Thoughts on a year of blogging

Facebook reminded me the other day that it’s been a year since I started the original Fierce Roller blog. I didn’t know back then if I’d stick to it this long, and I still don’t know if I’ll keep it up another year. One step at a time.


My very first blog post.

What is Fierce Roller, exactly? I guess it’s a few different things. One of the ideas from the start was to be a service to the Volvox community, reporting new papers, meetings, and news relating to volvocine algae. But that has only been one aspect. It is also a place for me to talk about my research interests, both scientific and philosophical. Scientific usually means that it has to do with the so-called ‘major transitions’ or related evolutionary themes. I wish I could cover this topic more thoroughly, but it has become a big subfield within evolutionary biology, and I can’t possibly keep up with the relative flood of papers. Philosophical usually means that it has to do with the one discussion in the philosophy of science that I’ve contributed to, about the meaning of biological individuality. There is also, of course, a thread of skepticism, occasionally about ‘alternative’ medicine, but usually responding to creationist arguments.

Right in the first week, Ann Gauger gave me a gift: a misconception- and error-filled post about David Kirk’s twelve-step paper on the Discovery Institute blog Evolution News and Views. Creationists blogging about Volvox…it doesn’t get much deeper into my wheelhouse than that. Dr. Gauger’s post was so bad it took me two posts to deconstruct it.

I started a doomed series on politicians’ criticisms of science, Friday Golden Fleece. I dropped it after a few posts, mainly because it was too much work to keep up with it every week, partly because I don’t want this to be a political blog. I blogged about AbSciCon and Volvox 2015, about some papers on individuality, and about Andrew Weil.

In March, I got the word that my application to Freethought Blogs had been approved, and after some initial confusion, I managed to migrate content from the old site to the new. Being part of the Freethought Blog community has been a big help; my page views immediately jumped from tens per week to one or two hundred a day. The old site had a nice, round 100 posts, and I guess I’ve written around 25 more since then. Strangely, the old site still gets five or ten views a day. It’s over. Go home.

The most popular posts on the old site were on philosophy of biology, with the most-viewed being about Pierrick Bourrat’s work on multilevel selection. On the new site, the most popular posts by far are those about cdesign proponentsists, with the top three posts all being direct responses to Discovery institute blogs. Those posts are also the easiest to write, so I have to resist the temptation to let them take over. There’s just so much wrong, and I try to keep minimum ratio of two science/philosophy of science posts to one “someone is wrong in the internet!

I try to maintain a civil tone here, focusing on arguments rather than people, adhering to the principle of charity, and avoiding ad hominem attacks, fallacious or otherwise. I’m sure I sometimes fail, and I’ll call a liar a liar (or a quack a quack) when I have the goods. I try to post three times a week. Sometimes I make it; sometimes not.

Probably because Fierce Roller is still pretty small potatoes, and surely in part because I’m male, I haven’t had many of the problems that more popular blogs have. No abuse, no threats, no attempts to ruin my career. Big shots like PZ Myers and Larry Moran have to worry about this stuff (and that goes double for female big shots like Rebecca Watson and Anita Sarkeesian), but their pulpits are orders of magnitude more bully than mine.

No trolls, so far.

No trolls, so far.

My comment policy has been that I have to approve your first post, and after that you can comment to your heart’s content. So far, that’s working. I have not (so far) had to reject any comment that wasn’t straight-up spam, and Akismet catches most of that. I have recently gotten a couple of these:


“…how much do you charge per post?” I don’t; my posts are all free!

Identically worded, of course. I hope that trickle doesn’t become a flood, although I suppose I can set up a gmail filter to trash similar messages.

I still couldn’t give you a coherent reason for doing this beyond “I like to.” It’s not because I think I’m going to convince creationists of their folly. It’s not for the money (PZ promises me enough for a cup of coffee, but I’m still at a net loss). The only tangible benefit I’ve seen so far is that the blog played a role in getting me invited to write the Volvox 2015 meeting review, and much of the content of that paper was revised from blog posts. It’s good writing practice, and I think it has improved my scientific writing. Maybe I’ll keep it going for another year; we’ll see!


Stable links:

Kirk DL (2005) A twelve-step program for evolving multicellularity and a division of labor. BioEssays, 27, 299–310.


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