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 1 of a continuing series of reviews.
Behind every large institution there are those who oil the wheels, line up the gears, set up the chess pieces. They are the administrators. Science is no different. There are scientists, there are those who write about science, and there are those who organise the people writing about science. A Blog Around the Clock can be considered an administrative science blog par excellence. The author, coturnix, describes himself as a "Serbian Jewish atheist liberal PhD student with Thesis-writing block and severe blogorrhea trying to understand the world". This mad torrent of words also characterises his approach to blogging. It reads like a true web log, a running diary of his day – organising Science Blogging Conferences, linking to new material, compiling an Anthology of the Best Science Blog Writing, passing remarks on whatever catchs his fancy. It's a fantastically busy hive of constant activity. But unless you are deep inside this insider's science world, it can seem all so haphazard and trivial. What's missing is a relevance to the general reader, something to bind all these disparate threads together, an overarching vision. In the end, all A Blog Around the Clock ends up doing is spinning around itself in dizzy circles.
Peoples, cities, cultures, all leave their tracks in time. It is the purpose of archaeology to make sense of that broken pottery, corroded coin, or barely defined glyph. Reconstructing the past from fragments of time – this is what the blog Aardvarchaeology is all about. The author is Swedish, a journal editor, and an archaeologist to boot. The blog is a fairly recent arrival to the network, but Martin was blogging for about 12 months at his previous site. He has developed a crisp, clean style – effective and to the point, but not blunt. Most posts are accompanished by a tactful image, and the text does not usually run to over a page – making it quite easy to navigate and browse through his blog. Martin also sticks quite closely to his chosen subject, something I applaud in a world of everpresent distractions. If I had to pick one word to describe this blog, it would be robust. Well done.
How one's conduct relates to a group is what is known as ethics. This is an all-pervasive feature of working science, although it's not well known to the wider public. It only really comes to attention when there is fraud on a massive scale, like some of the ones that have rocked the journals Science and Nature in recent times. Ethics starts with the individual, radiates outwards to his immediate research group, pervades the faculty and department, and eventually sits inside the institution of which he or she is part of. Adventures in Ethics and Science is devoted to examing this working interface. In her words "this is the blog where I muse on responsible conduct of scientific research, communication between scientists and non-scientists about the issues that matter to both camps, and teaching science and ethics." Does she succeed? Perhaps I was expecting something more rigorously argued, dealing with more serious issues, but all I ended up reading about was holidays, little schoolkids, and pretty ordinary chit-chat. The ethics stuff is there, but it's sparse, and you really have to go to the sidebar to dig it out. 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. A low rating.
Across vast stretches of times, spanning dynasties and kingdoms, fiefdoms and tribal warfares, empires and minor tyrannies, man has been under the constant burden and threat of disease. Borne by the water he so dearly needs, living amongst muck and vermin, breathing fetid air, consuming wretched food, illness struck regularly and swiftly. We now live in a golden age of health knowledge. Understanding the causes of disease enabled us to eliminate them, a field known as Aetiology, of which this blog bears the same name. Tara is an assistant professor, and is especially interested in the microbiological causes of disease, something better known as germs to you and me. We're talking flu, malaria, hiv, e coli, and various viruses and bacteria, the stuff most sane people run away from. But hey, someone has to do it, and she does it with cheerful alacrity. 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. Is it really worthwhile sticking to? It's a shame, because there is a lot of insight that can be garnered from this blog. An ambivalent rating.
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, an ancestral human form from 3 million years ago, the ape that climbed down from the trees and started to walk. Afarensis also happens to be a blog written a hobbyist anthropologist, someone who earns his living outside the scientific world. Topics up for general discussion include fossils, evolution, the pseudoscience of creationism, and of course, all sorts of different primates. There is the occasional foray into politics, and what he describes as the "war on science". Posting is generally daily, and is done with a fairly light touch – with the minimal of jargon, and with the bemused eye of a curious, patient observer. Great for a general read, and it's almost worth leaving a comment on his blog to get the title of "Austrolopithecine", the name he gives to his commenters. A seven out of ten.