ScienceBlogs under the microscope?

It looks like someone over at BlogCritics is undertaking the task of reviewing each of the component blogs of ScienceBlogs. So far, he’s not particularly impressed with anyone except Martin and, to a lesser extent, Afarensis. Although he makes a few good points in checking out the first five blogs (he’s proceeding in alphabetical order) and I have to applaud an attempt to do a critique of nearly 50 blogs, he clearly needs a gentle (for the moment) beating with a clue stick about a couple of things.

For one thing, he’s full of crap when he says this about Janet:

My major criticism of this blog is that it is personal first, and only professional by a distant second. In my mind, if you are blogging as part of a network, the group goal takes priority. Keep the personal stuff personal, or start another blog if you want a diary.

I would disagree both that Janet’s blog is personal first and that she should start another blog if she wants to do a diary. There’s nothing that says science blogs can’t have a significant personal element. It shows the humanity of those interested in science. This reviewer postulates a false dichotomy that I (and, I daresay, most readers) do not accept.

In any case, let’s review the mission of ScienceBlogs:

Our mission is to build a community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about science and its place in our culture, and give them a place to meet.

We believe in providing our bloggers with the freedom to exercise their own editorial and creative instincts. We do not edit their work and we do not tell them what to write about. We have selected our 40+ bloggers based on their originality, insight, talent, and dedication and how we think they would contribute to the discussion at ScienceBlogs. Our role, as we see it, is to create and continue to improve this forum for discussion, and to ensure that the rich dialogue that takes place at ScienceBlogs resonates outside the blogosphere.

Note that none of the above precludes personal posts or forays into chatter about other topics. All it requires is passion about science and a willingness to approach it from one’s own unique personal angle, plus the ability to write well enough to communicate one’s views about science and other issues. Personally, although I don’t do it that often, I think bloggers throwing some personal tidbits enriches the whole ScienceBlogs experience. It makes me feel as though I’m getting to know them as persons, at least as much as is possible from text alone.

And what about this this about Tara:

I just have a couple of niggling concerns about her blogging style – one is a tendency to tag articles with every category possible, which defeats the whole purpose of tagging things, and two, there is a lot of chit-chat which isn’t reader related. It is her blog, and she can write whatever she wants to, but joe average has no idea what a blog carnival is and doesn’t need to know. If every third post is just noise, people will eventually make a value assessment.

From my perspective, tagging items with multiple tags makes it more likely that people will be able to find posts months from now, because they will show up under multiple related tags. If you use only one or two tags for a post, if a person looking for the post again guesses wrong picking which category to search under, he may have to click several times to locate the post. It’s all about making the experience as easy as possible for my readers, in my book. I do the same thing, and it helps me find specific old posts of mine when writing new ones. My expectation is that it also helps readers find specific old posts as well.

Also the reviewer’s ignorance about blog carnivals shows. Here’s where the clue stick comes in, administered with a bit of Respectful Insolence from someone who was bequeathed a great blog carnival and has kept it going since July 2005. The whole point of blog carnivals is to aggregate the best posts on a particular topic from the last week or two or whatever the interval is between editions of a carnival into one place. Hence, the Tangled Bank is great to catch up on the best blogging about science; Grand Rounds, about mediicine; the Skeptics’ Circle about skepticism and critical thinking; Mendel’s Garden, about genetics; etc., etc. Promoting blog carnivals about science and critical thinking is completely consistent with the mission of ScienceBlogs, and I would point out that hosting Grand Rounds and Tangled Bank early in my blogging effort gave my young blog just the boost it needed to cause my readership to start climbing. Just because this reviewer doesn’t like them or understand them does not mean we ScienceBloggers shouldn’t be promoting them.

Now that I’ve taken him to task, I can only guess what he’ll have to say when and if he ever gets around to Respectful Insolence (other than that I have a distressing tendency to become way too long-winded way too frequently) or what he would make of my occasional forays into frivolity (EneMan, the Hitler Zombie, and, of course, Your Friday Dose of Woo for example).

