Why I’ve Gone Back to Seed – or ‘Why I Blog More Happily Now’

pic of Dobbs & Thiebaud's
With this post, and with pleasure, I bring the blog formerly known as Smooth Pebbles — now Neuron Culture (mark your RSS readers!) — back to Scienceblogs.

Seventeen months ago I said farewell to this Scienceblogs home, at least for a time, because I had not found blogging a comfortable fit. Since then, however, as I blogged off in the hinterland, I’ve come to better see how this slippery but flexible form can hold a valuable place in both my own writing and in the changing world of journalism.

I’ve been particularly swayed by the work of bloggers innovatively exploiting the immediacy, constancy, and scalability of this weird form, both in science writing and elsewhere — among them Carl Zmmer, Jonah Lehrer, Vaughn Bell, Tyler Cohen, Cory Doctorow, Philip Dawdy, the people at Wall Street Journal Health Blog, and Alex Ross, to name a few.

Of all, however, the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, through both his example and his treatises on blogging, has been foremost in helping me see how I might blog more happily and productively,. There’s an irony in Sullivan’s influence: The biggest page hit I ever got while at Scienceblogs before was when Sullivan blogged my farewell post. It was his post that got me reading him more regularly and closely and thinking about just what he’s really doing at the Daily Dish: not just reporting, explaining, and opining — the reach of most blogs — but both stimulating and (co-)curating a set of discussions.

Sullivan’s blog and others have also shown me that blogging (for which, truly, I wish there were a prettier word) lets you track changing issues in a way that longer-form and more traditional journalism does not. As someone fond of the long form — of immersing myself in a story and then working it till it’s just so before sending it out — I had (and still have) some trouble getting comfortable with the idea of writing more quickly on subjects I care about. Yet the blog form — more quickly launched, more scaleable — lets you examine issues more steadily, repeatedly, and collaboratively than traditional journalism does, and these advantages hold an increasing attraction to me.. Some my key subjects seem especially ripe for this approach.

Consider, for instance, the almost operatic crisis growing within psychiatry right now, as scandals embarrass the discipline and the drug-dominated monoamine hypothesis of depression is transformed from a badge of empiricism to a contradiction of it. I could write a book on the convolutions psychiatry is undergoing right now, and may yet do so. Yet the blogosphere is already shaping public discussion of this issue as much as more traditional newspaper and magazine stories do — partly because blogs can visit the issue(s) more steadily and (over time) more thoroughly, and partly because the blogosphere can mix both the first-rate, invaluable mainstream reporting of people like Gardiner Harris and the digging, personal perspectives, and inside dish from people like Daniel Carlat, Philip Dawdy, Liz Spikol, and the folks at Pharmalot.

Same thing can be said for the growing momemtum for school reform, health care reform, and universal health care; the conflict in medicine between empiricism and research driven by commercial interests; and the revision of psychiatry’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual.

I hope to use this space to track and contribute to all those discussions and also to track the less complicated and laden puzzles pleasures of science and medicine, like how the brain works — not to mention music, sports, literature, and odd bits of culture.

Enough treatise. You actually came here for links? Okay: Below the fold, a few things I might have blogged on this past week had I not been enjoying the holidays, doing the drudge techy work of transferring this blog over from Typepad, and writing this:

Another story on internet gaming addiction” — and PsychCentral’s acerbic take on it (and the DSM-V).

In response to the Nature essay “Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the health,” which I covered first here and then here, there is now a modest proposal suggesting that “the next goal of an autonomy-enhancing bioethics should be the development and widespread use of cognition-dulling drugs, which serve to blot out all awareness except of the task at hand.” Hat tip: Nicholas Carr.

A marvelous story by David Samuels in the New Yorker about the wonderfully persistent bit of back-engineering done by truck driver/amateur scientist John Coster-Mullen to figure out the exact build of the Hiroshima bomb. Vintage New Yorker work; delectable amateur sleuthing.

A round-up of the best anthropology blogging of the last year, by the Neuroanthropology, a blog that has brought an awful lot to the table in its one year extant. Serpant mounds, Chomsky, tactile maps, other goodies.

Mind Hacks on a paper by Edward Vul, “Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience,” on the many fMRI studies in social neuroscience that feature correlations “too good to be true.”

And just in time for the holidays, “How Visiting Your Family Warps Your Brain,” seriously.

More TK. See you soon.

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