Hey! I was into cephalopods long before they were cool!

I’m feeling a little hipster resentment here — all these nouveau poulpe crashing into my internet turf. But oh, OK, this new blog on SciAm called Octopus Chronicles looks good, and you know I’m never going to abandon the molluscs in a snit over all the other people fascinated by them. There’s room for all of us.

While we’re relishing the expanding cephalopodian nature of the internet, check out the octopus having dinner on the move — it’s wonderfully amoeboid and slithery.

(Also on FtB)

To its knees!

OK, that launch fizzled.

You know what’s really annoying? I can’t shake my fist towards the mysterious Blog Overlords and curse them for their incompetence, because we are the blog overlords. Dang. Freethoughtblogs.com is not holding up well under the morning traffic load. The tech slave is unconscious right now — he whimpered something about working all night and not getting any sleep over this thing — but once we stab him in the heart with a syringe full of adrenalin, and with a little hearty application of the whip, we’ll bring it back up someday.

Freethoughtblogs: The official announcement

The new site went live sometime late last night, and our technical help slaved away to try and get everything working, if not beautiful. Check out Freethoughtblogs some time today, and say what you think. I’ve created a thread to collect suggestions and criticisms as we shake out the bugs, fine-tune everything, and eventually, make it pretty.

A new blog network is hitting the web on August 1. Led by two of the most prominent and widely read secular-minded blogs in the country – PZ Myers’ Pharyngula and Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars – Freethoughtblogs.com will, we hope, quickly become and important gathering place for atheists, humanists, skeptics and freethinkers in the blogosphere.

Freethoughtblogs will be more than just a place for people to read the opinions of their favorite bloggers. It will be a community of like-minded people exchanging ideas and joining forces to advocate for a more secular and rational world.

The network will launch Aug. 1 with a handful of blogs with many more to be added after the first three months of operation. Here are the six blogs that will lead the way:

Pharyngula. PZ Myers has built one of the most popular atheist blogs in the world. Never one to shy away from controversy, Myers has built an astonishing following over the last few years and has traveled around the world speaking to skeptical audiences. As a PhD biologist he is the scourge of creationists everywhere but he takes on a wide range of subjects in his blogging, including religious criticism, women’s rights and progressive politics.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Ed Brayton was raised by a Pentecostal and an atheist, sealing his fate forever as someone who is endlessly fascinated by how religion intersects with other subject, particularly science, law, history and politics. He is a popular speaker for secular organizations around the country, has appeared on the Rachel Maddow show and is pretty certain he’s the only person who has ever made fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

The Digital Cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are shy and elusive creatures; when necessary, they hide in their own ink. This particular cuttlefish has chosen as its habitat the comment threads of science, religion, and news sites, where it feeds on the opinions of those who are emboldened by the cloak of internet anonymity. Cuttlefish is an atheist, a skeptic, and is madly, passionately in love with science. The Digital Cuttlefish has, since October of 2007, been a repository of commentary and satire, usually (but not exclusively) in verse and now moves to Freethoughtblogs.

This Week in Christian Nationalism. Chris Rodda is the author of “Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History.” Since the release of her book in 2006, Chris has been blogging at Talk2Action.org and Huffington Post about the use of historical revisionism in everything from education to legislation. Chris is now launching her own blog on Freethoughtblogs.com that will accompany her weekly podcast, This Week in Christian Nationalism.

Zingularity. Steven “DarkSyde” Andrew is a 40 something former stock and bond trader and one time moderate conservative. He grew up in the Southwest and has long been fascinated by science, particularly evolutionary biology, physics, and astronomy. He is a frequest contributor to the popular progressive website Daily Kos and now blogs at Zingularity, where legit science disappears forever down an event horizon of petty snark and cynicism.

Comradde PhysioProffe. The pseudonymous PhysioProffe is, as the name suggests, a physiology professor at a private medical school who blogs about politics, academia, food, booze and sports. Not necessarily in that order.

