ScienceOnline’09: Interview with Peter Lipson

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline’09 back in January.
Today, I asked one of my SciBlings and friends, Peter Lipson, aka Pal MD of the White Coat Underground, to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your (scientific/medical) background?
I’m a husband, dad, and internist. An internist is a medical doctor who specializes in adult health and disease. I’ve always loved science, but medicine isn’t a science as much as the practical application of science.
PalMD pic.JPGWhat do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?
Well, I’m pretty much stuck with the three roles I mentioned, being in the middle of life and all. I’d love to do more writing and more teaching, if the economics of medicine were to allow it. In addition to writing on medicine, I’ve recently started writing on fatherhood as well. Interestingly, this turned out to be both popular and controversial. Part of blogging, for me at least, is showing how real live professionals balance the personal and professional. The folks who don’t like it, well, they can get their own blog.
Oh, i also have a podcast (called “The PalCast“) that goes out a couple of times a month where I discuss many of the same issues as I do on my blog, but in a different way.
I love writing (and strangely, I include the PalCast in that) and wish being a grownup let me do more of it.
What is your Real Life job?
I have my own private practice, and I teach medical residents and medical students at a teaching hospital. I work about 60 hours a week and squeeze blogging into the gaps.
What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?
The opportunity to reach a wide audience is fascinating. Seriously, the people I’ve “met” online are interesting, smart, knowledgeable, even outside their own fields, and they’ve taught me a lot. I expected my blogging to be 1) ignored, and when i failed at that, 2) expository. It turns out that my readers know a lot and are willing to share their knowledge.
How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?
I’ve had patients discover my writing, but it’s not an integrated part of my work or home life. I do have friends who read my stuff, but not that many. I do use twitterfeed to tweet all of my blog posts. I accept my readers as friends on facebook, but I don’t use it that much. I don’t really check my friendfeed much anymore.
When and how did you discover science/medical blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science/medical blogs while at the Conference?
I didn’t know that much at the blogosphere when I started out. I believe my first post was sometime around March of 07 on wordpress (the original blog is inactive and in storage so no links). As I started to follow links, I ran into Orac’s blog ( and followed links around the medical blogosphere from there. I’ve met some terrific people, and over the last several months I’ve been posting occasionally at, a terrific blog run by David Gorski and Steve Novella about, well, science-based medicine.
I met some great people at SciOnline but I think I may have been the only med blogger around.
Many medical bloggers write under pseudonyms. You don’t (at least not any more). What made you decide to blog under your own name?
You co-moderated a session about pseudonymity on the blogs. There is still a lot of misunderstanding, including in the mainstream media, about the role of pseudonyms and the ways of building reputation online unconnected to one’s real life persona. For example, a pseudonymous blogger was recently outed by media in the UK, right after he received the George Orwell prize for journalism (forgetting that ‘George Orwell’ was also a pseudonym). Where do you see the future regarding this issue – will it resolve itself over time? What can be done to persuade people that pseudonymus bloggers are not automatically less trustworthy, or that pseudonymous does not equal anonymous? Did you learn something about it from your own session?

Nothing can be done to persuade people that pseudonymous bloggers are as trustworthy as named bloggers, but that’s life. Hopefully, the writing speaks for itself. Critics of pseudonymous blogging often have a bone to pick with the content of the blog and use the author’s identity as a straw man argument. I pretty much feel that trustworthiness is a non-issue in this regard. There are many other reasons to use a pseudonym, however. I “came out” because I realized that some day I would be outed anyway and I didn’t want to allow myself to rely on anonymity. I do still blog under a pseudonym because it’s part of my online identity—it’s associated with my writing and ideas more closely than my real name.
People who out anonymous bloggers are assholes. Still, if you’re anonymous, you’ve got to remember that there’s a lot of assholes out there.
Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
Just meeting people from so many different fields widened the scope of my reading (one of the first things I did when I got home was change my google reader subscriptions). I also got lots of ideas from sources that to me were unlikely, such as Henry Gee, gg, Salman Hameed, and many others outside of my field.
It was so nice to meet you in person and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.
Me too. Let’s hope the economy perks up a little!
See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.


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