Monday, July 23, 2007


For two years or so now, I have been keeping a chemistry blog, although I have started regularly updating it only in the last year or so. I was lucky to discover a profusion of other chemistry blogs after that, and it's been my great pleasure to keep in touch with the fine folks who write them, comment on their musings, and be inspired to write my own posts partly because of their posts. There is a wide smattering of the scientific populace among them. This involves graduate students and postdocs both from Ivy League schools as well as other fine ones, experienced industry scientists mainly from pharmaceutical industries but also from other industries, and in general people from a dozen different countries around the world. Probably the most famous chemistry blog, which probably started the chemistry blogging phenomenon and now has attained a cult status, was Tenderbutton, a blog by Dylan Stiles, a graduate student at Stanford. His posts were a mixture of technical chemistry, chemistry gossip (which chemists enjoy as much as anyone else, or probably even more), and completely wacky posts (like the time when he analysed the earwax from his ear using chemical methods)

These chemistry blogs often serve as morale boosters. The thing is, inspite of how exciting science is, the everyday life of a scientist and especially a graduate student can get quite routine. Although there's always something unexpected at the end, a lot of science is no different from routine, if important, clerical work, although scientists don't always like admitting this. Even though being a scientist is one of those few careers that never involve falling into the danger of becoming a 9-to-5 job, doing everyday science can and does get boring sometimes. It is at times that you need to be reminded that science is a lot of fun. You also need to be reminded that you are not alone, that there is an entire community out there from every country that faces exactly the same things you do. And you need to be reminded why you chose to do science in the first place, about the pleasure of finding things out, and the satisfaction and security of seeking and finding rationality among madness. These chemistry bogs have occassionally served all these functions for me and they have given me a sense of community, as I am sure they have many others.

The chemistry blog has also of course enabled me to keep in touch with what's "hot" and current in the field. It's largely due to these blogs that I have gotten a taste of the practical aspects of science, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. Some of the blogs out there are great distillers of the gist of published papers, and one can get the highlights from them without slogging through 20-page technical papers, dozens of relevant ones of which are published every day. Some relate mainly to the cultural and social aspects of chemistry and science. Others are consistently and wickedly funny and outrageous. One blog is obssesed with compiling "Top ten" lists of chemists, including everything from "Top ten chemist moustaches" to "Top ten musical connotations for chemistry". Because of my interest in history, I particularly enjoy this one. Many blogs spare no pretense in gossiping about chemists; admittedly many of these are rightly anonymous. Once again, you get to know what's new, and that keeps you interested. The blog has also enabled me to make some professional connections with scientists in academia and industry, and it's always a pleasure to hear from them. Given my interests, I myself try to maintain a mixture of different aspects of chemistry on the blog; technical, cultural, and historical.

A couple of points of difference between my general and chemistry blogs, especially with respect to the comments. On the whole, I got the feeling right at the beginning that the comments on my chemistry blog were much more critical than ones on my general blog. And why not! Unlike my general blog, many people who read my chemistry blogs care less about my writing skills, and more about the points that I am making. Scientists by nature should be skeptical, and skepticism is one of the bedrocks of science. This skepticism which shone through the comments galled me at first, but then made me realise how much more valuable it was, rather than comments which simply appreciated my posts. Of course, it's the same for my general blog too, and only skepticism can fuel debate, but it's even more important in science, and skeptical commenters (some overtly more so than others!) have always kept me extra-careful about the words I use, and scratching my head about ambiguous (or wrong!) statements that I might have made. So I highly appreciate all these skeptical commenters. Naturally, I also appreciate the appreciative ones, and I would miss them if they totally disappeared!
In fact, it's more for the comments than the posts that chemistry blogging (and all blogging) is exciting. The dialogue is mostly civil if testy, but sometimes things can get a little out of hand. On the other hand, I always muse about the instant and worldwide publicity that unfortunate controversial chemists (and students) get on blogs; make one mistake in your paper and you are bound to end up on hundreds of chemistry blogs within a few days. Sometimes I wonder if such notoriety is deserved, but then that's the burden we have to carry in the age of the internet.

All in all, it is a pleasure and a continuing educational experience to "chemblog". For some reason, I have not noticed as many blogs on the other sciences out there. I would surely like to see that happen (I would like to think that it's because chemists are more social than many other scientists, but not only does this thought unnecessarily sound self-important, but I am pretty sure it's wrong; neuroscientists, rocket scientists, and nanotechnologists would likely be much more social than chemists!)



Blogger Kapilmuni said...

"For some reason, I have not noticed as many blogs on the other sciences out there."

Other scientists are too busy working / doing science and have no time for blogging?

8:55 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Then it's too bad...because chemists learn science through blogging too.

6:51 AM  
Blogger synthetic environment said...

Top 10 obssesion???

Never done a Top 10. Just a compulsive Top 5 fetish.

1:58 AM  

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