This is only the beginning. Over the next few months we will add many more blogs to the network, including Greta Christina’s brilliant blog, a new companion to the award winning Reasonable Doubts podcast and many others.

Many more blogs will be added — we’ve got a list. We haven’t asked for them, but I’ve also got people already asking to join up…we’ll see. We’re planning on controlled, sensible growth, so look forward to incremental improvements.

Paul Knoepfler has a blog

Hey, this is good news: Nature included a short opinion piece from a stem cell biologist on his experiences blogging, writing the Knoepfler Lab Stem Cell Blog — I’ll have to start following it. He has some good general advice for scientists starting to blog, although I have some reservations about the first bit.

Here are some tips for beginners. Start slowly; wait a day after writing and reread your draft before posting. Try to avoid discussing your own institution, and critique papers or theories in the field in a constructive manner. It is important that you include your own opinions, but do not use your blog to broadcast your opinions about issues that are unrelated to science.

Update your blog regularly, because readers will not visit blogs that they perceive as boring or ‘old news’. Read and comment on other blogs, which will lead people to yours. Get a Twitter account to promote it and dabble with search-engine optimization. And do tell your colleagues about your blog.

Savvy scientists must increasingly engage with blogs and social media. A new generation of young researchers has grown up with an ever-present Internet. Publishers have been quicker than academics to react to this new world, but scientists must catch up. Even if you choose not to blog, you can certainly expect that your papers and ideas will increasingly be blogged about. So there it is — blog or be blogged.

I have to disagree with the suggestion that you avoid discussing anything but the science (obviously!) If you want to engage readers, you’ve got to go beyond the narrow domain of your field — you don’t have to embrace controversy, like some of us do, but blogs are a personal medium, and if you aren’t expressing yourself freely you’re not going to get a wide readership.

Knoepfler implicitly admits this: he has a low traffic site with a niche audience (and there’s nothing at all wrong with that; it’s a model for how most scientists would want to operate their lab blogs, I think).

In an entire year of blogging I have had to censor just six inflammatory or defamatory comments. Despite my blog taking on the anti-stem-cell community in the United States and the misinformation its members peddle, such as the meme that adult stem cells are a panacea that make embryonic stem cells redundant, I have received remarkably few personal attacks from them. I am grateful for that, if puzzled.

This is certainly not because my blog goes unnoticed. True, I started with just five readers a day, but one year later, traffic has increased more than 30-fold and continues to rise. The blog averages 150 visitors a day and sometimes up to 500 a day, made up of a veritable Who’s Who in stem-cell science, and beyond. How do I know? Senior figures in the field tell me in confidence that they read and enjoy the blog, although none has publicly contributed on it — perhaps a sign that there is still a way to go before scientists stop being nervous about blogs.

He shouldn’t be puzzled. I’m not trying to be disparaging, but 150 visitors a day is very low, and what it means is that he’s seeing a very small and specialized slice of the world — he’s got a quality audience, not a snapshot of the general public, and that’s why he’s not getting much pushback. The mention in Nature will get him more visitors, but largely of the kind that won’t disagree much with him; the mention here on Pharyngula will get him a broader audience, but without red meat for argument most of them probably won’t stay.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I think there is a qualitative difference between a blog aimed at a specialized audience, and one aimed at wider public engagement.

Your mission

Jen McCreight is deep into her blogathon day. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go over there and provoke, tittilate, inspire, annoy, or enrage her so she’ll be able to keep churning out posts.

No, this blog will not be self-destructing at all. Relax.

Another problem on American campuses: binge blogging

It’s a terrible situation. Most of us can practice moderation, posting lightly or not at all, or at worst, pacing ourselves to avoid burnout. But for some students, it’s a nightmare of weekend excess, where the afflicted egg each other on to greater and greater doses until they collapse in exhaustion, red-eyed and addle-brained, so saturated in a blogoholic stupor that they can’t see that they’re destroying themselves.

Help Jen McCreight. We may need to stage an intervention here.