We’ll see.


  1. #1 Stuart Coleman
    January 22, 2007

    I have to say that I totally agree with him about Janet, I stopped reading her blog because I found all the personal posts to be intensely annoying. I find that the more a blogger posts about their every-day personal life, the less interesting their blog is. That’s why places like Livejournal are so frequently made fun of, the blogs there are just full of the mundane details of everyday life that no one wants to read.

    I can’t remember why I stopped reading Aetiology, but I think it had something to do with Tara taking a long break (this was before I knew the magic of Google Reader), and it wasn’t because of anything he cites (really, how many readers use tags?)

  2. #2 susannah
    January 22, 2007

    Whoever ggwfung is, he doesn’t speak for me.

    Ok; I’m just a layperson (albeit a long-term reader on biology and medicine), so maybe I don’t count, in his books.

    I agree with your objections to his review. In particular, Tara is the first one who got me reading ScienceBlogs. It was her humanity as well as the interest of her topics that charmed me. And I look forward all week to your Friday DoW.

    I think, looking at it from a bit of a distance, (I’m Canadian) that Americans, in general, see science and science-related professionals as some sort of gods or demons: they live in lab coats, huddled over mysterious machines and tubes, mumbling esoteric formulas, surfacing only briefly in order to give brook-no-contradiction dictums.

    Nothing further from the truth, of course, as these blogs make evident. They are putting a human, comprehensible face on science and its workings. More power to you, the lot of you!

  3. #3 John Wilkins
    January 22, 2007

    Demons. Definitely demons.

  4. #4 llewelly
    January 22, 2007

    This reviewer postulates a false dichotomy that I (and, I daresay, most readers) do not accept.

    Although you may be right that most readers of science blogs do not accept that dichotomy, most who do not regularly read blogs by scientists probably do accept it. This, of course, is all the more reason for scientists to make personal posts on their science blogs.

  5. #5 Jennifer Ouellette
    January 22, 2007

    I agree it’s a false dichotomy, and one that should be nipped in the bud. I appreciate the wide range of Janet’s (and others’) posts — including the personal ones, like Friday Sprog Blogging. Who is this person who deigns to pass judgment on all 50+ SciBlings, anyway? Doesn’t sound like he has much of a clue…

  6. #6 Blake Stacey
    January 22, 2007

    Who is this person who has the time to pass judgment on all N SciBlings, anyway?

  7. #7 J-Dog
    January 22, 2007

    Sprog Blogging is GREAT! I recognize some of the same conversations I had with my kids when they were younger, only her responses are way better, and much funnier too.

    If my kids were as yopung as hers, I would beg her to write Sprog Blogging every day. As it is, Janet is still informative, entertaining, and well worth the read. The negative blogger is probably the same kind of knucklehead that picked the Saints to beat the Bears. Plus I am sure he does not get Zombies at all, so all in all, a thoroughly unlikable twit.

  8. #8 bcpmoon
    January 22, 2007

    Congratulations to passing the 1000000-hits mark!

    Right now the meter is at 1000128 and I am looking forward to your deathmatch!
    Keep going, I enjoy your blog immensely!

  9. #9 Greco
    January 22, 2007

    With a biology degree under my belt ( but not currently working in research, alas), I’m not sure if I qualify as “Joe Average”, but I had no idea what blog carnivals were when I first met them – probably in Pharyngula. But I learned, and now I look up the ones that interest me the most to find good posts. I doubt whether the distance is so great between myself and “Joe Average” in this respect.
    And many of Janet’s sprog entries are fun.

    Demons. Definitely demons.

    I find it really hard to picture Tara as a demon… But John Wilkins might be the Albino Gorilla of Darkness :). Orac I’d picture as a computer… with horns. And don’t get me started on PZ. :PPP

  10. #10 valhar2000
    January 22, 2007

    Orac I’d picture as a computer… with horns.

