New Scientopians!

October 8, 2012


Elephants, Giraffes, Baboons

Transient Interactions


ok, not really. But I think we’re going to look back and say that this is when scientific blogging started being mainstream activities. I view it through the blog collective lens.

Prior to 2010, Nature Network and Scienceblogs sucked up all the air. Which was cool and all but it didn’t leave a lot of room. Or there wasn’t enough of a market, so to speak.

So what happened?

Discover magazine got serious by acquiring Ed Yong and Razib and by so doing created a third-way of collectivized scienceblogging.

Then, Scienceblogs and Nature Network had major (the former) and minor (the latter) assplosions. Talent departed with various levels of spleen being vented and rancor being…rancored.

This led, inevitably perhaps, to the formation of Scientopia and Occam’s Typewriter from a core group of emigres from each of the large collectives, respectively.

In parallel Wired magazine tried the Discover Magazine blogs model and Scientific American at least laid the groundwork (i.e., hired Bora Zivkovic as community manager) for what I suspect will be another instance of the Discover Magazine blog collective model.

PLoS blogs launched…unclear to me under which model but I bet it will eventually look more like the Sb / Nat Net / Scientopia / Occam’s Typewriter type of model.

In the breech, the wily upstart LabSpaces pulled a fast move by emulating the path buried in the origins of They pulled together a healthy number of existing privateer blogs, created a great deal of enthusiasm and really went to town. I’d say they easily won the enthusiasm and energy title for new blog collectives.

Along with this, the model of blog collective organized by scientific topic expanded as well. The all-geo site is currently just Highly Allochthonous but going by the Twitter energy of recent geoscience meetings I see a lot of upside future. Perhaps more interestingly, The Gam joined oldtimer Deep Sea News as a second Oceans blog collective. Strong work.

So science blogging continues to grow and, more importantly, become more formalized into go-to collectives and organizations. Some commercial, some not.

I can’t help but think this is related, perhaps not causally but as a reflection of the same trends, to a growth in recognition of

The Society for Neuroscience continues to tip toe but the Twitter chatter at the 2010 meeting was much more substantial. Even the tiny (and, let us admit, conservative) College on Problems of Drug Dependence started a blog.

I see many more local Universities and research institutes using Twitter and Facebook…and even establishing blogs as part of their PR mission. PR as institutions, sure, but part of that is to brag about the science their investigators are conducting and publishing.

Last but not least, Jeremy Berg, Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences used blogging with skill and enthusiasm to advance his agenda.

Rob Knop has a series of observations up on Galactic Interactions that struck a chord with me. He’s talking about Linden Labs and the Second Life dealio, about which I know next to nothing. I barely understand all that stuff. However, he starts with this observation:

I think often the way to kill a business is to over-monetize it. I remember the 1990’s, and Web search engines. The pattern was repeated over and over again. There’d be one that was the best. They’d realize they were the best, and they’d either get sold or they’d try to monetize their business. The page would go from being relatively clean, to being a cluttered mess of ads… and the search results, being increasingly paid, would become less and less useful. So we’d all move on to another engine. That ended with Google, who had the vision not to try too soon to over-monetize their search, and who recognized when they did monetize it that they had to do it in a way that didn’t completely undermine what brought people there in the first place.

Emphasis added. Now I’m not so much afeeerd of monetizing but it appears an axiomatic truth to me that you cannot kill the function that brings people to your online site or business. That is really the key to Google’s world dominance as a search engine. I had the exact same frustration expressed by Rob with Web engines in the 1990s and I bet most of you did too. It still boggles my mind that you go to the root Google page and you get what you need- a search box and an entry button. Sans extra crap.

It really is sad that Twitter is trying as hard as they can to miss the point of Google. but I digress..

Rob has another observation about Linden that sounds hauntingly familiar:

Alas, the company as a whole didn’t realize this. What they should have been focusing on was promoting virtual worlds. Instead, they… well, to be honest, I’m not really sure what they were focusing on, but they didn’t direct substantial effort towards promoting virtual worlds in general.

I return to the Google example. I mean sure, the Internet was going to explode anyway. I get this. But by making the internet useful for people (some of us do remember the Web before search engines were so ubiquitous, fast and so damn good, you know), all people-even our grandparents- Google made themselves indispensible. This is what Rob is getting at I think. If you want to be an online entity that relies on low fractional payment from a vast audience, you need to concentrate your efforts on the audience. And when an audience doesn’t exactly exist yet, you are not trying to steal marketshare, you are trying to build up the whole dang market.

