Today I am excited to introduce the intrepid band of bloggers writing on the CENtral Science chemistry blog network. It makes me happy that all the bloggers sent responses, not just the manager ;-)
1) Let me begin with you – can you tell our readers, please, who are you, where you come from and how you got into science blogging?
Rachel Pepling (benevolent overlord): As the online editor for Chemical & Engineering News, I have my hands in all the digital projects of the magazine. CENtral Science is quite possibly my favorite aspect of my job. I get to put my wildlife ecology background to use by observing and wrangling writers, and every once in a while get the opportunity to stretch out my atrophied writing muscles.
Jyllian Kemsley (The Safety Zone): I’m a reporter and writer in the science and technology group at C&EN. One of the subjects I cover is laboratory safety, and developing the Safety Zone was a natural outgrowth of that beat. The ‘Zone is an outlet for things that we don’t have room to cover in the magazine, and it fills a hopefully useful niche, especially for the academic community.
David Kroll, formerly Abel Pharmboy (Terra Sigillata): I'm a little different here in that I'm not a C&EN staff writer. I am, dare I say, a traditional science blogger. I'm an academic pharmacologist in Durham, NC, who started writing an indie blog in late 2005, got picked up by ScienceBlogs in the same class as Bora in June 2006, and left with him in the post-Pepsigate diaspora. While I was crying by the side of the road, I tweeted Carmen Drahl at C&EN to jokingly ask if they might be interested in taking in an itinerant blogger. Little did I know that Rachel had been thinking of expanding the network to include non-staff bloggers.
See Arr Oh (The Haystack): I’m relatively new to the science blogging game. I’ve been a bench chemist in a variety of different settings for the past 10 years, and one of the C&EN editors (Carmen Drahl) collaborated with me on a story . . . about scientific blogging! Eventually, she suggested that I write a few posts about drug development for The Haystack. Fast forward about a year, and here I am, with my own blog to boot.
Russ Phifer (The Safety Zone): I come from a unique perspective – that of a history major in a chemistry world. Despite working around chemicals since I was 16, I couldn’t get past the calculus I needed to make chemistry my major, so just call me a “practical” chemist with a specialty in hazardous materials management.
Sarah Everts (Artful Science): I’m a C&EN staff reporter normally based in Berlin, Germany. I started Artful Science because there are many more fun art and artifact science stories, tidbits and miscellanea than space in C&EN’s print magazine. I’ve been on sabbatical this fall in Philadelphia, and due to some labor laws, I can’t blog until I am back on staff again in January. One word: Withdrawal. In addition to museum science, I'm also slightly obsessed with sweat research, photography and macabre architecture.
Lauren Wolf (Newscripts): Before I started at C&EN, I was a sad, lonely postdoc working in a darkened laser lab by myself. I’ve got a background in physical chemistry. I fell into science blogging when Rachel Pepling twisted my arm to contribute to the Newscripts blog. Newscripts is a weekly feature in the magazine that covers quirky science news. The blog is the print column’s online companion.
Carmen Drahl (The Haystack): I'm a reporter in C&EN's science and technology group. Before joining the magazine I was in grad school and had my own blog. (You can read more about my bloggy beginnings in my 2010 interview with Bora). The blog I've contributed to the most is The Haystack, but I have guest posted at Newscripts, The Safety Zone, and Artful Science.
2) Everyone seems to agree that the summer of 2010 saw some big and important changes in the science blogging ecosystem. What are your own thoughts on this? Where do you think it will go next, over the next couple of years?
Carmen: I think the reorganization was good in that bloggers made all kinds of new connections. We would never have picked up a blogger as awesome as David were it not for the events of that summer, to name just one example. But at the end of the day, people come to blogs for good writing, or for a community or conversation. They cherry-pick-- most people don't go to some Big Network and read each blog that is on the list. So no matter what kinds of reorganizations happen in the future, bloggers need to think about writing well, about topics that they and their audience are passionate about.
Jyllian: I tend to follow individual blogs or bloggers rather than networks. For me and what I read, there wasn’t a huge change in 2010, just the task of making sure I followed bloggers to new homes. I don’t know what the future holds, but I hope for recognition that for good people to have the time and resources to create good content, they need to be paid.
