Six months

I can't believe I forgot to mention this over the weekend, but Saturday marked six months since I started blogging. I realize that some consider posting about your own blog or blogging in general to be a bit lame or self-indulgent, but I don't think it's necessarily inappropriate at major "blog-iversaries," like my very first half-year mark and then maybe yearly anniversaries after that (assuming I make it that far). So allow me to reminisce a moment...

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
Those are just some of my thoughts about ways to make this blog better, but in the interests of #1 I'm going to stop now. I may implement them all or none of them. Most likely I'll implement a subset of them (#1 and #5, for instance, are more or less already decided on).

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.


  1. Sounds like you're on the right track: find stuff you're good at (mediblogging, antiquackery) and get better at it (better focus, broader scope); extend yourself sometimes.

    This blog has become a fantastic resource for your readers in the last half year: excellent work!

  2. But in the same amount of hours you've spent 'blogging' how many scientific papers could you have written and submitted to peer-reviewed journals?

    (maybe the same number as I could have written whilst reading blogs -but thats not the point here.....)

    Keep it up - have fun :)

  3. Wow -- I guess I hadn't realized that I'd started reading you when your blog was in its infancy.

    Your ideas for the future sounds right on target. I'd like to also suggest a template makeover. If you have any ideas for what sort of look you'd like, blog templates are something I do ocassionally as a hobby. I'm not a professional by any stretch, but it would be fun to create something for you in return for the brain food you've given me! :P

  4. Goal oriented as usual, I see:)

    I like the "challenge myself" one the best. Taking risks can be fun.

    Keep up the writing - feels like you're closer to home (and you have many).

    *the youngest

  5. Wow orac:
    you managed to get someone to offer a template makeover for free, and she knows what she is doing. that's awesome.

    As to your blog,
    I figured out that posting less often is simply necessary. Unfortunately, (I know this will burst your bubble) although I really love reading your stuff I'm afraid that considering the topic we discuss (medicine, science) the target audience is simply not large enough for us to get to the "instapundit" stage. Here's my point, you'll never make any real money off this, it's strictly a hobby and must be treated that way. Meaning, you should NEVER feel like you HAVE to post today. Heck, take a break and get outside, it's summertime!

    Finally, don't take away the weekend fun stuff, I love it. Even though it may not reflect the true purpose of this blog it shows who you are as a person. which is what a blog is really intended for!

    So Orac:
    I wouldn't be in such a hurry to change. I think you're doing great. I don't know the numbers but by what you write I imagine they reach much better than most blogs that discuss these same topics.

  6. Just wanted to chime in and say your blog is great. I love the mix of science and pop culture posts. I can't wait for the scientific innovation posts. Your blog is fast becoming a great resource for me. Keep up the good work.

  7. Wow. If I'm not careful, all this praise will go to my head. If that happens, the blog will start to suck. We can't have that, can we?

    Crazy Phoreignor: You can't submit scientific papers with data you don't have; so blogging doesn't interfere. When I started blogging it was after a string of scientific papers and grants that were written and submitted. The data is building and it won't be long (I hope) before it's time to do it again--but probably not before fall.

    Allison: Your offer is quite generous. I'm still thinking of switching to TypePad or another blogging platform; so I hope you'll keep the offer open. Maybe I'll be in touch

    MadHouse Madman: Of course I don't aim for Instapundit-level blogging (the dude probably gets hundreds of times more hits per day than I do), nor do I have any illusions that I'll ever make any money from this. (On the other hand, I would like to see just how far I can go within my little niche. I've already come farther than I thought possible, so why not push the limits?) However, is is, as you say, a hobby, and it's a hobby I enjoy very much. I post as often as I do because I enjoy it so much and I haven't run out of ideas yet. If I ever stop enjoying it and it ever starts seeming like work, that's the day I either hang it up for good or take an extended hiatus. Oh, and if I could just find some good golfing buddies, I'd probably spend more of my spare time golfing and less of it blogging.

    Anonymous: Hmmm. How would you know I'm goal-oriented? ;-)

  8. Sounds good, Orac. IMHO, there are two things you need, crucially, to do:

    1. Take your own advice #1. The Mark Twain thing (I write longer stuff because I don't have time to write shorter stuff) is too true. Good writing is always clear, lucid, unconvoluted, but still memorable. It takes time, talent and patience to achive, and you have at least two of those, it would appear. :)

    2. Take up Allison's offer NOW.
    Seriously. Blogger templates are pretty awful, and this one is actually just about the most boring (did you hear that madman?). I am not being unfeeling; I say this because I think you're talented and have good potential, and you don't need a lousy look to go with that.

    I used to write a current affairs blog that was regularly hit from Sullivan, TPM, Instapundit, etc, so I kinda of know how much excruciating effort and time needs to be put in to produce good stuff (not just the writing, but often the reading that goes with good quality commentary). In fact, that's the reason I stopped - I ran out of time. But its always nice to see people produce interesting stuff that they are passionate about.

    And lastly, congrats.


  9. "I want to try to shorten the average length of my posts and make them punchier." - current post excluded? lmao

    Nice job for 6 months

  10. I referenced your Orange Man commentary in a discussion forum(I am blogless... so I just read blogs and post on certain forums and Usenet). For that link I got a response in large type of "HCN - I hate you!".

    It seems that instead of going home to his family right after work, he looked at the forum just to see what the active threads were, clicked on the Orange Man story -- and spent the next two hours reading Oracknows!

    Pretty much shows that you have an interesting blog. Keep it up, but not so much that it becomes a drag.

  11. Oh, I'll write long posts when it is appropriate. The Orange Man post might have been shorter, but I think it was pretty much fine just the way it was. I was merely speaking about in general trying to make my posts shorter.

  12. Congratulations! You are most certainly filling a needed niche and prviding a great service. This blog is YOURS so you do whatever you want.

    My strategy: before I write or post anything I ask all three of us (I, Me and Myself) if I am writing it because I WANT to write it or because I think that other people expect me to write it. If it is the former, I write it, if it is the latter, I don't.

    I mix very short, mid-size and humongously long posts! It is all a matter of inspiration of the moment!

  13. Shoot. Somehow that comment of mine above reads rather less politely than I had intended. What is it about writing that does that, as opposed to speaking? Sign that I'm not a very good one, I guess, LOL. Anyway, if it sounded rude to you Orac, sorry. I'm going to go sit in the corner now.


  14. Speaking of taking up Allison's offer (I never realized that using a pre-made Blogger template could provoke such a reaction), how do I contact her? There's no e-mail address (at least none that I can find) on her blog.

  15. You appear to be correct about that - can't find one either. Post a comment on her blog, maybe?



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