Writing a letter to the editor and/or are letters to the editor becoming obsolete?

This week I thought I should propose something different for your blog contribution. Originally, I thought I should assign everyone the same goal: write a short ‘letter to the editor’ based on an article that you feel the urgent need to comment on from this week’s Economist.  The goal, I was hoping, is both to identify what it is that you find most worthy of comment and to get you to be as succinct, pithy and original (or controversial) as possible in the hopes of seeing what it would take to get published in The Economist.  I would still be very happy if you did so (and as an incentive I’ll give an extra mark to anyone who actually does get published in The Economist!).  If you do want to go down that route, there are some excellent guides on how to write an effective letter, such as that of the Union of Concerned Scientists or the David Suzuki Foundation, but best might be just to read over some past letters to the editor.

That did get me thinking though.  With the advent of blogs and particularly sites dedicated to developing a policy debate on specific topics, are such letters to the editor simply vestiges of a previous era (circa 2000) when this was the sole/main outlet for making your voice heard on a particular topic?  Nowadays, there are some excellent sites such as The Conversation (which originated in Australia but has spread to the UK and is just launching in the US) or more generic/political sites such as the Huffington Post or narrower sites such as the Political Science section of the Guardian (focused on the politics of science in the UK), Comment:Visions (primarily focused on topics related to EU and energy) or Oxford’s Policy and Internet blog.

Of course, generating actual ‘intelligent conversation’ is not easy to do.  I recalled that CUSPE was trying to generate some online debate, but it turns out the best (ok, technically the only) piece is written by Rebekah.  It should not be surprising though since generating pageviews and simply having great content is not enough to get the traffic needed.  The Oxford Internet & Policy blog is of very high standard, but as far as I can tell there were no comments generated on any story I sampled.  Even on the Guardian’s Political Science website (and the Guardian has been the most successful British news website) Stian Westlake has an excellent piece on Mariana Mazzucato’s Entrepreneurial State (which has only generated 4 comments to date), Victor Galaz has a piece on engaging social scientists with the notion of the Anthropocene (zero comments), whereas the story about the off-colour shirt worn by one of the ESA scientists has generated over 1000 comments (but reading through a few comments can hardly be described as either ‘intelligent’ or a ‘conversation’)

Anyhow, back to this week’s assignment — please find an article that makes you want to register your views, link to the article that you are commenting and include your incisive comment.  if you also had some quick thoughts on what sort of outlets are most likely to influence the policy debate (op-eds, comments, blogs, etc) and/or which you would most prefer, then please also add your thoughts below.