    Oddly enough, I can’t help but picture Orac as a slightly less effeminite (make of that what you will) version of Wilson, from the show House.

    I suppose that’s what happens when I get all my information about doctors form TV.

    And, about the critic… well, I’m used to people not liking the things I like, so crticisms of that sort are just run of the mill for me: they pass me by like the idle wind that I heed not.

  11. #11 Chris Clarke
    January 22, 2007

    I can’t imagine what this guy would think of my joint.

  12. #12 PZ Myers
    January 22, 2007

    On the internet, no one knows that you’re really a dog, Chris.

  13. #13 Chris Clarke
    January 22, 2007


    What is 41 inches tall, weighs approximately 60 pounds, and has a cranial capacity of 410 cubic centimetres? It could be a little goblin, but in this case here, it is referring to Australopithecus afarensis

    If that site truly hosts a “sinister cabal of superior writers,” as the masthead claims, then deliberately publishing stilted, clunky prose must be part of their Eevul Plan.

  14. #14 anon
    January 22, 2007

    Or could it be that he disagrees with women and/or the more anectodal style of some women? Bit of a coincidence that he singles them out?

  15. #15 chezjake
    January 22, 2007

    Well said.

    On tags: As a retired librarian, I approve of tags; the more the better. Just yesterday, on Janet’s blog I advocated for some specialized tags that would help educators find blog posts that might have application in their teaching.

    Offhand, I’d say that anyone who endeavors to write critiques of science blogs without understanding the importance of blog carnivals is unqualified as a reviewer.

    And lastly, I think that Janet’s personal and Sprog Blogging posts do an excellent job of showing that her Adventures in Ethics and Science go well beyond her academic life and show us ways to bring them into our own lives.

  16. #16 CanuckRob
    January 22, 2007

    I think the “reviewer” is missing the point. If all SciBlogs were all science all the time it wouldn’t be (as) worth reading. I am a layman but have a great interest in science that was revitalized by reading SciBlogs and other science blogs. I came here via Pharyngula during the Kitzmiller debacle (for ID anyway)and found all the other great blogs. I don’t read all, some don’t interest me or are written in a style I don’t care for, but I do recognize that these are all written by real people with real interests and opinions in addition to their scientific intersts and expertise.

    And Janet’s sprog blogging is a must, I too remember these kinds of conversations with my kids (heck they still happen although they are no longer sprogs).

  17. #17 chezjake
    January 22, 2007

    Back again. It turns out that this anonymous blogger/critic also has a personal blog ( ) where he has already made brief comments on Science Blogs from A through I. It becomes quite obvious that he has only taken a brief look at each, except perhaps for those he gets a good first impression of. Interestingly, his first impression of Tara seems much more favorable than his second. He’s had responses there from Martin, Craig, Dave Munger, and John Wilkins.

  18. #18 Inoculated Mind
    January 22, 2007

    what the heck does “niggling” mean? Someone should critique the critic.

  19. #19 Abel Pharmboy
    January 22, 2007

    In fact, Janet just made a point at this weekend’s SciBlogCon that it may actually help public understanding of science for them to see scientists as fellow human beings who have families, live in their communities, etc.

  20. #20 Ed Darrell
    January 22, 2007

    Somebody warn him: doesn’t take one to Mt. Timpanogos. The blog is called “Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.” It’s not really about Millard Fillmore, nor about bathtubs, nor about bathing, nor about Millard Fillmore’s bathing, nor about Millard Fillmore’s bathtub. Heck, he’ll take 15 paragraphs just telling how wrong the whole enterprise is.

    I wouldn’t hang myself, but I might hang an effigy of a blogger who misses the whole point of a blog.

    I’ve read several dozen posts on how to blog, and checked a handful of books: Each one advises that the more personal a blog, the higher the readership. This guy will never make to to “Respectful Insolence.” He’ll get stuck at Pharyngula, trying to figure out what a pharyngula is, what squid has to do with it, and why Drinking Liberally figures so prominently. Don’t worry.

