Blog answers

If you are a blogger on anything to do with the brain, take a look at this invitation to answer a questionnaire for the research of Alice Bell. (here) If you are interested in my answers, they are below.

Blog URL: http://charbonniers.org
Thoughts on thoughts: a blog on consciousness by Janet Kwasniak

What do you blog about?

The subject is consciousness but in the widest scientific sense so it includes attention, working memory, dreams, evolutionary reasons for consciousness and other aspects that are linked to consciousness and/or part of it. I try to avoid the temptation to expand into other areas. Absolutely no woo allowed, just science, philosophy or common sense.

Do you feel as if you fit into any particular community, network or genre if science blogging? (e.g. neuroscience, bad science, ex-sbling)

I fit into neuroscience. However I am not part of a blog group like Scienceblogs, Scientopia, Neuroscience blogs etc. I do put postings into ResearchBlogging under Neuroscience. I take part in the Encephalon carnival.

If so, what does that community give you?

(1) I don’t feel alone. (2) Reading the other bloggers gives me sources, ideas and a feel for what the general opinion is on questions. (3) Carnivals and ResearchBlogging give me exposure and alert me to new bloggers.

Are you paid to blog?

No. Nor do I have ads or ask for donations. And I don’t need to be paid because it costs me so little. I pay for my domain & service suppliers etc. and it totals less than a couple hundred dollars/pounds/euros a year; I use open software with no cost. Most people have hobbies that cost them more.

What do you do professionally (other than blog)?

I am retired and have been for about 10 years and live on a small pension with no work, paid or voluntary.

How long have you been blogging at this site?

The blog started June 2008 – two and a half years ago.

Have/ do you blogged elsewhere? When? Where?

No, this is my only blog. I do have a personal site started in 2006 (http://janetsplace.charbonniers.org) and one section of it (called views) could be thought of as a blog. It has a bit of science but it is rarely about the brain except in some items about language and about Alzheimers.

Would you describe yourself as a scientist, or as a member of the scientific community? Do you have any formal/ informal training in science? (if so, what area?)

I have never been a scientist but I have always been involved in science. I have been a medical technician, biological research technician, computer programmer, manager of laboratories and manager of computer systems. I have followed scientific developments for 50 years and have a Bachelors degree in Chemistry and Biology from the OU as well as an much earlier 2 year diploma in Medical Technology. I am a co-author on 4 peer-reviewed papers.

Note: Nothing above explains my interest in neuroscience. This interest stems from having been dyslexic (and left handed) in the days before it was a recognized condition in rural Canada. I have in effect taught myself to read and write with help from one teacher when I was 12 and my husband from the time I was 19 onwards. I got myself through school and tech training and only then learnt that my problem had a name. I have read everything about the brain that I could understand and get my hands on since then. Until recently, I could believe very little of what I found. Freud and similar, behaviorism, philosophical dualism: all were unconvincing. Now that neurobiology and cognitive science are blooming, I find that my general idea of how the brain works was vaguely on the right track and I am following the developments with great interest.

Do you have any formal training in journalism, science communication, or similar?

No formal training in either – but about 16 years in Toastmasters. I am excellent at oral communication and have a lot of practice at it. Written communication is difficult for me – I have to work at it. I think I am only average at written communication and I would have to be better than average to be published.

Do you write in other platforms? (e.g. in a print magazine?)

No.

Can you remember why you started blogging?

It occurred to me that I would probably be dead in 10 years and that I had things to say so I had better start now. I would never get a book published or even articles. If I tried to get published, all the work would go on the writing and not on the ideas. I would hate it and never actually get it done before I was senile. With blogging there was no pressure on the writing – people could take it as they found it or leave it. It is not that I don’t try to write well, it is just that I don’t succeed in writing to ‘publication’ standard.

I thought about Utube and doing talks in series on it but found blogging easy to set up.

What keeps you blogging?

(1) I enjoy it most of the time. (2) There is a routine so even if I find I am short of time or have other things I want to do, the routine gets the posts done. (3) Because I live in France and my French is not up to making interesting conversation, blogging gives me an English language outlet. Otherwise I would be suffering from ‘cabin fever’. (4) It feels like a worthy mission. (5) I keep learning and modifying my ideas.

Do you have any idea of the size or character if your audience? How?

I look at stats provided for my domain provider. I am currently running at about 18000 visits and about 30000 page views per month for the blog. The stats have risen steadily and not yet leveled off.

I put some postings (approximately half) on Research Blogging and they get about the same hits as other neuroscience posting there.

My blog rarely comes up on the early pages of a Google search and so is very far from a standout in popularity.

A couple of bloggers have put my link on their blog role, so at least some neuroscience bloggers follow my blog. Generally I have very little idea of the character of the audience.

What’s your attitude to/ relationship with people who comment on your blog?

I don’t get many comments and so I value those I get; I don’t pick fights; I try to respond in a positive way.

What do you think are the advantages of blogging? What are its disadvantages/ limitations?

For me blogging has very little disadvantages. Before the internet and blogging there was no way for someone like me to put ideas forward to the general public.

Do you tell people you know offline that you’re a blogger? (e.g. your grandmother, your boss)

Yes, everyone I can. But I don’t nag anyone to look at it.

Is there anything else you want to tell me about I haven’t asked?

(1) I post to the blog about every 3 days. (The personal site is updated monthly and a genealogical site is updated approximately yearly). This is between the daily output of some bloggers and the weekly or monthy output of others. (2) The postings are short compared to those of many other bloggers. They often have links to other blogs or papers, quotes from them and comments on the ideas in the source. No attempt at a chatty format is made. From time to time there are posting that summarize all or a number of previous postings. (3) I do not use a fancy layout or pictures (although I like this in the blogs I read) (4) I find pay walls to original papers and magazine articles very annoying. I don’t pay; don’t have access to a university library; therefore must rely on abstracts and other bloggers for the gist of many interesting developments. I wish everyone published on open access sites.

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