Friday, 2 July 2010

Bloggers behind the blogs: Dave Munger

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with some of the world's leading psychology and neuroscience bloggers.

Next up, Dave Munger of the Research Blogging consortium and the hugely popular, but now discontinued, Cognitive Daily.

How did you become a psychology/neurosci blogger?

We started Cognitive Daily because I was looking to begin a career as a writer and I needed something to write about. I realized that since I live with a psychologist (my wife, Greta), I have access to a unique resource. We're unusual among bloggers because we work as a team. Greta picks the research articles that I write about and serves as a sort of editor for what I write, pointing out cases where I get the science wrong so I can fix them. Of course, as the blog became popular, our readers were quicker at finding my errors than Greta was!

What was Cognitive Daily's mission and why did you decide to bring it to a close?

We never formally decided on a mission, but I think basically what we were trying to do was show people how interesting cognitive psychology is. We also wanted to emphasize peer-reviewed research, and we never skimped on discussing the details of the research — methods, results, and conclusions — without getting bogged down in jargon.

We actually closed Cognitive Daily for reasons similar to why we started it. I'm a writer, and I'm ready to move on and write about other things. I now have a weekly column in Seed Magazine, so there's a regular outlet for my writing, and I'd like to pursue other projects with the remainder of my time.

Are you also on Twitter - if so, how do the two outlets complement each other?

Yes, I'm @davemunger on Twitter. I think there's a delicate balance between tweeting and blogging. Twitter is so much easier to do than blogging that it can be tempting to spend all your time doing it. But while Twitter is important for connecting with new people and sharing your work, it's not a substitute for actual blogging. Very few things can be thoroughly explained or discussed in 140-character chunks, and the best tweets link to blog posts! I've now banished Twitter from my main work computer and only use my iPad for tweets. It's cut down on the time I spend on Twitter, but still allows me to connect with people.

One really great thing about Twitter is that if you're Twitter friends with someone and then you see them at a conference, it's like you already know them. I think more scientists should use Twitter (as long as they can find a way to limit their time on the platform). I was at the Vision Sciences Society conference last month and was surprised at how few people there were on Twitter. Twitter is really a fantastic way to improve your experience at a conference.

How does your blogging affect your day job?

I'm in an odd situation because blogging is my day job. As editor of ResearchBlogging.org, I promote blogging about peer-reviewed research. But even so, that's a different thing from actually writing blog posts! I always considered Cognitive Daily to be a separate 'job' from my duties as an editor.

For a scientist who also blogs, I think the balance is a little different. Blogging may seem unrelated to your day-to-day work, but it can also be a critical part of your work. Organizations like the National Science Foundation in the U.S. expect grant recipients to do public outreach, and blogging is a great way to do that. All other things being equal, someone who regularly blogs about research in their field is much more likely to be awarded a grant than someone who does not.

I do have one suggestion, if you have a day job: Don't put 'daily' in your blog's title! It's okay to blog once a week, or whenever you have time.

What are your weapons of choice - i.e. what blogging platform / hardware do you use and why?

I use WordPress, but at this point it's primarily out of habit. One thing I like about it is that when you host your own blog (as opposed to signing up for their free hosting at wordpress.com), you're not obligated to sign up for every single update of the system. If a new version adds a 'feature' you don't like, it's possible to roll back. That said, I don't spend a lot of time tinkering with the technology. I'd much rather be writing about science!

What advice do you have for any budding psychology bloggers out there?

My main advice is to be flexible. You might start with one idea of what your blog is going to be like, but eventually find it evolving into an entirely different thing. That's fine! Don't put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect - everyone understands that a blog is a work in progress, and that as long as you acknowledge your mistakes and fix them, in the long run they'll come to trust you.

I'd also suggest that you put some of yourself into your blog. This doesn't mean sharing all your deepest secrets, but you should definitely give readers some idea of who you are and why you love psychology. That's the quickest way to build a connection with an audience.

(And as editor of ResearchBlogging.org, I'm obligated to say that when you blog about peer-reviewed research, you can get additional publicity for your blog by sharing your posts there as well.)

What blogs do you read (list up to five)?

I'm a big fan of The Thoughtful Animal. I love Neuroskeptic and Neurodojo. Getting outside of psychology, one of my favorite science blogs is Denim and Tweed. Finally, I'm going to cheat a bit and recommend all the psychology and neuroscience finalists from The Research Blogging Awards - including, of course, BPS Research Digest, which deservedly won the Best Blog - Psychology award!

What books or other traditional media are you reading at the moment? (up to five)

I'm just finishing up Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. I also enjoyed Daniel Simons' and Christopher Chabris' The Invisible Gorilla. Next on the queue is Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

And finally, what blog post of yours are you most proud of and why?

This is a bit of a copout, but I'd have to say it's the post that launched what eventually became ResearchBlogging.org. While I've written hundreds of posts about peer-reviewed research, all of which I'm extremely proud of, this paved the way for over 12,000 posts (and counting!).

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