  21. #21 razib
    January 22, 2007

    never gonna satisfy everyone. i wouldn’t be surprised if, for example, janet posted dense material on the intersection of ethics & science this fellow would have ended up complaining that there was nothing light to leaven the blog up 🙂

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    January 22, 2007

    The review is interesting. He/she (didn’t check) has a lot of work to do.

    The point about carnivals is a good one. I’m very new to blogging (Just posted something like my 100th post … go have a look, theire brilliant … ) and I feel utterly lost at times. I had no idea what a carnival was until just a few moments ago. Now want to do one. How do you get to do one?

    I agree (w/Orac) regarding “personal” vs. other. It is a matter of personal style of the blogger and personal taste of the blogee. Blogger and bloggee will find each other somehow.

  23. #23 Simon Greenhill
    January 22, 2007

    There’s a huge difference about writing about what-I-had-for-breakfast and what-I-think-about-stem-cells (or whatever).

    I think it’s great that scientists are out there blogging away and showing the human side of things. People are taught this boring view of science at school where it gets reduced to learning various laws and rote memorisation of “in 1815 John Smith discovered something”.

    The personal side of these blogs showing people that science is NOT like this, it’s not just a bunch of emotionless people in lab coats looking down microscopes all day discovering rules about how compound one and compound two combine to give different types of laundry detergent.

    We’re doing science because it’s FUN and important. We’re doing it because we get to talk about interesting stuff. We’re doing it because we get to argue about interesting things, and hopefully, understand them. It’s great if blogs can show this side of it.


  24. #24 Sandra
    January 22, 2007

    “Nobody talks to me that way. I’m Homer Simpson, the most powerful food critic in town, who will never get his comeuppance! You hear me? No comeuppance!”

    We’re considering changing the title of our blog to Bomni Brain so neither Steve nor I don’t have to keep rubbing our hands together for the lengthy amount of time it’ll take for this guy to get to the letter O.

  25. #25 Sandra
    January 22, 2007

    Correction: neither Steve nor I don’t have to keep …

  26. #26 Sandra
    January 22, 2007

    Delete “don’t” (the HTML in comments doesn’t include the strike tag, I see).

  27. #27 Chris' Wills
    January 23, 2007

    < > explains it.

    I don’t agree with all the reviewers comments, but think of it as free advertising (assuming anyone reads his review) for scienceblogs.

  28. #28 outeast
    January 23, 2007

    I’m not that much into reading too much of the personal stuff (though I make an exception for SprogBlogging) but the objection is hooey. Especially as applied specifically to Tara, whose blog I did not know pre-SB but who has become one of my majorfave bloggers.

    Especially with the SB format it’s easy to skip the personal posts if you’re not in the mood. There’s always more informative stuff on SB than anyone could keep up with anyway…

    Wingeing about tags is just pathetic.

  29. #29 Rob Knop
    January 23, 2007

    Janet is one of my favorite bloggers here.

    This guy is putting a microscope to things and trying to find fault. Ultimately, he is saying, “they’re not writing their blogs the way I think they should! That’s bad!”

    I’d write this guy off as yet another reviewer whose standard for review are irrelevant and stupid.

    In fact, it’s very useful to me to learn that he doesn’t like Janet’s blog– it saves me from having to spend any effort deciding if I’d get anything out of paying attention to him.

    Blogs are different from regular newspaper columns. They are broader, to start with. They include a greater or lesser degree of personal stuff depending on whose doing it and depending on how that person is feeling on a given day. They’re more immediate. And they are multifaceted. Not everybody’s blog is going to fit anybody’s ideal of what a blog should be. Deal with it.


  30. #30 KeithB
    January 23, 2007

    I don’t know, there used to be some newspaper columnists that had columns very much like Blogs.

    The Late Jack Smith of the Los Angeles Times would write about things in LA, his house in Mexico and the fact that, because of his bad back, his wife had to take out the trash.

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