“I’m back” and then back again, still looking for the sweet spot

Back last May, I initiated a blog mechanism that I called “What We’re Reading Now”, which I hoped would give me a basis for more regular, if shorter posts.  That didn’t work the way that I had hoped, for two reasons.

I decided that I don’t like the bundling of individual posts, for one thing, once I had a chance to see the bundles in action.  Each post loses it’s identity in these bundles, especially the separate tags and categories that help people to find my posts on the web, and help them at least to search the blog for posts on specific topics.  That’s why I have gone back and dismantled the confinement of “What We’re Reading Now,” releasing the individual posts to stand on their own, jiggered to keep the same May posting dates (a wonderful feature of WordPress, I might add).

The other failure of this ruse is that it didn’t facilitate more regular posts.  As I shared in the “I’m back” post last May, I tend to approach my blog as a scholarly outlet, with the goal of being factually correct and at least reasonably thoughtful about the ideas I put forth.  They will be my ideas, for sure, but they will have been self-edited to at least be more than idle rants. That takes time, and my life as a full-time professor doesn’t leave much of it available.

Paul Raeburn at Knight Science Journalism Tracker had an inspiring essay over the summer about compulsiveness in blogging that touches on this very topic. The focus of the essay was a response to, and an analysis of, a post by Smithsonian Magazine blogger David Schultz, who endeavors to write his blog posts quickly, “in an hour,” in part by curating other people’s posts and in part by forgoing deep analysis in favor of turnaround.  Paul offered respect for the approach, especially when it involves thorough attribution to the work being curated, but also seemed to find speed-writing more challenging personally.  I posted a comment to Paul’s post, which I offer here:

The example you give of short posts from NOVA Next reminds me of what some non-science outlets like The Dish do, namely, a lot of curating.  As de Chant says, and not in a self-serving way, I think, there is honesty in citing, but then passing through, entire chunks of another writer’s ideas.  Certainly, in the case of The Dish, there is no missing Andrew Sullivan’s philosophy lurking behind every curation, so the pieces selected come to represent the blog as a whole, and sometimes even a common theme (e.g., the recent posts on neuroscience).  They each are small contributions, perhaps, but useful, nonetheless.  That said, I am grateful that “thinkers” like you and your colleagues at the Tracker take the necessary time to flesh out and more thoroughly consider the nuances of a story, no matter the length of the piece.

Thus, I share Paul’s conclusion that there is a place in the science blogosphere for curation, as well as his personal experience that this often goes against the grain of one’s own tendency to want to accomplish more.  As for my own writing, I am still searching for the sweet spot.


About Tom Schoenfeld

I am an olfactory neurobiologist who practices his science at Fitchburg State University, Fitchburg, MA, in the Department of Biology and Chemistry. I have created "dissectingpublicscience.com" to help educate both my science students and the interested non-scientist about the process of science, by focusing discussions on how science is presented and misrepresented in the public media.
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