Why Do We Blog? (2013 Version)

Why Do We Blog? (2013 Version)

Few days back, our favorite bioinformatics blog posted a commentary titled Why do I blog? (2013 version) that we liked so much that we chose to hijack its title !! There are few minor differences between us, and we will take this the opportunity to explain them. Also, readers at reddit and elsewhere asked questions about our style, and we thought this commentary could be a good place to discuss it as well.

Firstly, here are the parts of linked commentary that we agree the most with.

Colleagues – even the more digitally enabled ones – roll their eyes when I talk about blogging.

I reflexively respond to these colleagues dishonestly, by arguing that blogging has helped me in grants, papers, research, teaching, and collaborations, and that I am getting way more exposure with my blog than I would ever have expected. But that’s a kind of white lie.

I do hope that we continue to move past this rather blinkered academic idea that time spent on “non-traditional” research activities like blogging, Twitter, education, and the rest is a definite waste of time;

Blogging added incredible value to our understanding of algorithms and bioinformatics. We generally carry three types of commentaries.

i) Explaining algorithms: Many of our commentaries are about papers we are trying to make sense of. We have found that when we share an algorithm to our readers using pictures and text, that effort improves our own understanding. Moreover, every now and then, readers correct our explanation or suggest other relevant papers. Given that many of our readers are lot more talented and experienced than us in the topics we cover, we tend to gain from the process.

ii) Extended notes: A second type of commentaries are summaries of Google searches, or you can call them interpreted (opinionated) Google search. When you search a topic in Google, you get a list of links and then you need to go into each of them to figure out their relevance to your work. That figuring out takes quite a bit of time, if the topic is completely new to you. Three months later, if you search Google on the same topic, you are back to square one. From time to time, we build commentaries to keep notes of what we found. We try to write those commentaries in such ways that next time we could start by reading our notes instead of blindly searching Google again. Our commentary ‘Bye Bye Python; Enter Haskell’ fell into that category. Another commentary titled Quip, Minia, SlimGene and Titus Browns paper on Scaling Metagenome was of the same type, when we first wrote them. We went back to it many times in the following months. So, at least to us, those ‘extended notes’ commentaries had been great time savers, and I hope they helped you as well.

iii) Social commentaries:This is one aspect, where we differ the most from the linked commentary.

If anything, some of the exposure has made me a lot more cautious, a process I hear is linked to this unpleasant business of “growing up”. I know at least one grant manager reads my blog occasionally (hi!) and I’ve gotten friendly cautions that I might want to be more circumspect about some things.

We do not agree at all with the above sentences or the sentiment they reflect. Scientific traditions of Anglo-Saxon countries can be largely attributed to the age of enlightenment. It was an era, when few independent thinkers started to ask questions and let their reason, intellect and wisdom lead to the answers. In his famous essay “What Is Enlightenment?”, Immanuel Kant said -

Kant answers the question quite succinctly in the first sentence of the essay: Enlightenment is mans emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.

Kant elaborated further -

This enlightenment requires nothing but freedom–and the most innocent of all that may be called “freedom”: freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters. Now I hear the cry from all sides: “Do not argue!” The officer says: “Do not argue–drill!” The tax collector: “Do not argue–pay!” The pastor: “Do not argue–believe!” Only one ruler in the world says: “Argue as much as you please, but obey!” We find restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which restriction is harmful to enlightenment? Which restriction is innocent, and which advances enlightenment? I reply: the public use of one’s reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind.

To present an anti-enlightenment mindset as ‘growing up’ is sad and unfortunate. However, Alexis Tocqueville predicted it 150 years back.

All our social commentaries (now moved to a different section) are based on the enlightenment philosophy of allowing our reasons to direct us to the answers, and we do not hesitate to say something, when our logic says it is right. That does not necessarily make our argument correct, but we try to present our rationale and you are free to challenge them with your own argument.

On our writing style

Few reddit readers asked, why our commentaries use ‘we’. The purpose of using ‘we’ is to remove attention from the credentials or lack of credentials of the narrator(s) and allow readers to focus on the scientific facts to see whether they make sense. ‘We’, as a stylistic choice, is pretty standard for scientific narration. In fact, when ‘I’ started writing ‘my’ first paper, ‘my’ professor told ‘me’ to even remove all ‘we’s and use passive voice. It distances the narrator from what is being narrated, and brings focus of attention to the object and logic being described (be it a genome, an algorithm, an argument for/against giving guns to all school-kids to prevent gun attacks).

Here is a good example. We presented a commentary titled ‘New Study Sheds Light on the Origin of the European Jewish Population’ and a reader commented -

Oh, this study is by an israeli, the masters of Lies.

That comment does not reflect a scientific mindset, because the merits of a scientific study should be judged by the presented logic and not by the assumed character of the narrator.

We do not have a highly visible ‘about us’ or ‘who we are’ section, because we absolutely do not want to gain/lose credibility for our public commentaries based on our background, position or past records.

How the Activities Related to this Blog are Supported

We do not like to apply for government grants to support our activities. From time to time, we do work on government-funded collaborative projects led by other researchers, but applying directly for grants is not our first choice. We have been looking for other ways to support this activity and are checking all options including placing sidebar advertisement or taking sponsors. Please email us or comment with any of your suggestions.

Written by M. //