This has been coming for a while, but I needed a push to make it official. I'm not much of a blogger anymore (four posts a year doesn't quite cut it), so it's only fair that I wrap things up at SciAm Blogs, at least for the foreseeable future. Maybe I'll find inspiration again someday and get back into writing, or move on entirely -- who knows. For now, I'll be back at Skeptic Wonder at Field of Science. I might steal back with me the name Ocelloid, as 'Skeptic Wonder' fools people into thinking it's a blog on skepticism, which is a bit misleading. Ocelli, on the other hand, aren't things most people have opinions on. And there's an amusing allusion in a lateral transfer of an ocelloid to a rather peculiar theory, but you'll have to harass me if you'd like that story posted later ;-)
My role at SciAm is made largely redundant anyway by an excellent blogger on things microbial -- Jennifer Frazer at The Artful Amoeba. Her stories are well-written and thoroughly researched, and you should follow them if you don't already! And outside SciAm, Elio Schaechter keeps an awesome blog Small Things Considered, where he regularly covers small critters with nuclei as well. You can also follow the adventures of an amateur protistologist (ciliatologist?) Bruce Taylor on It Came From a Pond; and for a regular stream of awesome pictures there's arcella.nl and penard.de -- seriously amazing and also quite regularly updated.
As for myself, there are obscure protist species I must slice up for ultrastructure ('cell anatomy', if you will) and a couple completely novel genera I must describe. If you follow me to my old blog, I may share some unembargoed bits of those stories. I feel a bit like a 19th century naturalist describing some weird new worms and cutting them open and telling the world for the first time what's inside -- isn't it amazing one can still do that today? All in all, grad school is going pretty well so far, and my interest in science seems to be gradually returning after a bit of a downturn. And my colleagues come up with so much cool new stuff that my interest in protists has never been under threat.
I am grateful for the opportunity Bora provided me with the invite to the SciAm blog network (it feels like as much of a fluke now as it did the day I got that email!), and the staff have been fantastic to work with. It was an honour to be included (snuck in?) in the midst of amazing science writers, and to get a small taste of the writing world. And most of all -- I am most thankful for you, my readers, without whom writing becomes an exercise in hypergraphia. The continued support and encouragement means the world to me. So, let's say this is not a farewell, but yet another transition.
With that, I'd like to leave this inked tree of protists as a final offering to this space. I hope you enjoy!
Hand-drawn tree of eukaryotes, inked, scanned and vectorised in Illustrator. Click to enlarge.
PS: some thoughts for the science blogging community
The majority of my blogging breakdown is my own -- the difference between a professional writer and someone who likes writing is that the former actually writes no matter the inspiration, or mood, or energy, as deadlines are still deadlines and commissioned work must be done. It takes a special talent to be able to produce adequate writing on schedule, especially given how masochistic the whole creative process tends to be. I operate in erratic bursts, and the periods between them can easily be measured in months. Additionally, the anxiety of having someone else's name attached to the blog made it tremendously more difficult for me to post, as I was constantly worrying about whether or not it would be appropriate or substantive enough. Writing through anxiety is a difficult exercise.
However, my own issues aside -- the social atmosphere in the science blogging community has rapidly deteriorated in my mind -- or, perhaps more accurately, had become increasingly incompatible with my views on things. Not that anyone should care, so I didn't bother to write anything. I was also worried about backlash, because I saw what happened to people who expressed opinions I secretly sympathised with. Cowardice, sure, but I needed to stay out of drama until I was in a more secure place employment-wise (which I am at the moment), and I did not want to drag SciAm into it by association. (I try to feign professionalism sometimes, believe it or not). But since this is the last post, I'll stray off topic for the only time on this blog, and just spew it out. Once again, these are my opinions alone and represent absolutely no one, especially not my employers or colleagues. Here we go.
You see, once we had a community. A positive, supportive one. A friendly one. An imperfect one, with problems and legitimate grievances. But an overall supportive and beneficial one. But some of you were not interested in fixing problems. Instead, you were more interested in banishing them. At the expense of banishing people. Useful people, even. People who promoted you, who supported you, who were integral to building this community. You did not want discussions. You wanted a cleansing. A zero-tolerance policy. North American culture in general is very fond of zero-tolerance approaches. It's a bit of a cultural pathology, everyone has them. You're good or evil, you're with us or against us, etc.
What happened, happened. How it happened is what scares me, and what turns me off the whole sci blogging scene altogether. I was legitimately scared to voice my thoughts and even questions. I haven't faced this fear since around middle school or so. It was very reminiscent of bullying. In fact, some confided to me that it was bullying. Social media has a powerful tendency towards homogenising opinions into a flavourless monolithic blob. While many who use social media are clearly and sincerely interested in promoting diversity, it is a bitter irony that the platform itself suppresses it. Dissenting opinions get transformed to strawmen and people become literal [insert favourite tyrants here]. Instead of trying to understand why someone you consider reasonable wrote something (in the case of twitter, in <140 characters!) so apparently shocking, and giving them the benefit of the doubt, you immediately jump to the conclusion that they are against whatever cause is in question. And the causes in question are usually far too complex to have a single position on. Especially one measured in not even words, but characters.
But no benefits of the doubt are given -- you stray from the path, you're obviously up to no good. And you get axed. This breeds a form of conservatism -- the group as a whole becomes too terrified to say something that will be misunderstood, and what could be a diverse discussion by multiple people of varied backgrounds becomes an echo chamber, a 'circlejerk' to use cruder but more to-the-point internet terminology.
It's somewhat ironic: in this system, you value minorities, you value women, you value the disadvantaged -- but you do not value people. Individuals are worthless, to be cast aside the moment you find something disagreeable in them. People will support you until the first flaw, and then they take off to find someone not-yet-flawed instead. I admit that there's an element in culture in my finding this strange and disagreeable -- in Russian culture (as well as several other Slavic ones I've dealt with) we tend to see friendship and personal relationships (but especially friendships) as something rather sacred, something that should ideally transcend ideological differences, political disagreements, and especially character flaws. That can lead to issues in its own right, of course -- everything comes at a trade-off, and every cultural description hides within it a massive statistical mess, but that's something that always bothered me here, just how quickly people discard friendships they find no longer savoury. And this is especially nasty on the internet.
Mature nuanced discussions were never a blatant strong point of the internet, but here we have mature, nuanced individuals -- intelligent, experienced individuals with a genuine interest to improve the world around them -- having discussions on the level of teenage basement trolls. That, I think, is tragic.
...and for what was all this? We lost a network. We lost voices who fought for us. We lost each other. We lost direction. We lost our actual main goal -- to communicate the wonders of science with the world. And to some extent, I think this has damaged our rapport as bloggers with both journalist as well a scientist communities. Not to mention the curious public looking at all this in bemused confusion.
We gained nothing.