David: I think that networks will always be important in the blogosphere because being invited implies some sort of vetting and (hopefully) an assurance of quality. But no endorsement or association can substitute for superb and timely science writing. The independent blogger will always be important. After all, the beauty of this medium is that anyone who cares to tell a story can fire up a free blog in an evening. The indie spirit is inherent in blogging.
I feel that networks will continue to fragment to focus on disciplinary strengths - like the Deep Sea News crew - but we'll each cross-pollinate the others' worlds to give readers fresh insights on our areas of interest. For example, Bora's idea for a Chemistry Day at SciAm Blog Network drew each blogger there to write about chemistry from the standpoint of their interests. Blog networks will always be important but anyone can be part of this conversation. And those of us with wide readership need to pay it back to promote indie bloggers the same way we were helped along by others.
3) How do you personally read science blogs? Do you use feeds, or social networks, or some other ways of keeping track of the science blogging world? How do you find new blogs?
Jyllian: Probably 90% RSS feeds, 10% social networks. I find new blogs when someone else points to them.
David: My RSS feeds pretty much go unread because they are so overwhelming every time I log in. Instead, I regularly go to about 12 or 15 blogs and rely on the learned minds in my Twitter stream to point me to things I must read. The most recent new blogs I've found by 1) checking out the sites of commenters and 2) moderating a blog carnival. So, comment on blogs and submit to carnivals!
Rachel: My RSS feeds are woefully neglected, and I know I’m missing some good stuff there. I’ve mostly been relying on twitter and Facebook, and a little bit of Google+. As with David, I discovered several new blogs through our recent carnival.
See Arr Oh: Honestly? Twitter is my online science world. Lab friends read great journal articles, blog about them, and then leave you a digital breadcrumb trail back to their recap. In this way, you find new content by linking through friends of friends – I’ve found aviation, culture, math, and cooking blogs, all by following chemistry links.
Russ: If someone doesn’t remind me about a blog, I probably won’t see it. I’m lucky if I remember to check Facebook once a week. Thankfully they now email me to tell me when my birthday is.
Sarah: I try to be diligent about staying on top of my RSS feeds. Twitter and Facebook supply more than enough goodies to fill up my reading time.
Lauren: I generally read posts that I’ve seen tweeted or added to Facebook. Every once in a blue moon, I’ll go through the blogroll and catch up on what’s new. I also check some of the quirky blogs if I’m seeking ideas for a Newscripts column. The Annals of Improbable Research is pretty good for that.
Carmen: I used to be dutiful at keeping up with RSS feeds, but like David, it got overwhelming seeing 1000+ unread things every time I'd log in. I'd say I visit a half-dozen blogs directly, I catch up on CENtral's goings-on once a week, and I get recommendations via Twitter. I've discovered great new blogs by reading the entries to the annual Open Laboratory blog anthology book contest.
4) Tell us a little bit more about CENtral Science. How did it come about? Who started it and why? How many of the bloggers mirror their posts on their own blogs and how many write only for the network? By what process do you add bloggers to the network – do they apply, do you invite them, or some other way?
Rachel: Conveniently, just about everyone deferred this question to me. Thanks, guys. CENtral Science has a (somewhat) long and sordid past. I convinced the top brass to let staff writers start experimenting with blogging back in 2006. We did a couple of meetings-centric blogs, and in 2008, launched C&ENtral Science, a permanent, multi-author blog about all things chemistry. That site became pretty unwieldy, so in 2009, Lisa Jarvis, now one of the Haystack writers, suggested we transform our single blog into a network of specialized blogs. And that’s what we did in March 2010. Plus, we dropped the “&” from our name and later that year started inviting non-staff writers to contribute.
Most of our contributors write only for our network. See Arr Oh and David also blog elsewhere, and David cross-posts on PLoS blogs and Science-Based Medicine.
I’m intentionally keeping our network fairly small – about a dozen or so. More than that would be next to impossible for me to manage, but it’s a nice size to create a small community. New bloggers are added by invitation, though I’m happy to hear from people who are interested in joining our band of geeks. All new blog pitches (from staff or contributors) go through a vetting process with the C&EN senior staff to make sure we’re not doing something already being done well elsewhere and that the topic is relevant to chemistry.
