Saturday, 20 June 2015

1000 blog entries or thereabouts

Although perhaps being a little self-indulgent, I'm taking a little time out today to reflect on a few milestones reached by this blog and some advice to be imparted.

Not so long ago I posted the 1000th entry on Questioning Answers and with it over 4 years of riding the roller coaster that is peer-reviewed science with an autism research slant. Allied to a page view count rising above 1.1 million (hopefully not all junk feeds!), I'd like to think that my science writing skills are being honed as well as there being some appetite for my various musings. Certainly, I have a lot more appreciation for the huge wealth of information that is out there in science land when it comes to the autism spectrum and beyond as a result...

Reflecting on the research blogging experience so far and in particular, remembering the fateful evening when it all started (see here), I'm minded to offer a few observations about the whole thing particularly with a view to encouraging more people to put on-line pen to on-line paper specifically with autism research in mind:

  • Where does the time go? One question that has come up more than most about my blogging experience is 'where do you get the time to write?' The simple reply is: 'how long do you think it takes?' Depending on the size of the chosen paper and topic for blogging, it can take anywhere between 1-2 hours to get a post right. This includes reading said paper(s) and some light reading around the topic. Often there is some light tinkering to a post after a few hours break but this doesn't take long. Precisely when this writing gets done is very much dependent on the day and my mood. Aside from a day job, quite a big family and an exercise routine to maintain among other things, I tend to fit in bits of writing as and when I can. Early mornings and late nights have been previously experienced but timing very much depends on me. I've learned to live without watching old re-runs of Buck Rogers or endless news programmes in favour of doing something a little more intellectually stimulating...
  • Picking a paper/topic. I don't have any strict criteria for what (or who) to blog about. There is a constant stream of peer-reviewed science published daily that never seems to dry up, always with something eye-catching to me. I am a great believer in evidence-based medicine and its application to the autism spectrum but for me, such evidence does not just have to include randomised-controlled trials or systematic reviews / meta-analyses. The humble case report and N=1 is often as revealing as 'big data' particularly given the heterogeneity of autism and its important 'add-ons'. That's why I will blog about many types of study based on different degrees of evidence. There are some topics/papers that are more appealing to me than others and I might prioritise them above others. That being said, I'd like to think I cover quite a broad spectrum of autism research on the blog.
  • Social media strikes. Much like blogging, I've also come to embrace social media as part of my professional life. No longer just the place for 'cat videos' or the like, platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are veritable gold mines of information when it comes to science. Outside of some interesting discussions down the years, social media has also been a great way of promoting my blog to a large audience. Given that I'm a stand alone sort of blogger, social media has been instrumental in getting my musings out to a wider audience.
  • Research qualifications? Research, as it currently is, was a part of my professional life before blogging, eventually leading up to the receipt of a PhD. Some of the most valuable lessons I learned during my PhD (aside from how to handle the term 'major corrections') were how to think and write with a critical eye, not to take anything at face value and to understand that science is by no means an absolute process or concept in terms of the data produced. Science is only as good as the people who do it and the techniques they use to do it, and just because something gets through peer-review, does not mean that it should be taken as Gospel. Having gone through the process of a PhD (alongside other post graduate academic experiences) has held me in good stead all these years but I wouldn't want anyone to think that it is a pre-requisite for science blogging. It's not. Some of the cleverest and most astute people I've met over the years of my research and blogging career have never been anywhere near a University lab or carried out something like a structured assessment. They are logical thinkers; many of them also quickly realising that science is all about probability, and that absolutes are few and far between. In other words, science blog as a critical thinker.

I'm gonna leave it at that with the self-indulgence and fatherly advice about blogging. I'd very much like to thank all those who've interacted with me and my blog over the various platforms of debate and years of doing it. I very much intend to keep going with the blog and hopefully provide a similar update when 2000 blog entries comes up. Hopefully at that time, I'll also be able to link to lots and lots of new autism research blogs too...

And in the grand tradition of this blog, here is a song by a favourite band: Frankly Mr Shankly by The Smiths ("a flatulent pain in the ass").