Blog reader survey results & winner of the stem cell swag

It’s fun and useful for me to learn about the readers of this blog in terms of who they are and what their interests are in terms of the types of posts that I do.

Below are the results of two recent reader surveys that I did to get this kind of information. The two polls got 162 and 192 responses, respectively.

Before I get to discussing the results, I also included a prize/raffle element to this survey whereby I would choose one winner out of the participants who would receive a stem cell t-shirt, and signed copies of my two books, Stem Cells: An Insiders Guide and GMO Sapiens.

And the winner of the random drawing is Josephine “Jo” Bowles, Senior Lecturer at the School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Queensland, Australia.

Congratulations, Jo!

Okay, now to the results.

readership survey

Who are you?

The first survey asked you all about your backgrounds. Exactly half of you turn out to be scientists with more academic researchers, but also quite a few industry researchers. Many of you are also patients or patient advocates, with your numbers being about the same as industry scientists. I tried really hard to think of as many types of backgrounds as I could for this poll, but even so in fourth place was “other” in this survey.

One category that in hindsight I should have included was “teacher”, but if you answered “other” in this survey please let me know in the comments what kinds of backgrounds I missed. The fifth most common selection was “Physician”, which doesn’t surprise. I hear from doctors regularly that they are readers. I was surprised not to see more journalists showing up in this survey since they also regularly get in touch about specific posts that they read. Of course this survey is not scientific and may not be very precise.

What kind of content do you like?

The second survey asked you all about what kinds of blog posts here on the Niche that you like the most. Here again came the challenge for me of what categories to include. The types of posts that are the most work and frankly pose the greatest risk to me are the ones that turned out to be the most popular: investigations. People want to know facts and new insights about difficult, messy situations. I get it and I try to regularly do those kinds of pieces despite the fact that I’m so busy, these take more time, and like I said I always am concerned about risks of being sued or threatened.

Other popular types of posts included Newsy items, journal-club like paper reviews, opinion pieces and interviews. I was surprised that CRISPR pieces weren’t more popular because when I do them I can see in the metrics that they are heavily read, but then again this is mostly a stem cell blog.

Thanks for doing the survey and please as you read consider adding in your voice in the comments.

Did blogger DrugMonkey drop the mic?

One of the blogs I’ve really valued over the years was written by a pseudonymous academic blogger called DrugMonkey, but for two months the Monkey’s blog has been silent.

Has he called it a day? Dropped the mic after successfully having big impact?

What’s the deal?


After many years could it be that the DrugMonkey decided to move on to focus on other things? He provided valuable, no-B.S. perspectives on science and in particular on NIH funding. There was also the occasional post on the science of drugs that gave that blog and blogger his name.

One of the commenter’s on DrugMonkey’s last post, many of whom have been lamenting the possibility of the end of that blog, noted that he is still very active on Twitter.

Maybe he’ll be back to the blog eventually?

DrugMonkey’s disappearance from his blog has made me think more about my own blog. I’ve been at this blog more than 7 years and on the web with various websites for about a decade. You can read more about my web history here. If DrugMonkey is done or even just taking a blog sabbatical, I’m curious what was the deciding factor.

I still find the educational outreach on this blog to be a meaningful, positive thing to do despite being crazy busy overall. While there are many potential or even concrete risks, especially for me blogging as myself by name about often controversial subjects including reporting on stem cell clinics that have at times even threatened me, I continue to feel strongly about keeping this effort going.

How scientists can avoid being an anachronism when it comes to communication

Scientists want to stay up to speed on all the latest technological developments whether it is new equipment or new methods. To not stay up to speed on these techno innovations would be a huge mistake as a scientist.

For example, imagine a stem cell biologist today who was clueless about cellular reprogramming?

So why then do so many scientists cling to outdated technology when it comes to communication?

Why do they refuse to be an advocate outside their lab even in the slightest sense of the word?

Knoepfler Nature Medicine

In so doing they risk making themselves deeply out of touch, an anachronism if you will, and strongly reducing their impact and legacy.

On Friday I had a piece published in Nature Medicine where I made the case that scientists today and in the future need to be advocates too and make use of new advances in science communication technology.

The scientist-advocate of today and the future is not so much a hybrid as rather a scientist who wisely engages with the world around them using all available tools including going outside the confines of their own lab and scientific meetings. This may take some going out of your comfort zone, but it’s worth it.

In today’s interconnected world, the scientist who chooses not to advocate and not use social media is automatically behind the curve. You might as well be using a typewriter instead of a computer.

The scientist-advocate benefits the larger world around them through educational outreach, but they also benefit science and even themselves. Why themselves? I believe that scientists who interact with the wider community including patients, other scholars, and many others will be exposed to a collective breath of fresh air in the form of a diversity of opinions and perspectives. I certainly feel that way myself via working on advocacy as part of my professional career the last 3 years. I’ve learned a lot that way.

A couple years ago I did a piece talking about my blog for Nature in which I said “blog or be blogged”, but more than a year down the road from there I’d say it is more like “engage or become an anachronism”.

One need look no further than some of the information around and about my new Nature Medicine piece webpage to see how things have changed. Near the top of the webpage for my article is a little button “Article metrics” that is a relatively new feature in the last few years on many science articles in various journals. If you click it you see a new page with an evaluation of the article’s impact and importance based in part on social media metrics (see screen shot at the top of this blog piece).

On the left of this metrics page is a tool for citations, which of course my article as yet does not have since it is only a few days old. On the right are social media metrics including 128 Tweets, 6 Facebook pages, and 2 blog posts just 5 days after publications. My Altmetric score for the piece is 112 making it in the top 99th percentile out of 10,000 articles of similar ages in all journals and ranked #2 out of 60 similar Nature Medicine articles. Wow. That’s pretty cool.

One take home message from these data is that the article’s topic resonated with people. But the larger point is that how one’s article performs in social media matters today in a big way. This Altmetric scoring is there right along side citations scoring. The world of science communication and impact have changed. Citations are still incredibly important, but there is more to the story today in terms of impact.

Why are advocacy and modern science communication so intimately linked together?

Because a scientist-advocate understands that communicating via papers and at scientific meetings is, while hugely important, not enough any more. Things like Tweets, Facebook postings, blogs, and such are now permanently part of how scientists communicate, learn, advocate, and will be evaluated. By using social media, scientists broaden their impact and reach a much more diverse audience. In essence, they become an advocate in this way via a form of educational outreach.

This trend is only going to continue as the scientific world and the world at large become ever more digital and interconnected. Sticking with 20th century modes of scientific communication is a way to be left behind.