This is where I personally think that has gone a bit astray and where I routinely criticize the approach of Nature Networks. I look at it this way. I’ve been blogging for over three years now and experienced both negligible-audience privateer blogging and the heady heights of the Pharyngula driven traffic. Comments and personal communications to PhysioProf and I suggest that our focus on academic careerism for grant funded scientists is of interest even beyond biomedical disciplines. Our traffic is quite pleasing and the commentariat of decent size. But here’s the thing. If I look at the IP numbers coming in from the domains of easily identified research Universities and research institutes we still only draw one or maybe 5 repeat viewers from a given institute. That spells one heck of a lot of untapped audience to me.

The funny thing is that Sb says all the right things about engaging the broader audience. And Nature Publishing Group routinely tries to tell all scientists reading their flagship publications (and this is a good fraction of all scientists) to go online, to comment on papers and, gasp, to blog.

Their hearts are in the right place but their execution could use some re-thinking.

Now #NatNetFAIL?

July 23, 2010

A Twitt from @drisis alerted me to this post over at Nature’s blog empire. In it, one Ian Brooks muses:

Do i fit in Nature Network anymore? Is it time to consolidate and “out” myself and find a new Network to join.

I don’t know. I haven’t been around here for so long, I don’t know how Nature Network is holding up; I’ve lost touch with this place and most of the bloggers here (which I’m very sad about). I know some of the regular bloggers are frustrated with The Rules and the dreadfully slow log ins (it took me almost 2 minutes from entering The Network URL to start writing this post. That is an utterly unacceptable lag time).

Sounds a bit familiar to those of us on the side of the pond, doesn’t it? A vague sense of discomfort. Loss of community. “Why am I here?” reflections. And a sense that the complaints are many and varied, even if any given issue does not affect every single person. A storm is abrewing at Nature Networks, make no mistake.

I also enjoyed the comments that emerged in the wake of Ian’s post. Recall the sorts of snootery mooted about by these NatNet folks about the tawdry interest of Sb bloggers in their….traffic? Not to mention their difficulties with our lack of civility? And accusations that there ‘just isn’t enough science at, wot, wot old chap’?

Well now they are irritated by the Science-only dictum, bridling against the limits on cursing, complaining about a perceived pusillanimity of NPG about the infamous English Libel law and demanding, DEMANDING I SAY, their traffix stats. STAT!

All there in the comments and original post. Heck, even Henry Gee (you remember SpittleFest, right?) is whining about how he feels sadly unwelcome after his (female as it happens) boss chastised him for pissing on her carpet posting a (no doubt hilarious) blog entry about rejecting a manuscript on his iPhone from the loo.

[sidebar: I love the fact you can reference comments at NatNet now, bang up job on that at least.]

Brooks has more opinionating on Nature Networks here.

Oh and final note, Ian? You are no PhysioProf.

Who, btw, is a dumbass. Just so we’re clear on that. I cut my political teeth in part by reading that guy’s column in the local paper. It was amazing. Each and every freaking time I would read through it, nodding along with most of his points. And then right at the end he would reach a conclusion that was 90 or 180 degrees off from where his chain of evidence and logic brought me. It took me quite awhile to catch on to the Republican strategy of talking points. Of saying wtf-ever that either made sense or didn’t just so long as they hammered the talking points at the end. Heck, they probably hadn’t fully cottoned on to what they were doing back then.


Let’s return to the fact that I read his column, and Erma Bombeck and Doonesbury and a whole bunch of other national content, in my local paper.

How? The power of syndication, right? An Op/Ed content provider in the heyday of print newsmedia dreamed of going into nationwide syndication. They started out as local blovitards of some sort and if they caught sufficient attention, other newspapers around the country would want to reprint their stuff. If you lived in the hinterlands of the US, you didn’t have to subscribe to BigCityPaper and have it delivered a day late in the mail or some shit. You could access that content in your local, preferred venue.

Whatever passes for web syndication is not this. Or at least, the dead-tree model of Op/Ed syndication is not a default goal of the bloggers of my acquaintance. In the science / medicine areas anyway.

