Dec 19 2007

My 1 Year Blogiversary

This blog entry concludes exactly one year of the Neurologica blog. I wanted to take the time to look back at my first year of science blogging.

It has been a wonderful experience overall. First, I am proud that I managed to maintain 4-5 posts per week for the entire year. Statistics vary, but about 80% of all new blogs are abandoned within a month. The average blog has the life expectancy of a red blood cell – about 120 days. There are now an estimated 12 millions blogs in America alone, but most are not maintained and/or have few readers. I have been averaging several thousand readers per post, so by all measures I think my first foray into blogging has been a success.

I also have come to appreciate more deeply the role of science blogging in the new media. In a recent editorial for Time Magazine, Michael Lemonick laments (tongue-in-cheek):

Now look what’s happened. Go to the Science Blogs website and you’ll find dozens of actual scientists, commenting in real time on every aspect of science you can imagine. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were inarticulate-but most of them aren’t! They’re eloquent, funny, sarcastic and really smart (the last kind of goes without saying). No sooner does a paper appear in a major (or even a minor journal) than they jump in with knowledgeable reaction.

The mainstream media are getting it – blogging has made it practical for scientists interested in sharing their research or just explaining science to the public to have a quick and accessible forum.

This is all part of the internet as a social and commercial force working itself out in the free-market of ideas and innovation. The internet is not best for everything, but it is best for some things and as new ideas are tried out those that work best will stick. Well, science blogging has worked extremely well and I predict that it will stick.

Like many new technologies it does not have to replace existing venues (just like the microwave did not replace the stove) but will become a complement to them. Blogging seems ideal for fast news, for working scientists who want to teach science part time, and for the community expressing multiple opinions on a hot topic. It also allows for a limited conversation between the reader and the writer.

Science journalists should not fear science bloggers, rather they should think about how best they can use and complement bloggers. They can benefit from our expertise, experience, and enthusiasm. Likewise, we can benefit from their journalism training and experience and from the fact that they are doing this full-time as their profession. Journalists and bloggers therefore are positioned to engage in a cooperative symbiotic relationship that benefits both – and most importantly benefits the public. (Just like we can use the microwave to defrost food, then cook it over a conventional stove, and then go back to the microwave to reheat leftovers.)

A similar relationship between online and print media is also evolving. For example, I blogged often this year about the vaccines and autism debate. I was able to grapple with specific news items as they came about and also respond to proponents of the “other side.” Then, in the October/November issue of the Skeptical Inquirer I authored an in-depth review of the entire topic. The print article was more crafted, more thoroughly referenced, and broader in scope than my typical blog entries. It was a nice capper to my blogging on the issue over the year.

And that, I feel, is the new niche of print science journalism – in depth reporting bringing together disparate information about a complex topic. News and opinions are best handled by blogs and the new media of the internet. Now, when I crack open a science magazine I often recognize all the news stories from what I read online 1-2 months prior. They are worthless to me. But the interviews and in-depth summaries can be highly interesting. I also value their thoroughness – something that the hit or miss world of blogging often does not have.

Upon reflection, I am very happy with my decision to dive into the world of science blogging. It was a bit of an experiment on my part, but it paid off. I plan to continue my blog as long as my time and energy holds up, and I am anxious to see how the world of science blogging and science journalism itself evolves. We are headed for a brave new world, and it’s fun to be a small part of it.

Finally, thanks to all of my readers and all those who took the time to leave such thoughtful and informative comments on my blog. The feedback I get from comments are a critical part of the process and one of the real strengths of the blogging venue. Cheers!

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