5) Where do you see CENtral Science within the global science blogging ecosystem – what is its position, how does it differ from others, what service does it provide?
See Arr Oh: We specialize in chemistry coverage, not just glossing over it like many “pop sci” blogs would, where they mention a reaction or an element and crossing out their mental “science” checkbox. We try to delve a few layers deeper, whether providing info on the research group, or perhaps offering an expert opinion. We demystify chemistry shop-talk, explain environmental issues, and tell you what’s in your drugs and paint. We also enjoy “geeking out” to new reactions and Nobel prize announcements.
Lauren: First and foremost, CENtral Science is a network of chemistry blogs, so we serve the chemistry community by delivering news and analysis about new drugs, compounds, business acquisitions, etc. I like to think of Newscripts specifically as a place where weary chemists—grad students taking a break from an experiment, professors hiding from students in their offices, and business executives avoiding mind-numbing meetings—can go to geek out for a little while and have some fun.
David: CENtral Science is unique in that the majority of writers are magazine staff, all of whom have chemistry PhDs or strong chemistry backgrounds. Chemistry is poorly represented in the science blogosphere, although some vocal folks like Matt Hartings and Chemjobber are helping to change that with us. Reading the staff writers and editors at CENtral Science gives the reader terrific insights on the state of the discipline because these are folks who spend all of their day engaged with sources in technology and policy that a lot of us academics never get to experience. Their depth of engagement in their daily work gives these staff blogs more appeal (to me) than things I write about as an academic.
Carmen: We're the network for chemistry! Now, it's true that many of the heavy-hitters that blog about chemistry do so from elsewhere or in an indie fashion. But I like to think one of the services we provide is to act as the occasional hub that brings all those blogs together into one slightly cacophonous chemistry sound. (Think the "your favorite reaction" blog carnival, which saw entries from talented folks like Paul Bracher of ChemBark and Janet Stemwedel of SciAmBlogs' own Doing Good Science).
6) What is next for CENtral Science?
David: Free ponies. No, seriously, I would like to do some original reporting and incorporate other media such as my own video. Working with the C&EN crew for a little over a year has really helped me step up my writing game and I am planning to write a book proposal in the next few months. Improving my interviewing skills and getting better at telling stories is my goal with the network over the next year. I also plan to reduce my use of the following words: awesome, fantastic, lovely, gorgeous, and brilliant - and buy a thesaurus.
See Arr Oh: Find more great science writers with a passion for chemistry, and loose them on the unsuspecting public!
Lauren: I can’t speak for the entire network, but for Newscripts, we’ll keep loving science and chemistry in particular. And we’ll keep trying to convey that to others. We’ll likely include some new writers and increase our volume of posts in our effort to dominate the chemistry blogosphere. The magazine has also started to dabble in taking video or our own, so you can keep a look out for Newscripts original clips.
Rachel: I’ll echo what See Arr Oh said about adding more great writers. Some blogs will retire, new ones will begin. No free ponies. More blog carnivals. Plus, we are so going to produce an OpenLab-worthy post one of these days. Even if I have to procure every single bottle of sliv on the market.
Carmen: Moving the 'chemistry' dot on the map of Science Lovers' Web Traffic a little closer to the center.
Name of the site: CENtral Science
Feed URL: http://cenblog.org/feed/
Motto, or subheading, or one-line explanation: The blog community for all things chemistry.
Owner (if corporate): Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) magazine
Founder(s): Most of the current crew
Current community manager: Rachel Pepling
Geographical location: throughout the US; Berlin, Germany
Date of launch: March 2010 (for the network)
Number of bloggers on the day of launch: 10 (7 blogs)
Maximum number of bloggers in the history of the site: 17 (11 blogs)
Current number of bloggers: 15
Average monthly traffic (visits/pageviews): 29,500/42,300
Top Bloggers: Too close to say
Key events from the history of the site: the infamous yellow t-shirt contest in 2010; our first blog carnival, “Your favorite reaction”
Previously in this series: