It was a deep, dark Saturday afternoon in December. The buzz about blogging was in full force in all the year-end media retrospectives and Presidential election postmortems. I was bored. I was also depressed (don't ask why). I don't remember why, but on a whim I started this blog. Indeed, you can look at my very first post here. (OK, it wasn't really my first post, which is here, but it was my first substantive post.) Since then, blogging has almost completely replaced my previous favorite online pastime, sparring with Holocaust deniers and alties on Usenet. Like others who have migrated from Usenet to blogging, I've now found that I enjoy blogging more. For me, the reason is because my blog can be what I want to write when I want to write it, rather than my reaction to what others write (which is what most Usenet posts amount to). It also serves as an outlet for my creativity and, yes, outright weirdness, which 15 years of nothing but technical and scientific writing and always having to be the fine upstanding citizen was slowly crushing. Even better, it simply replaced one online hobby with another, so that my total time online hasn't changed appreciably as far as I can tell. What that means is that I've almost completely disappeared from Usenet. It's probably not a big loss; Usenet is so big and diffuse, tens of thousands of different newsgroups, and relatively few readers relative to the potential of the web.
Although much has changed in six months and Respectful Insolence has evolved in ways I never could have foreseen (for example, as you might imagine I had never planned on EneMan becoming the de facto mascot of this weblog), what strikes me as I look at those old posts again is how consistent with my original vision I've managed to remain. Oh, sure, there have been times when I haven't been happy with what I've written or have wandered off on a tangent of mediocre posts, but for the most part I like my work. I think I've managed to fill a unique niche in the blogosphere. As far as I know, there are no other academic surgeons with labs out there blogging. (If anyone is aware of another one, please let me know. It's lonely being the only one.) In fact, I'm unaware of any academic physicians out there with blogs, but I can't believe that there aren't some out there somewhere. Further, I'm unaware of anyone whose main theme is critical thinking that encompasses science, alternative medicine, and history in quite the same ratios as that I like to discuss, who also throws in his eclectic musical tastes and strange humor.
As I enter the second half of my first year, now is as good a time as any to take stock and figure out more ways to try to improve. I think that this blog is better than it was when it started, and I will have failed if it fails to continue to improve and is not significantly better six months from now. In the interests of continuing to get better, here are some changes I'm seriously considering:
- Shorter posts. I want to try to shorten the average length of my posts and make them punchier. As you may have noticed, I have a tendency towards excessive verbosity, and the lack of an editor or any space constraints (as journal articles and grant applications have) lets me indulge it more than I should. (In fact, it's harder for me to be concise than it is just to ramble on.) If I decide to go this route, I'll still write the occasional magnum opus, just not as often. Consider this as simply an ongoing effort on my part to correct what has always been a weakness in my writing style, no matter what kind of writing I'm doing. I hope the constant practice will pay off not just here with more concise and entertaining posts but also in my professional life when I have to write grants and manuscripts that must come in under certain lengths or abstracts, for which space is very limited.
- Tighten the focus. The original focus of this blog was to be medicine, science, and critical thinking. I rather suspect things have become too diffuse (note the Harry Potter and Doctor Who posts over the weekend). This doesn't mean that I won't still occasionally do the odd music or movie review or that I won't post something totally unrelated to the theme of this blog if the mood strikes me. I'll just try to do it less.
- More variety within the main focus. Lately I've been spending too much time on a few areas of alternative medicine and pseudoscience. There's so much more credulity and quackery out there to debunk. Why limit myself to so few topics and risk getting repetitive and stale? Ditto with medical and scientific topics. Besides, doing research for some of these pieces broadens my horizons and often teaches me something I didn't know before.
- More pictures and illustrations. This blog is very text intensive; I'd like to illustrate my posts a bit more. This would most useful when I try to explain scientific concepts in the future. For example PZ does this well.
- Aggregate comments.Back when I only got a few dozen hits per day and only the occasional comment, it was easy to keep up and respond to most comments. Now that I average several hundred hits per day and occasionally 20-40 comments after certain posts, I just can't respond to everything anymore, no matter how much I want to and enjoy doing it. I don't want to go the Rude Pundit route and not allow comments at all, but something needs to be done. There have been times recently when I've responded to comments during the day while I was at work, a habit I need to nip in the bud right now. (Most of the time, I write my posts in the evening and on weekends and then post them either early in the morning before I go to work or right after I arrive at the office.) Consequently, I'm thinking of occasionally posting an "ask Orac" feature or "reader mail" feature (kind of like the "Ask Yoda" feature of Master Yoda's Blog--just kidding), in which I respond to a few choice comments that I didn't respond to in the original post or that interest me. Regardless of whether I do this or not, from now on you will also, if ever, get an answer from me to comments before 6 or 7 PM (or 8 or 9 PM) on weekdays. Don't worry, though. I don't get so many comments that I don't still read every one, and I'll still wade into the comments fairly frequently; so, please, keep 'em coming. One reason I liked Usenet so much is because of the free-ranging discussion, and I'd like to keep a taste of that here. I will just have to be a bit more selective in what I respond to directly.
- Occasional blog holidays. I can't remember the last time I missed a day. I've decided that there's no need to post seven days a week every week, even though most weeks I want to.
- Challenge myself. Every so often, I want to post something totally off the wall, totally outside my usual style, maybe even bizarre or maybe even fiction. I realize this conflicts with #2.
- More posts on Holocaust denial. I really haven't done much explaining what it is and some of the specific lies and exaggerations that Holocaust deniers use. Combatting Holocaust denial is a large part of what kept me on Usenet since 1998, and I haven't done much here about it.
I'm also going to solicit some of your feedback. What do you think? What topics would you like to see that I haven't covered? What other things could I do to improve?
Finally, just as a plug for my future posts, starting Wednesday or Thursday, I plan on starting a brief series on scientific innovation. That was a major topic at the Era of Hope Meeting last week, and it's a topic worth covering in more detail.