ScienceBlogs is coming to an end. I don’t know that there was ever a really official announcement of this, but the bloggers got email a while back letting us know that the site will be closing down. I’ve been absolutely getting crushed between work and the book-in-progress and getting Charlie the pupper, but I did manage to export and re-import the content to an archive site back on steelypips.org. (The theme there is an awful default WordPress one, but I’m too slammed with work to make it look better; the point is just to have an online archive for the temporary redirects to work with.)
I’m one of a handful who were there from the very beginning to the bitter end– I got asked to join up in late 2005, and the first new post here was on January 11,2016 (I copied over some older content before it went live, so it wasn’t just a blank page with a “Welcome to my new blog!” post). It seems fitting to have the last post be on the site’s last day of operation.
The history of ScienceBlogs and my place in it was… complicated. There were some early efforts to build a real community among the bloggers, but we turned out to be an irascible lot, and after a while that kind of fell apart. The site was originally associated with Seed magazine, which folded, then it was a stand-alone thing for a bit, then partnered with National Geoographic, and the last few years it’s been an independent entity again. I’ve been mostly blogging at Forbes since mid-2015, so I’ve been pretty removed from the network– I’m honestly not even sure what blogs have been active in the past few years. I’ll continue to blog at Forbes, and may or may not re-launch more personal blogging at the archive site. A lot of that content is now posted to
What led to the slow demise of ScienceBlogs? Like most people who’ve been associated with it over the years, I have Thoughts on the subject, but I don’t really feel like airing them at this point. (If somebody else wants to write an epic oral history of SB, email me, and we can talk…) I don’t think it was ever going to be a high-margin business, and there were a number of mis-steps over the years that undercut the money-making potential even more. I probably burned or at least charred some bridges by staying with the site as long as I did, but whatever. And it’s not like anybody else is getting fabulously wealthy from running blog networks that pay reasonable rates.
ScienceBlogs unquestionably gave an enormous boost to my career. I’ve gotten any number of cool opportunities as a direct result of blogging here, most importantly my career as a writer of pop-physics books. There were some things along the way that didn’t pan out as I’d hoped, but this site launched me to what fame I have, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
So, ave atque vale, ScienceBlogs. It was a noble experiment, and the good days were very good indeed.
Today is the last day that ScienceBlogs will exist. Sometime today the site will go into read-only mode. A few days later, it will disappear completely from the Internet. It’s a sad thing to contemplate after all these years. Whatever happened later, I will always be grateful for the start in blogging I got there.
Some work remains to be done with the site, and I am not ready to produce new posts for it yet while these odds and ends remain to be taken care of. Due to a confluence of events in addition to still having to tweak the blog to my satisfaction, I am not sure if I will be able to manage to produce new material until Monday or Tuesday. (I’d rather that things be nailed down before I start writing again.) However, don’t let that stop you from exploring, kicking the tires, commenting, etc. That’ll help me figure out what the problems are and how things are working.
I will try to make sure that comments from the last couple of weeks transfer over, but I can’t guarantee it given the tight timeline here. Either way, I don’t recommend commenting here any more. it is also possible that some comments could get lost over at the new blog.
Of course, if something happens that so gets under my skin (or amuses me) before then, I might not be able to restrain myself, WordPress be damned.
As of November 1st, 2017, ScienceBlogs is shutting down, necessitating relocation of this blog.
It’s been over eight years and 1279 posts. It’s been predatory open access publishers, April Fool’s posts and multiple wars on science. A long and wonderful trip, career-transforming, network building and an awful lot of fun. Over that period of time, ScienceBlogs has gone from the 800 pound gorilla of science blogging to just another site with not enough traffic to keep the lights on, which I guess is the way of the world. Things change, life moves on.
Thanks to everyone at ScienceBlogs for all the support and encouragement. And mostly, thanks to all my readers for their support, time and attention.
But the story isn’t over, only shifting setting. Over the course of the next few days I’ll be relaunching this blog at Scientopia, joining old friends and making new ones.
It’s been a couple of years since we lost the Queen of Niskayuna, and we’ve held off getting a dog until now because we were planning a big home renovation– adding on to the mud room, creating a new bedroom on the second floor, and gutting and replacing the kitchen. This was quite the undertaking, and we would not have wanted to put a dog through that. It was bad enough putting us through that…
Withe the renovation complete, we started looking for a dog a month or so back, and eventually ended up working with a local rescue group with the brilliantly unsubtle name Help Orphan Puppies. This weekend, we officially adopted this cutie:
Charlie, the new pupper at Chateau Steelypips, showing off his one pointy ear.
