citable stuff getting more NYT ink:

They had the good fortune of a NYT strike to show the direction of the causal relationship. I like the idea of getting a famous blogger to randomly save half their posts as unpublished drafts to allow for the same kind of analysis. They (you?) wouldn’t have to keep up the pattern for all that long to get comparable data; the NYT strike lasted less than three months.

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