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Scicurious

A peek behind the science curtain

Bethany Brookshire

Scicurious


Scicurious

This blog is dead. Long live the blog.

This will be the last post from Scicurious

The End carved in sand on the beach

This blog is washing away, in the high tide of the internet. But the definition of a blog? That’s just a line in the sand.

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To blog, or not to blog?

Young scientists and aspiring writers and communicators ask me this question frequently. If they want to try their hand at science writing, science communication and science journalism, shouldn’t they start a blog? Shouldn’t they start producing content immediately? After all, the best way to learn to write is to write.

I understand why they think starting a blog is the thing to do. That’s what I did. In 2008, while I was getting my Ph.D., I started a blog as my writing laboratory. I wrote and wrote. And now, after 10 years of keyboard-hammering and more than 1,300 blog posts, that experiment is at an end. This will be the last Scicurious blog post.

But to blog, or not to blog?

That is not the question.

A better question might be this: What is a blog anyway?

In theory, I know what a science blog is. After all, I helped to write the book on it. Literally. I’m writing a blog post right now. But a blog isn’t any one thing. A blog is a platform. A blog is an empty site waiting to be filled.

In the early 2000s, a blog was a word with a mildly shameful, immature aura (much like people view Instagram or Snapchat as being narcissistic now). Blogs were chatty, diary-like sites, with breakfast details and poor grammar. By the late 2000s, professionals in all corners — including scientists, science journalists and science communicators — recognized the genius of starting up a blog to post their own unedited content. They began using a more casual tone to take a look at life in science, the latest findings, and behind-the-scenes controversies and disagreements. Science blogs became places to build communication skills and networks of other writers and scientists. Bloggers built up audiences of people who followed them, who cared about what they had to say. 

But by 2011, when science bloggers fled ScienceBlogs, one of the biggest science blogging platforms, after it (briefly) let PepsiCo pay to post items touting the wonders of its nutrition science, the landscape had begun to change. Mainstream journalism organizations, including National Geographic, Smithsonian and Science News began to pay bloggers and feature their work. A few lucky bloggers, myself included, became full time science writers.

In the digital realm, though, evolution moves quickly. Now, there are more ways to communicate about science than ever before. Scientists and science communicators can directly give people their personal takes in many ways, from Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook to weekly newsletters and podcasts.

Some blogs, like NPR’s Goats & Soda, have become digital magazines on a topic, in this case global health and development. Others, such as those within Scientopia or Discover blogs, are in organized groups, independent or associated with a magazine. Still others (such as paleontology writer Brian Switek) publish blog posts for their Patreon subscribers. A few hang on as independent entities, such as The Last Word on Nothing, John Hawks and NeuroDojo. Some writers have taken their personal take to newsletters, such as The Ed’s Up. Others have moved their science communication efforts to podcasts, such as Period, or to YouTube series, such as It’s Okay to Be Smart.

Blogs are no longer one single thing where people do one single thing (if they ever were at all). Blogs aren’t a way to write a story. They aren’t a conversational tone. A blog is a platform. A place to do work with a more personalized take.

When I moved this blog to Science News in 2013, I began to use my tiny slice of the site to peek behind the curtain of science. I took a reported, journalistic approach to issues within the scientific community, from problems with how social science is done to sexual harassment in academia to what is holding back poop transplants. I used it as my on-the-job training in science journalism.

I will never say my training is over. It never will be. But I no longer mix opinion with summaries of scientific studies. Instead, I call authors and other scientists to comment on the work. I examine a paper or topic in all its context and history. I produce journalism, and I am a very different creature from the scientist who started blogging in 2008 (though my terrible sense of humor has never changed).

Going forward, you’ll find my reporting on issues like ethics in science, pharmacology and other topics near and dear to my nerdy, science-obsessed heart on Science News and on Science News for Students. I’ll also continue to host the Science for the People podcast in my free time. And of course you can find me on Twitter, on Facebook and Instagram.

We’re lucky (still) to live in a time when ordinary mortals can share their thoughts with the world for free, or close to it, on multiple digital platforms. And despite the serious problems with misinformation and fake news, that diversity of voices and knowledge, shared for its own sake, remains a treasure worth protecting.

This blog, though, is dead. Long live the blog.

Psychology

Sometimes a failure to replicate a study isn’t a failure at all

By Bethany Brookshire 7:00am, December 16, 2018
Ego depletion is one of the most well-known concepts in social psychology. A recent study can’t confirm an old one showing it exists. Who is right? Probably everyone.
Science & Society

For popularity on Twitter, partisanship pays

By Bethany Brookshire 7:00am, August 7, 2018
Pundits claim that we’re all living in political echo chambers. A new study shows that, on Twitter at least, they’re right.
Science & Society

Women and men get research grants at equal rates — if women apply in the first place

By Bethany Brookshire 9:00am, July 27, 2018
When women get research funding, they’ll stay funded as long as their male counterparts. But getting to the top of that heap is a challenge.
Science & Society

Fighting sexual harassment in science may mean changing science itself

By Bethany Brookshire 3:45pm, June 22, 2018
Sexual harassment is disturbingly prevalent in academia. But a course correction may involve tearing down the hierarchy that makes science run.
Health

To regulate fecal transplants, FDA has to first answer a serious question: What is poop?

By Bethany Brookshire 10:00am, May 18, 2018
Fecal transplants are the treatment of the future for some conditions. But right now, they are entirely unregulated. Here’s why putting regulations in place is so complex.
Chemistry,, Science & Society

Want to build a dragon? Science is here for you

By Bethany Brookshire 12:15pm, April 26, 2018
Fire-breathing dragons can’t live anywhere outside of a book or TV. But nature provides some guidance as to how they might get their flames. If they existed, anyway.
Science & Society

Wikipedia has become a science reference source even though scientists don’t cite it

By Bethany Brookshire 7:00am, February 5, 2018
Wikipedia is everyone’s go-to source. Even scientists. A new study shows how science on Wikipedia may end up forwarding science itself.
Neuroscience,, Human Development

Even brain images can be biased

By Bethany Brookshire 7:00am, December 15, 2017
Brain scan studies that are drawn from rich and well-educated groups could lead to biased ideas of how our brains develop.
Psychology

Whether psychology research is improving depends on whom you ask

By Bethany Brookshire 8:00am, October 29, 2017
Psychologists are pessimistic about the state of their field but want to improve, a survey shows. But are new measures working?
Genetics

Two artificial sweeteners together take the bitter out of bittersweet

By Bethany Brookshire 1:30pm, September 14, 2017
Some artificial sweeteners are well known for their bitter aftertastes. But saccharin and cyclamate are better together, and now scientists know why.
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