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700 post anniversary open thread

I just noticed that last Wednesday’s piece on the movies of the dividing cells was my 700th proper post for Not Exactly Rocket Science! That includes opinion pieces, Not Exactly Pocket Science and the usual lengthy articles, but excludes reposts, photo posts or random missives. At the current pace, I’m averaging a respectable rate of around 100 posts every 5 months or so (the full list is here).

I always like to mark these moments as little milestones for myself. But enough from me. Over to you. This is an open thread. Say or ask whatever you like.


17 thoughts on “700 post anniversary open thread

  1. I’m averaging a respectable rate of around 100 posts every 5 months or so.

    Is it 99 or 101 posts/5 months that is not respectable?

  2. Yep, giraffes are wonderful. Really, it would be nice if more children could see these magnificent creatures. It occurs to me that people could perhaps fence off bits of ground, and build suitable shelters, so that giraffes can be conveniently displayed in our great cities. Perhaps we could do it for other species too? I know: lets call them Zoological Gardens – that sounds nice and “green”. Wotcha think?

  3. Dubaijazz – yes I do, but far less than I’d like to. Spend all your time writing and reading becomes one of the first things to slip. I don’t really have any genre preferences. The last thing I read and enjoyed was The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer, which is a tale of several people narrated by an ancient ceramic bowl.

  4. Feel free to ignore this impertinent and personal question. What percentage of your income are you able to supplement with blogging? Not that I have any interest in blogging myself (if I relied on blogging to make money I’d be blogging from a cardboard box in an alley next to the coffee store that has free wi-fi). I’m curious as to whether science writers can actually make a living from it, or do they need many other projects to bring in enough money to live (e.g. free-lance writing, book writing, short contracts).

  5. Well I won’t talk any numbers, but it’s a small proportion of my actual salary. We’re talking the 10-15% mark. And bear in mind that this is after years of building an audience, and blogging for a collective that pays rather well.

    I don’t know of any science writer who makes their living through blogging or who sees this as a viable possibility. Your last suggestion – lots of projects on the go – is probably the right model. For any given amount of time, I could make more money doing freelance work than I could writing for this blog – this is why I do this out of love. However, blogging has rewards beyond mere financial ones. You make contacts and you build your reputation (or, shudder, your brand).

  6. I’m a huge fan of your blog and am always impressed that you keep going – too many good blogs just stop being updated after a few months, seemingly because people realise they can’t make any money from it and instead decide to focus on more profitable projects. You’ve been at it for long enough apparently to know that though so I hope you keep the good work up!

    There is one thing that’s bothering me, as a science student though. I was wondering how you actually come across all those interesting articles? Do you just spend your time browsing journals or is there some secret soure of amazing articles? I always come across interesting things only a couple of weeks after they were new and exciting!

  7. Sam, nope, no secret stash – just good old-fashioned browsing. I keep tabs on around two dozen journals or so, including all the major ones and a few others that periodically stoke my interest.

  8. In science, and the discussion thereof, we all know how important checking your sources can be. What kind of criteria do you use when evaluating the quality of an online source?

    Are there any sources you later came to regret using?


    How do you remain stable while on the backs of two different Toruks? It is more difficult to balance on than the edge of Occam’s Razor, so I’ve heard.

  9. Jeremy – when it comes to the stuff I write here, my only sources are primary papers themselves. I never write anything up from secondary sources so it’s just me, my knowledge and the paper. It’s up to me to work out if a study looks interesting and reliable, which is based on a massive combination of different things. This is why I think that science journalists absolutely need to have a decent amount of scientific knowledge themselves – they need to have a sense for when something’s not quite right. It could be a small sample size, or a lack of adequate controls, or an overblown discussion, or a conflict of interest. Sometimes, assessing a story is not just about the quality of the paper, but whether anything interesting can be said about it – see Carl Zimmer’s latest post on Yet-Another-Genome-Syndrome. If my spider-sense starts tingling, more often than not, I’ll ditch the paper and move onto something else. Sometimes, if it’s interesting enough, I’ll write it up and do a bit of investigation – see this for a good example.

    I have certainly written things up that I’ve later regretted, especially early on in my writing career. Looking back on the early archives of this blog, there were a few too many neuroimaging and evolutioanry pscyhology studies for my current liking. Again, science journalists need to not only have knowledge but be prepared to receive it. These comment fields give a great space for receiving criticism from people much more knowledgeable than me, and I welcome people pointing out criticisms to the studies I cover. Although, once again, you need to be savvy enough to assess the quality of the criticisms! 😉

    And finally, riding two Toruks is easy. Journalists, after all, are fond of “balance” 😉

  10. Do you moderate your comments? If not, you have the best readers anywhere . Thank you also for reading the comments & responding to questions/confusions.

  11. Mahala – I moderate from time to time, but only very lightly. As you’ll see from other threads, I’m more than happy to take criticisms of either the studies I cover or the way I cover them. I’ll kill the obvious offenders – racist, misogynist or homophobic stuff; plugs for pseudoscientific quackery, etc. Other than that, I will sometimes kill comments that say very little at great length. Incoherent smug diatribes; tangential comments that irrelevantly attack other people; the usual creationist nonsense in a post that deigns to mention the word “evolution” – these are the sorts of things that piss me off.

    But, seriously, I probably only ever moderate one comment every month. What you see appearing on the blog represents 99% of what gets posted (excluding spam). My readers are indeed an awesome, funny, diverse and intelligent bunch.

  12. Re “Say or ask whatever you like”… your “my only sources are primary papers” (comment 11) struck a chord.

    I recently explored a concept of “extreme-effort” science education content. Descriptions crafted to be insightful and thorough (and quantitative) briefings. The “best possible”, given current knowledge. With no regard for how costly the required information is to track down, and no concern for how topics have traditionally been presented. And an unwillingness to “teach from what’s known”, instead of the harder “be systematic in describing things – uncertainties should be characterized, not shied from”.

    Anecdotal experience is that creating such descriptions requires pervasive recourse to the primary literature. K-grad content quality seems to be blocked on a scientific communication task.

    But worse, the difficulty is asymmetric. Given a random paper or talk, it’s common to encounter intriguing bits and pieces which illuminate a larger context. Half of surface estuarial bacteria are virally lysed each day. CO molecules move through a 10 nm(!) long tube between active sites within a single complex. Whatever. Information to obviously include in a description of phytoplankton (morbidity and mortality), and say plumbing. But what about the other direction? Starting from a desire to describe phytoplankton, and thus necessarily their demographics, and so digging up numbers that were gathered for an unpublished simulation. Or to describe plumbing, necessarily at various scales, and so digging up an acetogenic bacterial complex.

    Do you have any thoughts on the inverse problem? Not blogging the insight-giving bits from papers, but starting from knowing the kinds of insights one needs, and systematically finding the bits?

    It’s not what current literature, institutions or culture are tuned for. But it seems a necessary condition if science literacy (of the “basic understanding of others’ fields” variety) is to eventually exist.

  13. Ed,

    I only recently stumbled upon your blog but absolutely love it. I’m not active in any science-related fields, just an ordinary citizen interested in the world around me. And I can actually understand what you write and get excited about it, awesome stuff. Keep it up!


  14. I love comments like that. Zoe, you are exactly the type of person I’m trying to reach on this blog. Who says science blogs only preach to the converted? Welcome, welcome.

  15. Like Zoe, I’m not a scientist (I’m a high school computing teacher) but I enjoy reading about science and stumbled across your blog through Science Blogs and got totally hooked.
    Love reading your totally accessible posts and your humour and sense of fun and wonder make for great edutainment. Keep it up – looking forward to the next 700!

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