Times past, and celebrity guests

Though perhaps I should have called this “The Old Neighbourhood”

Many years ago – in the early 90s, to be precise –  I went back as an adult, after more than two decades, to the Cape Cod village of Woods Hole, where I’d spent three wonderful Summers as a kid at the end of the 60s.

It was a very odd experience.

In some ways it was brilliant, because the place looked just the same. The main street, the drug store, the ferry terminal, the boat chandlery, the legendary Captain Kidd pub, the old Marine Biological Lab where my father worked and the MBL beach were all pretty much exactly as I remembered then from childhood.

The Captain Kidd, Woods Hole

Except… that they had all got small.

The reason being, of course, that I had last seen all these places in 1970 as a nine year old. I returned as a thirty-something.

So of course they hadn’t really got small. It was that I had got bigger in between.

Partly because of stuff like this, some people like to say that You Should Never. Go. Back.

Not even to take a look around.


Now does that apply, I wonder, to blog neighbourhoods?

To blog networks?


Talking of which….I’ve just been back this afternoon for a look at many of our former home at Nature Network. Commenting there seems a tad slow – I see from the ‘Recent Comments’ page that the slight flurry of ones I left there this afternoon (after I’d found, to my surprise, that I could still remember my login details) are still all visible – but some of the blogs I used to read when we were over there are still alive and kicking.

For instance, Stephen Moss, who some will recognise as a regular commenter hereabouts, has posted an interesting analysis of Science Minister David Willetts’ speech (the same one Stephen Curry recently wrote about), while Lee Turnpenny is back from his world travels and is also blogging again. And of course our old friends  Eva Amsen and Bob O’Hara are still there, as is Kausik Datta, who has been doing a comprehensive demolition job on the claims made for acupuncture (part one and part two).


I’m a celebrity scientist – let me out of here?

Now, I don’t miss Nature Network – and don’t even mention MT4 – but one thing that was unusual, and interesting, about NN was the occasional, errm, celebrity guest. Probably because of the Nature name, once or twice a famous name would turn up to argue – perhaps when they were being discussed, or referred to.

Two examples spring to mind. One is theoretical physicist, Nobel Physics Laureate, extra-sensory perception and homeopathy fan Prof Brian Josephson (f0r more on him, check out his own homepage). I remember a long thread where Josephson turned up to defend homeopathy, and argue at length with Stephen Curry, and others. Rather sadly, the post this was on has disappeared – it was on Ian Brooks’ entertaining (and sometimes entertainingly profane) old NN blog A Meandering Scholar, which is seemingly no more. [Indeed, all the older ‘no longer live’ NN blogs that were ‘archived’ now seems to have vanished entirely, and the links to them are dead.] Anyway, Ian’s post, which was called ‘Can we agree to disagree?’ [Ans: No] had a truly Epic comment thread battle, which I thought was quite revealing about the thinking of Prof Josephson, and perhaps by inference of the mindset of other defenders of anti-science who have actual scientific credentials.

The other example of a celebrity visitor that I know of is currently still visible on NN. It can be found on a blog written by Andrew Sun, which is still up, though it has no new posts since last Summer.

The post in question, from March 2010, was called The Most Hated Journal in Science? It involved a discussion of Medical Hypotheses, a journal long famous/infamous because it did not employ any kind of expert peer review (incidentally, that has now changed, according to their website). I won’t give away the identity of the mystery celeb, who turned up to chide me in the comments thread. You will have to go and look.


About Austin

Middle-aged grouchy white male. Hair greying but hasn't all fallen out yet. Spreading waistline ill-concealed by baggy jumper.Semi-extinguished physiology researcher turned teacher. Known for never shutting up. Father of two children (aged 6 and 2) who try to out-talk him. Some would call that Karmic Revenge.
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8 Responses to Times past, and celebrity guests

  1. Heather says:

    That was indeed a fun go-round. I wonder if the participants in the Jesse Bering kerfuffle, that extended as far as Pharyngula, will look back fondly on that battle?

    It was kind of nice to sit that one out and watch from the sidelines. There is definitely an American in-clique I’m-more-left-wing-and-profane-than-you-aren’t-I-cool group of tenacious bloggers that is completely unaware of how intolerant and uniform they are, and how blinkered. I’d love to send a few of them to live abroad (not just travel with superior attitudes) for a few years, and for them to learn the meaning of humility.

    I’d also like to add that I am not snubbing NN blogs, because the ones that are there are fine, but I don’t really comment on much, lately. It comes in little flurries, as you so rightly describe.