There is at least one fence-sitting blog friend of ours at DM that is absolutely perfect for old-style Op/Ed syndication. I wonder if it is on this person’s radar screen that this is the perfect solution? Is there a mechanism for this? One thinks not. The only paying blog-collective gigs I’m aware of in the science-y arena are still on the old model of in-house talent. They are not overtly on the model of paying for a post from a high-profile blogger that will appear on websites everywhere. Like George Motherfucking Will’s column.

Who knows. Maybe I should have asked Bora. Maybe this model does exist and I’m just unaware of it. I wonder if my blog holmes is aware of any such?

Adam Bly, CEO and Visionaire in Chief of Seed Media Group (to which belongs), has pulled the plug on the Pepsico blog titled “Food Frontiers”.

Undoubtedly he hopes this will stop the hemorrhaging of talent by giving the fence-sitters a way out. This is a big backdown on Bly’s part, make no mistake. It gives all of us (you know I blog over there, with co-blogger PhysioProf, right?) some very serious cover.

Will we take it?

Some stalwarts of the ScienceBlog community have already jumped ship. Lots of the journalist types have as well. I differentiate these two because there IS a palpable distinction between the way the journalist-leaning and book-author leaning bloggers approach the ScienceBlogs experience and the way just-bloggers do.

This is the focus of my current internal discussion, btw.

I’m not a journalist or a book author. I didn’t join Sb to give myself a platform for promoting my professional career. I didn’t do it to sell books. I don’t have their sensibilities when it comes to the alleged “Chinese Wall” of journalism and traditional news media.

What I DO have is a tremendous amount of scorn for what purports to be “ethics” in journalism. I see their obsession with appearances, the “Chinese wall” and confusion of advertising with news-ifying because they have to. They have brought this shit upon themselves.

My conceit is that we scientists have not quite done so yet, although the problems exemplified by the ongoing (and going, and going) Nemeroff affair should give me pause in my confidence.

Nevertheless, our normal workaday conflicts are, I believe out there in our declarations of grant funding sources. This is relevant to our industry, not blogging of course. Pseudonymous blogging makes it slightly more complicated but I believe the basics are covered. Sharing a blog collective with a corporate PR blog does not strike at my core the way a scientist who fails to disclose material conflicts of interest for his scientific writing does.

The point being, I do not feel myself sniffy and miffed the same way the journalist bloggers previously affiliated with do.

So I’m having to think a little harder about whether I want to continue with the borg.


July 7, 2010

The prospect of cleaning up the old blog home is not a joyous one. Still, might as well be prepared since is not looking too swell at the moment.

(Plus side is that mobile support for blogging is pretty good at WP now.)

I’m not feeling strongly about jumping way or the other. This is blogging though, things tend to happen quickly. So…I’m testing out backups. I think I have most of the posts and comments from the Sb era preserved. You know me- the blog commentary has formed a great fraction of the value of the DM blog. From my POV anyway.

from the most hilarious becca:


July 6, 2010

This PepsiCo AstroTurf Blog at is ticking me off.

The listed blogger are all PepsiCo employees, which is a change from the prior specialty sponsored blogs run by Sb. The closest one was the one sponsored by GE but even there the majority of the blogging seemed to be handled by existing Sb bloggers.

Not Happy about this right now.

PalMD explained why he is miffed. I have similar thoughts.

That’s what it stands for, right?

Experimental Biology 2008

March 28, 2008

Any of y’all blogonauts attending EB 2008 ? If we get quorum we can schedule a little social or something. drop me a line


Au revoir

January 22, 2008

In a bitter sweet moment, I announce that we are bringing activities on to a close.

Thanks to you DearReader. It has been a fun and very memorable ride on DrugMonkey over this past year. I started out with the intent to talk about careers in NIH-funded biomedical science generally and the subfields of drug abuse science in particular. Through this I’ve learned a great deal, both by trying to get coherent thoughts together for a blog entry and in reading the comments of readers from a broad set of backgrounds.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Edge annual question for 2008 asks:


Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?”

out of their

163 contributors; 111,000 words

I’ve pulled a couple of interesting ones. Read the rest of this entry »

If there’s any more universal holiday in the long years of human culture than celebrating the lengthening of the day, I don’t know what it should be.

As good an opportunity as any to say thanks to you, DearReader.

Read the rest of this entry »

Eleven Months of Drug Monkey

December 17, 2007

The meme, if such it is, comes from AinE&S and StrangerFruit.

The rule: post the first sentence of the first post for each month. Read the rest of this entry »