April 8, 2021

As Neuroskeptic blog ends, reflections on skeptical science blogging

As Neuroskeptic blog ends, reflections on skeptical science blogging

It seems like being somewhat skeptical would be an inherent part of being a biomedical scientist. But not always it seems. On the other hand, some of us take it to another level by science blogging out our skepticism about certain topics.

Note that there’s something called the Skeptics Society that publishes a magazine Skeptic. I had no idea! I’ll have to check it out. Maybe they can take on unproven stem cell clinics? You can see a montage of some of their cool covers below from Google search.

This is all more on my mind as we lost a long-time skeptical science blog in the last few days!

As Neuroskeptic blog ends, reflections on skeptical science blogging
Skeptic Magazine covers from Google search. Maybe this publication has something in common with skeptical science blogging.

Goodbye Neuroskeptic blog

Neuroskeptic has been one of my favorite skeptically-leaning science blogs for the last 8 years. They announced on Twitter (see below) that they are done blogging at Discover Magazine.

Maybe now we can think of Neuroskeptic as more a person than a blog. Perhaps it has always been that way and that scientist is a skeptical neuroscientist. Maybe some of you know who Neuroskeptic is, but I don’t. It really doesn’t matter. Their words speak for themselves. Fortunately, at least for a while it seems Discover will host the existing content from the past eight years so check out the Neuroskeptic blog if you haven’t already.

Science blogging

I’ve been science blogging here for more than 11 years now on The Niche. I find it very rewarding both in terms of the interactions it has forged with other people and also the educational outreach we’ve been able to achieve.

However, regularly doing science blogging is difficult in many ways. I feel like it has become more difficult over the years too.

The internet seems a lot noisier than it did back when I and Neuroskeptic started blogging.

People’s attention spans are shorter too. Even a relatively medium-length blog post may be too long for a typical reader to get through in a world where we are all used to Tweets and Instagram posts, TikTok, and more.

Blogging can also be a lot of work. I try to do mine on weekends or at night, but it still takes time and energy. I can imagine that in some cases blogging regularly could also take time away from family. Neuroskeptic mentioned in their last post something about family as well.

Has Google hurt science blogging in recent years?

Another challenge is that Google has dramatically changed over the dozen or so years.

It enforces what I view as artificial search parameters (basically called “SEO”) that skew search results toward only certain content. Often that content is artificially produced or formatted just to rank highly in Google search results. Does that yield better content? In some cases, no.

For instance, it seems Google’s search algorithms are often somewhat unable to navigate the stem cell search arena very well or with nuance. What’s the difference between a stem cell clinic/marketeer website selling dangerous injections and a blog like The Niche that comments on or fact-checks such clinics amongst other things?

It seems obvious, but perhaps not always and on all levels to Google’s AI.

Maybe that’ll get better soon.

I hope so. I’m going to write more about Google and the stem cell field soon.

Evolving blogging on The Niche

Here at The Niche we’ve tried to implement changes to make for better experiences for our readership. These include a whole new stem cell fact-checking resource. I’m also doing more stem cell and other science videos for our Stem Cell YouTube Channel.

In our particular case, because we are running point in the battle against unproven stem cell clinics and their marketeers, we’ve had to change more than perhaps other science blogs. We have opponents who make hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars off of vulnerable patients. These opponents can sink some chunk of that back into Google SEO in a way that an academic science blog never could.

On the positive, I’ve also been trying to include more writers here. Our newest regular writer, Ricki Lewis, is an amazing science journalist.

Being skeptical has risks

Being a scientist who is publicly skeptical also risks coming with a cost at times. People, sometimes powerful people, get annoyed with you or worse. A few even try to inflict a steep cost on you for your skepticism or other perceived transgressions. You can imagine that unproven stem cell clinics are not exactly thrilled with me, for instance.

Mostly, though, the feedback has been extremely positive.

What’s the future for The Niche?

Will I still be doing science blogging here on The Niche in 2-3 years? Probably.

5-10 years?

If I do continue that much longer, it’s possible the blog will change in more dramatic ways. We could even become less skeptical and more newsier.

Calling all skeptical scientists

If you are a skeptical scientist who voices their views publicly, what has your experience been like? Positive? Has there been a cost somehow?

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