  2. Stephen Moss says:

    Austin – There is something a bit odd about the NN site, I have never seen the kind of lively exchanges there that take place regularly on OT. Is it to do with style/layout, or something about ‘community’? I have OT permanently open in my browser, but only ever go to NN to post one of my very infrequent blogs.

    And thanks for the plug! As for Willetts’ speech, it has received more analysis than an unexpected band on a western blot. HT to Stephen Curry for spotting this very good one: http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/?p=1163

    • Stephen – for me, it has to do with the irritating sign-in/verification process for commenting. If you’re not a NN member you can’t comment, I think (?). And even if you are, you end up having to re-sign-in for each comment. That’s what kept happening to me despite *everyone* complaining about it (this was after the much-ballyhooed MT4 “upgrade”). It totally turned me off – it’s just too irritating to bother with. Which is a shame, because there are still blogs there I’d like to read and comment on regularly.

  3. Austin says:

    Thanks all for the comments.


    Heh. I don’t know what group of in-clique more-right-on-and-more-profane-than-you bloggers you could be thinking of… *Coughs*.

    Re Jesse Bering (I had to put the links in, BTW, as the one on your original comment was dead) – wow. That one had passed me by completely. Definitely a *send out for popcorn* kind of thing.

    Re. American ‘insularism’, it’s a long-standing phenomenon, manifest in all sorts of different ways. Even when I was I travelling in Europe at the end of the 70s Americans really stood out… whether it was the clothes, the startling incomprehension of anything non-US, the lack of sometimes even the most basic foreign language skills… who knows. Not that those things were universal, but they were pretty common among the people I met. Maybe worth a whole post some time.

    Taking the long view, I always had the sense it had got worse, if anything, through the years of mostly Republican rule since 1980… and the ever-growing global domination of the English language and US film/TV doesn’t help, as it sort of automatically masks the underlying cultural differences even from the more aware. Anyway, when I heard that famous statistic a few years ago about some scary percentage of members of the House of Representatives not even having a passport, it didn’t come as any kind of surprise.

    [Update: And in the nick of time, along comes this to make the point once again… Watch out if you’re American and speak French…]


    @Stephen – thanks for the link, hadn’t seen that analysis of the Willetts speech, which is very detailed and astute.


    @Stephen and @Richard

    I think the rather ‘flat’ feel of NN nowadays is only partly the ‘must login to comment under a chosen username’ policy – and how long did we spend arguing about that. Another part of the decline was the departure of a fair number of the more active bloggers to OT, because those folk (us, if you prefer) were also a lot of the most active commenters on NN blogs. And of course certain bloggers have their own regular following of visitors/commenters – Jenny, Henry and Cath are obvious ex-NN examples. Once the bloggers are gone, their ‘drive by’ visitors go too, which means less people who might stay to look at and perhaps comment on other blogs. But anyway, compared to, say, late 2009 or early 2010, NN does seem very quiet.


    @Richard – I hear that NN is powered by WordPress now, not MT4 (sic)… Actually, commenting over at NN works OK provided you can remember (i) which email address you registered with; and (ii) which password you set.

    • The weird thing with the various NN login and commenting bugs was that not all of them applied to everyone – we all seemed to have our own distinct but overlapping sets of glitches!

      I do still comment over there from time to time, but I never started following many of the new wave of bloggers – I just follow Eva, Bob, Mike, and a handful of others by RSS. The main “latest comments” page is no longer active enough to warrant frequent visits, which I do appreciate is a vicious cycle, but I don’t have enough spare blog reading time to really concern myself with that too much!

      • Yes, it was definitely weird how the glitsches there would come and go ‘asynchronously’- what I remember is that there was almost never a time that somebody wasn’t cursing (politely) on the comments thread about not being able to log in. I was one of the rare people who didn’t have a problem of that sort… though having said that I did once get locked out for a couple of days.

  4. Ian Brooks says:

    Haha, the old Nature Network. I can’t believe they deleted our blogs. DFS

    Anyway, the latest incarnation of Meandering Scholar still ambles along, slowly and quietly at Scientopia http://scientopia.org/blogs/meanderingscholar/

    TBH, I really don’t blog much nowadays. Got a baby on the way and work is all consuming (and there is something I’d love to write about one day….).

    Thanks for the memories 🙂

  5. Austin says:

    “Got a baby on the way and work is all consuming…”

    Heh. If you think you’re busy now…

    [PS – I’m not talking about the work]

    Good Luck BTW – fingers, toes, ?s crossed.

    You won’t regret it, though you will (frequently) find yourself thinking you must have been completely mad…