Ten Years Before the Blog: 2005-2006 (Part II, the Start of ScienceBlogs)

In which we look at the end of the Steelypips era and the launch of ScienceBlogs.


Before the Great Upgrade derailed things completely for a month, I was working on a recap of this blog's history, and had gotten up through the end of 2005, which marked the end of my time as an independent blogger.

I was first approached about the idea of ScienceBlogs in late 2005 by Christopher Mims, then at Seed magazine, who later tweeted a secret history of ScienceBlogs. I was initially a little apprehensive about the idea, as I was still pre-tenure at that time, and hadn't attempted to explain the whole blogging thing to my colleagues. But then, the idea of getting paid to do what I was already doing for free had a certain undeniable attraction...

There was a bit of back-and-forth about the contracts, and another moment of hesitation on my part when I saw that the mock-up for the test page was for Pharyngula, because I was already a little dubious about sharing a URL with PZ Myers (thus establishing a pattern...). I signed the contracts in December, 2005, though, and ScienceBlogs officially launched on January 11, 2006. That first weekend, we got a link from BoingBoing, and while I don't have good blog stats from before the move, right from the get-go I was getting more traffic in a week than our best estimate of the monthly traffic to the blog on steelypips.org.

The initial site had 14 blogs: this one, Pharyngula, Adventures in Ethics and Science, Aetiology, Afarensis, Cognitive Daily, Deltoid, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Evolgen, Gene Expression, GrrlScientist, the Intersection, No Se Nada, and Stranger Fruit. Orac's Respectful Insolence joined a few days after the rest of us launched (and initially broke everybody's blog templates, as the initial Movable Type system was kludged together in a way that allowed a lot of mayhem). That list is reconstructed from my email, so I'm pretty sure it's complete. Most of them have no links, because as part of the Great Upgrade, all the archived posts of everybody who left have apparently been dumped, which is a tragedy.

The move also drove a big shift in my posting patterns, because I was now being paid based on pageviews, giving me an incentive to maximize traffic. Thus, I started posting multiple times a day on a routine basis. Which also makes it much harder to do these historical overviews, especially since the archives here aren't well set up for easy browsing.

But enough gossipy yakkin'-- what we're here for is the historical highlights.


2005-6 was the era of the great String Theory Backlash, and a lot of early posts had to do with that. There was a bit about the infamous landscape problem, a post pivoting to quantum optics to talk about what it takes to displace a physics theory, a really stupid argument about TrackBacks at the arXiv, and a post that wasn't exactly about string theory, but was sort of related, on the argument that being "fundamental" justifies high-energy funding. That last one was the first post of mine to end up in a science blogging anthology (the very first Open Laboratory, the newest incarnation of which will be coming out soon).

I did a bunch of life-in-the-lab stuff, too, my favorite of which was How to Tell a True Lab Story, a Tim O'Brien pastiche that turned into a category of its own for a couple of years. I occasionally entertain idle thoughts of pitching that as a book, but really, it would need to be an anthology of sorts, with people who were actually involved in the more colorful tales telling their own True Lab Stories, and there wouldn't be enough money in that for it to be worth anybody's while.

Also in the life-in-the-lab category, I did a post about my lab notebook, riffing off a series in Seed magazine, a post which provides the featured image for this post. I also had a couple of posts about types of lasers used in my corner of physics and how to work with diode lasers.

There was a lot about physics pedagogy, which is still a concern of mine, but was much sharper then owing to my impending tenure review. I wrote about algebra in intro physics, AP physics, algebra and storytelling, an early rant on the innumeracy of intellectuals, misconceptions in physics, and what's needed to be a good science teacher. That last was part of the earliest implementation of "Ask a ScienceBlogger," which turned up from time to time back then, as in this post about a "brain drain." An even earlier version consisted of then-editor Katherine Sharpe just asking us questions on the editorial blog, which prompted me to post a personal origin story about my early interest in science. In sort of general academic blogging, I also keep coming back to this post about attitudes toward meetings in the humanities versus the sciences.

I also started doing some audience-participation stuff, most notably the epic Top Eleven series trying to identify the greatest experiment in physics history. all eleven write-ups are linked from that post, and the final vote tally is here. I also offered a conceptual pop quiz, a quiz about experimental uncertainty, and a discussion of the "Mount Rushmore of Science".

There was also meta-blogging, including an early observation of my uneasy relationship with the blogs-as-a-platform-for-science thing, and some speculation on why there aren't many physics bloggers. It's sort of interesting that the situation really hasn't changed very much. There are a couple more bloggers around who come from my area of physics-- Swans on Tea and Skulls in the Stars top the lsit-- but the field is still dominated by particle/ astro types. Which alternately makes me feel like I'm pointlessly screaming into a void, and triggers my innate stubbornness, making me want to blog more...

There were also some posts that have returned in other forms-- a bit about reactions to learning I'm a physicist that's relevant to the work in progress, and a joke about the Zeno Effect that I re-used in How to Teach Physics to Your Dog:

About the only thing there wasn't a lot of was blogging about active research. About the closest thing to research blogging was this post about quantum interpretations, which also marks my first encounter with Matt Leifer, who's been a great help here, though we occasionally butt heads over my cavalier approach to quantum foundations.


As with previous years, there was a lot more writing about politics posted to the blog than there was writing about politics that I'm still happy enough with to revisit. One of the only things to survive are the "Show Me the Pony" post, which has been weirdly popular with spam blogs-- for a long time, the vanity search kept turning up new copies of it at fake blogs all over the Internet. Also somewhat worthwhile are this post about my residual Catholicism (which has been downgraded to "vestigial" these days, between the increasingly intolerant stances of the Church hierarchy and my general laziness and inattention to detail) and a personal testimony regarding how much American health care sucks even for those of us with good insurance.


A grab-bag here, as usual, with some comments about food culture, ranting about basketball, an early observation of steampunk as A Thing, and a concert review.

In miscellaneous personal stuff, I lost an alarming amount of weight that year, and used to ride my bike to work more. The latter of those is notable because it was highlighted on the front page of ScienceBlogs for a while when the featured post was something about filter feeders, and it was picked up by the automated search for relevant posts triggering on the phrase "seining pollen from the air like a baleen whale."

Oh, and my tenure review process started.

So, it was a busy half-year. Future years in the recap will be much less elaborate, because time is running short, and the structure of the archives here makes it hard to do a comprehensive read-through. I'm going to try to power through the rest of them in the remaining couple of weeks before the Official Tenth Anniversary, though, because this has been fun for me, even if nobody else likes it.

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