Today is the tenth anniversary of my very first blog post. When I look back at that day in 2008 when I set out my stall on Reciprocal Space it seems a long time ago and a long distance away. It’s been quite a journey.
Some things haven’t changed. I still hate the terminology, though I have mostly managed to swallow my embarrassment.
“I know the etymology: web-log, b-log, blog. It makes perfect sense but it’s such a silly-sounding word that it seems to demean the process. I would be embarrassed to admit that I do it, just because it has such a stupid name.”
And my blog manifesto is unaltered, though I like to think that my writing has on occasion given readers pause for reflection.
“I won’t promise to post regularly; that way I will avoid the repetition of future apologies for failing to write. I won’t promise to be unembarrassed to admit that I am a blogger. I won’t promise to have anything terribly insightful to say.”
Starting a blog has had many unintended but interesting consequences. I enjoyed the free rein of it, the chance to write about whatever liked – books I’d read, nights at the synchroton, time served on grant panels and, of course, impact factors.
I launched Reciprocal Space not long after becoming a professor but blogging led me as never before to reflect on the business of research, the internal culture of academia and the interactions of scientists with the rest of society. It got me involved in Science is Vital’s impassioned and effective campaign for science funding in the UK; in debates about open access and scholarly publishing (still very much ongoing and in the news this week with the announcement of European Commission’s radical Plan S); in policy work on research evaluation – I co-authored the Metric Tide report and now have the honour of serving as Chair of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA); and even, sporadically, in film-making.
As part of the Occam’s Typewriter crew I also had the privilege of writing for the Guardian Science Blog network for the past six years. That was exciting and terrifying in equal measure but allowed us to reach entirely new audiences. Sadly the Guardian decided to close the network at the end of August. None of us involved are quite sure why. Perhaps it wasn’t generating the traffic needed to be sustainable. Perhaps their priorities simply shifted. But I am sorry to see it go, not only for the loss of a prominent platform, but because I think that the bloggers there were often able to provide a reasoned counter to some of the wilder claims made daily in politics and the media. I think I had always tried to take the wider, more understanding vew – even of Brexit (though in 2016 I severely over-estimated the British government’s capacity for pragmatism) and the opinions on science of Simon Jenkins.
But times change. The blogosphere itself has altered beyond recognition from the heady days of 2008. Much of the commenting activity has migrated to Twitter, whose short form seems only to have intensified the vitriolic tendencies of discussion on social media. And nothing lasts for ever, so the termination of the Guardian Science Blog network is chance to think anew. Several new portals have already opened – at the new Cosmic Shambles blog or on *Research. Others are currently under discussion.
For myself, I’m currently considering options. I hope at least to contribute to the Scientists for EU blog; as far as am concerned Brexit remains the most serious threat to the polity and prosperity of this country.
I am also trying to recalibrate how I can balance writing with my responsibilities at Imperial, where I have taken on the role of Assistant Provost for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (in which capacity I recently started another blog!). Transitions and balances can be tricky but I sense an opportunity and, though ten years older, I feel strangely energised for a new challenge.
A chapter may have closed but the book is still open.