The day has finally arrived – the new Scientific American blog network is live! And, after almost a year of relative rest, my blog is about to get active again, with substantive posts coming up on a regular basis.
For my old readers who followed me here – you may not be as interested in my introduction below, as it is a partial rewrite and re-edit from several of my old posts, so just pick up the new feed and go check out all the other bloggers on the new network.
But before you leave, you may also be curious to know who made the delightful new banner? It is the artistic creation of Claire Fahrbach, a young artist, illustrator and designer from North Carolina who recently moved to San Francisco in search of a job and a career. See the banner big (and click to see even bigger):
Now for the new readers…a little bit about myself and about this blog. I don’t often write about myself, but every blog needs to have something biographical so readers can figure out where the author is coming from, what to expect, how to connect.
I was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). I always loved animals and planned to do something with them, perhaps become a biologist or a veterinarian (or join a circus, or work at a zoo). I grew up in a family that valued language, art, theater, literature and scholarship, so I grew up to be quite a bookworm.
In school, being a brainy math geek and science nerd did not make me ostracized – it made me popular. It was a different time in a different place. It was a different culture. Ever since, I have been trying to re-create that kind of culture around me – make it possible again for a science geek to be seen as cool (for example, getting a picture of myself taken, right, with an inflatable toy sauropod on my shoulder – click to see big).
I was in vet school at the University of Belgrade when the war broke out in 1991. I escaped the country a week before, on one of the last trains out before the borders closed, sanctions were imposed, and the country descended into a decade of chaos. Several flights later, I found myself in North Carolina and, after a couple of years of getting my bearings, decided not to pursue veterinary medicine any more, but to go back to basic science – biology at North Carolina State University.
I did research on circadian (daily) and photoperiodic (seasonal) rhythms in a bird, Japanese quail. I wanted to understand how a brain measures and perceives such long periods of time, and especially how sex hormones affect this timing, which is relevant for understanding why human adolescents cannot fall asleep at night and then wake up in the morning, as well the subtle differences between the sexes (you can click on the image, left, to see large so you can see the quail – orange breasted one is a male, mottled gray-white is a female).
After ten years of grad school, I realized that things I was good at – thinking, connecting ideas from disparate research traditions, designing clever experiments, observing animal behavior, animal surgery, discussing, teaching, placing my work in historical and philosophical context – were going out of fashion. Instead, biology was becoming more and more an exercise in things I was bad at – pipetting all day and running gels, following recipes, doing what I am told to, working at the bench in complete silence for 13 hours a day seven days a week, getting all secretive and competitive.
So I bailed out. While I was still finishing up my last experiments, I started blogging about politics. When the 2004 election was over, I switched to blogging about science and science education. Then I fused those three interests into a single blog. The rest is history.
Now you probably understand the name of the blog and the banner better. The quail on the banner is my old laboratory model animal (Coturnix japonica – I am also known online as ‘Coturnix’). The clock, on the banner and in the title, symbolizes the Biological Clock, the subject of my research. The Web is, of course, the World Wide Web that connects us all. And the blog name as a whole, apart from alluding to my scientific interest, also dates me back to the 1960s (when The Beatles rocked around the clock, with their version of the Bill Haley song), and refers to the question I often get: “Do you ever sleep? You seem to be online around the clock!”.
While much of what I do these days has something to do with writing and publishing and the media, I still find it strange to think of myself as a science journalist. While I still sometimes blog about science, I more often write about meta-stuff, e.g., about science communication, science blogging, science journalism, science publishing, science education, media in general etc. I have not published any articles printed on paper in legacy media and while I am open to that possibility, I am not actively doing anything to make that happen – I feel at home on the Web. I am active on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Posterous and numerous other online spaces. My blogging has brought a number of jobs, gigs and other opportunities.
Together with my friend Anton Zuiker, I organize an annual conference on the intersection between science and the Web – ScienceOnline. The fifth one was a few months ago, and the sixth one will be in January. Every year I also conduct blog interviews with some of the participants of the conference.
Anton and I also teamed up with some friends and built two aggregators you may be interested in – Scienceblogging.org (organized by networks) and ScienceSeeker.org (organized by topics). Both are, we think, useful starting points for exploring and keeping up with the science blogosphere and news.
I also edit an annual anthology of the best writing on science blogs, The Open Laboratory. The next, sixth edition of the book will be published by FSJ/Scientific American.
More recently, I got interested in promoting young and new science writers, and thus in the way science programs work in schools of journalism. I am currently on the advisory board of the Medical and Science Journalism program at UNC, and, starting in September, will be a Visiting Scholar in the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at NYU.
To get a sense of kinds of topics I like to cover, here are some of my most recent posts:
Circadian clock without DNA–History and the power of metaphor
The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again
Me and the copperheads–or why we still don’t know if snakes secrete melatonin at night
Web breaks echo-chambers, or, ‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’ – my remarks at #AAASmtg
Cicadas, or how I Am Such A Scientist, or a demonstration of good editing
Giant Dino exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, or why I should not be a photojournalist
A “sixth sense” for earthquake prediction? Give me a break!
Book review: Pink Boots and the Machete by Mireya Mayor
And if you want more, I have compiled some selections of my best old posts about the media and posts about biology.