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!

skeptic magazine 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?

4 thoughts on “As Neuroskeptic blog ends, reflections on skeptical science blogging”

  1. neuroscience is a science just like theoretical physics: they have that appeal and share that curse, that many things are interesting but few can be proven experimentally.
    On the other hand, psychology and psychiatry, firstly behavioral analytical sciences, case by case, and through the experience of stupid brains, constructing predictions, have become more data analytical sciences where what is analyzed, what is It is valued, it is not the behavior of the individual but his bias in relation to the predictions of the accumulated data.
    If they assess my ability based on the amount of likes my blogs produce, and not on the relevance that they have, they are simply undervaluing my ability. To hell with them.

  2. I am not going to tell you what to do or what you don’t, but the thinking brain is not going to rest and already, it is too trained for that.
    The topics will continue to emerge, but through another social media, could it be YouTube with 256 char summary for Twitter?
    People don’t want to read half an hour paper, but can be listening an hour video, neuroscience? Go for it, Trojans!

  3. My #1 question I often ask to the newest lab tech to the most vaunted PhD is “How do you know what you know?” (Or how do you know what you claim is ‘true’ actually is true?).

    The techs often get flustered and say “I learned it in college”. PhDs and the like sometimes bristle or get condescending “Of course this is a fact! It’s how it works”. Some rare individuals can actually back up a statement with primary sources, well documented experiments (that have been replicated), or some other answer which at least gives credence to their challenged statement.

    All to often people (including scientists) just take it for granted that while we stand on the backs of giants, so to do we stand on misinformation, assumptions, and sometimes just plain bad data.

    Saying “Of course the world is round” is one thing. But it can be proven, and fairly easily. From star patterns, lunar eclipses, to some basic (or lightly complex) math you can recreate all the evidence that our ancestors used to prove a round-ish earth.

    Saying and knowing are two very separate things.

    So, yes: Being skeptical is one of the key foundations of science. If we believed every thing that was said, if we took everything at face (or perceived) value, where would humanity be? Still in caves I’d wager.

    So yes, be skeptical, until you learn the facts (and check the facts)! Then you know… and that’s half the battle.

  4. Michael Finfer

    Perhaps you could suggest a stem cell article to Michael Shermer and offer to write one for him. I suspect that you’d get a positive response.

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