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ScienceBlogs Network Reviewed – Part 2: The C’s

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Science Blogs is a semi-professional network of people blogging about science. Most of them are in the university system as graduates or academics, but there is the odd journalist having their say. There are more than 50 blogs updated fairly regularly, and the network itself has been up for a year.

This is part 2 of a continuing series of reviews. (read part 1 here)

Sometimes we can look out on the world with a lazy eye. It can all seem so ordinary and flat, and we forget the pure wonder of delight that we had as youngsters; that enchantment and broad grin. One person who hasn't forgot is Karmen, "a philosopher, freelance writer, and mother, living at the foot of the Rockies, in Arvada, Colorado." She is also "a full-time student, seeking a double major in philosophy and ecology/evolutionary biology, and a part-time website and graphic design artist." A busy life, no? She also finds time to author the blog Chaotic Utopia, a wondrous little gift to the world. This blog could almost double as an art magazine; there are fractals galore, nature shots of the beach and sea, strange mozaics. As for the actual mechanics of Chaotic Utopia, they work quite well. The sidebar is simple and functional; profile, recent posts, recent comments, archives, blogroll, plus a few other choice links (though I couldn't find a tag list). Posting is generally once every two days, but that's fine; a lot of love and care goes into each article; there's nothing of the throwaway about this site. So after all the poetry and complexity I've just described, what is this blog about? Don't know. Is it science? not sure. Do you like it? yes. Are you a yes man? no. Have a visit, then show me the enchantment in your eyes. A gem.

Cancer isn't the bogeyman it once was. It struck our lungs through smoking and coal-filled air, peeled away our skin by sunlight, erupted into our interiors through mal-functioning gonads, ate away at our very brains. It was a horrific and painful way to die. We can thank the Twentieth Century for bringing the malevolence of cancer under control. Tools for treatment and diagnosis have become everyday, and awareness campaigns keep us alert. We can now confidently take the battle up to this disease, and scourge it. There have been untold numbers of people working in the field of cancer, or oncology by its proper name, and Dr Craig Hildreth is one of them. His blog, The Cheerful Oncologist, is a madcap combination of medicine and the arts; of disease treatments and poetry. It's a hoot. Posts range from little anecdotes about troublesome patients, 20 line slabs of poetry with analysis and all, and relating some of the more interesting medical findings. It's like having someone sit down in front of you and tell stories. Posting is only once every two or three days, which makes you want for more, but that's about my only gripe. Oh, and the doctor tells me "he would give his right arm to be ambidextrous". A classic.

The mind is a wonderful place. It has seemingly infinite rooms, is portable, can be taught, and doesn't weigh very much. We can all benefit by finding out more about it; how it works, how it doesn't work, how it might have evolved, and how it develops in the span of a human lifetime. Cognitive Daily is a blog devoted to pursuing these questions. Maintained by a husband and wife team, Dave Munger is "a freelance writer and former editor" and Greta Munger is "Associate Professor of Psychology at Davidson College". Their stated aim is – "Cognitive Daily reports nearly every day on fascinating peer-reviewed developments in cognition from the most respected scientists in the field." And moreover, "The research isn't dumbed down, but it's explained in language that everyone can understand, with clear illustrations and references to the original research." So how do they go? Blogging is an artform, and it's all about striking the right balances. Proper articles need to be published, but there is also the inevitable blog-maintenance work that needs to be done; asking for reader feedback, referencing your own podcasts. Personally I find podcasting, in this case "audio blogging", a little redundant. You can type it, or you can speak it, the choice is up to you. Having both is a nice option. But back to the blog, yes, there is a good judicious balance between the blog proper, and this other support material. Dave responds to comments, and actively seeks out reader input. The range of material is excellent, and taken from a variety of sources. Overall, a very solid contribution, very safe. Eight out of ten.

We all have a brain. The brain has two halves. The two halves are connected. They are connected by the Corpus Callosum, a thick mass of white fibres. Finding the connection between things is what the blog Corpus Callosum tries to do. The author is "a psychiatrist at a small community hospital somewhere in midwestern USA". His mission statement? – "to develop connections between hard science and social science, using linear thinking and intuition; and to explore the relative merits of spontaneity vs. strategy." That's bold. It's essentially a statement of the left brain (logical, sequential, rational) vs the right brain (intuitive, subjective, holistic) divide, and his deep desire to bridge that gap, the so-called eponymous Corpus Callosum. How does he go? It's a huge undertaking. The writer is basically trying to synthesise the world, to put it's composite pieces together, and while not an official Theory of Everything, when you go out hunting for different things, you end up hunting in a lot of different places. Just some of his topics include medicine, politics, computing, energy, environment, and psychiatry. It's a bit overwhelming at times, almost bursting at the seams; he finds the connections between individual things, but what about connecting the connections? That wasn't in his brief, but it can make for a hard slog of reading. A bit here, there, and everywhere. I applaud his goal (and recommend EO Wilson's Consilience to any who have the same interests) but the erratic, leaping nature of his posting is not for everyone. I can say, quite positively, that this man has one impressive blogroll. It just keeps going, and going, and going, and is a testament to the author's huge range of interests. Ambivalent rating.

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