He was listed on the website as “Prince,” but his foster family had been calling him “Charlie,” and the kids liked that name a lot, so we’re keeping it. He’s a Plott Hound mix (the “mix” being evident in the one ear that sticks up while the other flops down), one of six puppies found with his mother back in May in a ravine in I think they said South Carolina. He’s the last of the litter to find a permanent home. The name change is appropriate, as Emmy was listed as “Princess” before we adopted her and changed her name.
Charlie’s a sweet and energetic boy, who’s basically housebroken, and sorta-kinda crate trained, which is about the same as Emmy when we got her. He knows how to sit, and is learning other commands. He’s very sweet with people, and we haven’t really met any other dogs yet, but he was fostered in a home with two other dogs, so we hope he’ll do well. And he’s super good at jumping– he cleared a 28″ child safety gate we were attempting to use to keep him in the mud room– and does a zoom with the best of them:
Charlie does a zoom.
The kids are absolutely over the moon about having a dog again, as you can see from their paparazzi turn:
Charlie poses for the paparazzi.
He’s a very good boy, all in all, and we’re very pleased to have him. I can’t really describe how good it felt on Saturday afternoon to once again settle down on the couch with a football game on tv, and drop my hand down to pet a dog lying on the floor next to me. I still miss some things about Emmy, but Charlie’s already filling a huge void.
You may be wondering why I have been so sentimental even though the year is not over yet. I am happy to inform you that it is not because I am retiring. On the contrary, I am packing up my virtual bags and moving this blog to a new site! Pardon the dust while we get settled into our new digs.
And the #1 blog entry published thus far in 2017 discussed whether there was an evolutionary advantage to being stupid:
As I was looking through the scientific literature the other day, I came across an article published in 1973, “The Evolutionary Advantages of Being Stupid.” With a title like that, how could I not read it?
In this article Dr. Eugene D. Robin discussed how larger and more complex brains are associated with greater intelligence, which by evolutionary standards was thought to be related to “superiority.” He described how this line of thinking places man at the peak of evolution resulting in our tendency toward an anthropocentric view of the world. Anthropocentrism also leads to interpreting or seeing things in terms of our own experiences or value/belief systems.
Dr. Robin went on to argue that looking at survival of species in hindsight suggests that those which survive have done well whereas those that have died off must have been inferior. Rather, he argues it is important to think dynamically. Meaning that traits evolve continually as does the environment. So a trait that may benefit the species at one point in time might not help at all at if conditions change. He quotes Asimov who posed the question, “Which is the fitter, a man or an oyster?” If Earth were covered in water, clearly oysters would fair better than man.
With regards to intelligence, Dr. Robin also proposed thinking in terms of it being a dynamic trait that could help or handicap a species. Take for example diving mammals. Mammals that are good at diving, have evolved the ability to survive with low levels of oxygen. This ability may also protect them from health conditions associated with low oxygen such as blood loss, heart attacks, strokes, etc. In this example, smaller brains relative to body size are more advantageous as it allows the animal to dive longer (and perhaps have better health). In other words, by presumably sacrificing intelligence, the animals with smaller brains have increased survival. His own research looked at turtles that can dive for more than 1 week. To accomplish this, turtle brains create energy through pathways that do not rely on oxygen and, as a result, have reduced activity while diving. Thus, by anthropocentric standards turtles are relatively “stupid” even though they have survived over 200 million years.
Image of turtles from Lvova Anastasiya (Львова Анастасия, Lvova) (Own work (own foto)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Another argument Dr. Robin presents is that dinosaurs were great at hunting because they were big. At the same time, their large size meant they needed to eat a lot and thus were at risk of running out of resources. Compare this to humans, who are more intelligent and thus able to manipulate the environment to produce adequate food (and other resources). What impact have these environmental modifications had? Or consider the modern rise of so-called “superbugs” from the overuse of antibiotics. Is human intelligence thus a lethal trait?
Eugene D. Robin. The evolutionary advantages of being stupid. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 16(3): 369-380, 1973. doi: 10.1353/pbm.1973.0060