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 3 of a continuing series of reviews (read part 1, part 2).
The following two blogs are technical. The Daily Transcript is a blog by Alex Palazzo, a "postdoctoral fellow working in the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School." The material is highly focused on what it's like to be a functional research scientist. Posts rarely stray from the central theme of lab life and pure biology, and even his highly curious series "Map that Campus", where readers are challenged to identify a university from an aerial footage shot, is an academic distraction. It's life from inside the ivory walls from a man in a lab coat, but unless you yourself are involved in the academic pursuit of Cell Biology, it won't compute. The Daily Transcript is smart, well-written, highly-informed, and driven, but ultimately, for most readers, it's too technical.
Developing Intelligence is a blog by Chris Chatham, a "grad student at the University of Colorado, Boulder." Topics include "developmental and computational cognitive neuroscience, comparative psychology, psychometrics, and artificial intelligence." That's pretty meaty stuff. Chris' basic approach is to take research papers and try and distill the general meaning in essay length works. This is the approach used by another blog in the mind sciences, but Chris on the most part adheres more closely to the technical language and tone of the original papers, and makes fewer concessions for the general reader. The writing, as far as I can assess, is pitched at a post-graduate level, so basically beyond you and I. It's a good looking blog, well maintained, updated daily, but in the end, just too technical.
The following two blogs are non-technical. Deep Sea News is a partnership between Craig, a "post-doctoral fellow at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute", and Peter, a "Graduate Research Associate at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies." Fairly impressive titles, but this blog is salt of the earth, or in this case, salt of the sea. It casts back to the best traditions of popular science, sparking curiosity and bewonderment, explaining the phenomena in comprehensible language. It's all about communication between the expert and an interested reader, a transfer of knowledge and ideas, sharing the passion. Multiple postings take place either daily or every other day, and when images are used, they are striking and effective. In fact, given the highly visual nature of their interests – the sea, it's creatures, exploration vessels, wonderful kraken – photos could probably be used a bit more. And I'm also a big fan of sticking categories in the sidebar; don't make me fish for it in the archives. Deep Sea News is a solid blog with wide appeal. Recommended.
Dispatches from the Culture Wars is by Ed Brayton, a "freelance writer and businessman". This blog is an exceptionally fine example of intelligent critique, of the public examination of ideas and their effects. Topics range from Intelligent Design, through Civil Liberties, Law and Politics. It's a fairly broad sweep, but what holds it together is the probing analysis, presenting real-world incidents, examining reality. It's a fairly feisty forum of inquiry; always a ton of comments presenting alternate angles and drawing new evidence. It's an active and engaged place, and represents the best spirit of vigorous debate. The main page is well-laid out; with sizable chunks of each post presented; you click through to read the whole thing, and you get the comments at the same time. Categories aren't used all that consistently; many posts aren't classified at all. Entertaining, eclectic, challenging; Ed lives up to his billing as a modern-day Plato. Recommended.
The following two blogs are mediocre. Deltoid is a blog by Tim Lambert, a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia. A self-appointed debunker, Tim blogs about whatever happens to catch his interest at any particular moment. Stuff ranges from global warming through to critiquing journal articles. Tim claims to find flaws in other people's arguments and then gets super angry. He climbs the pulpit, and starts raging. He declaims, he gets aggressive, he undermines. I find it totally unpalatable, and its the sort of stuff you read in the letters section of tabloid newspapers. Pretty mediocre.
Discovering Biology in a Digital World is Sandra Porter's blog. In her own words, she is "a microbiologist and molecular biologist turned tenured biotech faculty turned bioinformatics scientist turned entrepeneur." And her passion is "developing instructional materials for 21st century biology." Sounds alright, until you have to read her blog. Her scattergun approach of turning here, turning there, turning up, turning down, is just befuddling. It's just a mishmash, a mess, totally incoherent. There is a supposed central thread of microbiology and genomics, but it's like picking random pages from a textbook. It's updated daily, but I think that makes the problem even worse. Highly mediocre.
The following two blogs are crap. Dr Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refugee: crap is a fairly relative term. It might be me talking crap, it might be me talking crap about someone else's crap, or it might be someone else writing crap about my crap. In the end, it's all crap. But you have to admit, some things are crapper than others. Dr Joan is a "biochemist and a minion of the dark lords of pharma" and she collaborates with Kevin and Jim. Menage a trois doesn't work in real life, and it doesn't work for blogging. It's just everywhere. No coherence, no focus, no sense of purpose. Three people blogging away in all different directions. Collaborative blogs are hard things to pull off, and if you want to study how to do it, go read GigaOM. There has to be a clear delineation between authors, with a clear end goal; team effort guys.
Fairly crap. Dynamics of Cats: I have to admit, I was expecting to read about pets and kitty litter when I dropped into this blog. I know there are "star catalogues" and such like, but the punning is a bit beyond me. Stein Sigurdsson is an "astrophysicist at Penn State". The blog is about astronomy, but the number of posts that are tagged random will give you an idea of how scattered this thing is. Many posts only show up with the first paragraph, so the main page acts as an index, which means you have to click through to read each article. That's a pain. It also wastes the reader's valuable time. This deadly combination of lack of focus and a poor interface make the blog almost unreadable. Pretty crap.