Ten Years Before the Blog: 2005-2006 (Part I)

Continuing the blog recap series, we come to the “split year” of 2005-2006. The blog was initially launched in late June, so that’s when I’m starting the years for purposes of these recaps, but ScienceBlogs launched in January 2006, so this year was half Steelypips and half ScienceBlogs. This post will cover the Steelypips half, June-January; I’ll do the ScienceBlogs stuff in a second post, once I figure out the best way to go through those posts (the ScienceBlogs archives aren’t set up well for reading straight through).

In reading through this, I was amused to discover this pan of Seed‘s relaunch, in which I call the magazine “Maxim for science geeks.” Not quite three months later, they were paying me to write a blog… I remembered writing that, but didn’t remember how close it was to the launch of ScienceBlogs.

So, what was on the blog in the second half of 2005?


Most of the stuff I marked as worth linking was physics-related this time out. This was near the time of the Great String Theory Backlash, and I contributed a few things to that, primarily a complaint about attitude (which isn’t that great, but provides context), followed by some discussions of non-accelerator-based experiments to look for new physics, specifically the Eöt-Wash experiment and two posts about EDM searches. I eventually wrote a magazine article (registration required) about those, so this was good practice…

I wrote up explanations of that year’s Nobel Prizes for Roy Glauber and Ted Hänsch and Jan Hall, and wrote up a fun colloquium talk about whether it’s possible in principle to detect a graviton.

This was also a particularly good stretch for life-in-the-lab blogging, with a post about fun with fiber optics, and the Week in the Lab series where I documented in detail a week spent working on a particular research project. I think that’s one of the best things I did in the Steelypips era of the blog, though.

This was also a good stretch for academic blogging, some of which continues to be relevant. I talked about a brief attempt to teach myself about particle physics (abandoned due to lack of time), and homework policy, and the need for grades to keep students focused, all of which seem highly relevant to the many silly things being written about online courses these days. In other pedagogical material, I also talked about the difficulty of designing tests of reasonable length, something I still struggle with.

There was a whole lot of academic job market stuff written that year, because it’s the year in which Sean Carroll and Dan Drezner were both denied tenure, which led to a lot of pieces talking about whether blogs sink your academic career. I contributed a couple posts to this, and threw in a more general statement about science blogging as well. This is probably the most significant change I see in my own attitudes from then to now– at that time, I was pretty clear that I did not consider blogging a significant part of my professional activities. I’ve gone a little squishy on that point since– I still wouldn’t claim blog posts as scholarly activity (except for those cases where they get selected for “Year’s Best” anthologies), but I have gotten a number of very cool opportunities because of the blog, and it’s a more significant part of what I do. This shift mostly has to do with money– I now get paid for blogging, and running the blog is a significant part of promoting my books, which again, earn me money. It would be very hard not to regard this as more of a professional activity given that…

In academic-blogging events that I had forgotten about, I described my career trajectory to that point– I still feel absurdly lucky to have gotten away with some of the stupid things that I did on my way to this job– and offered advice for people considering liberal arts college jobs and students thinking about graduate school. My favorite rediscovery from this round, though, was Notes Toward a User’s Guide to Synthetic Chemistry Talks, which I hadn’t exactly forgotten, but hadn’t read in a while.


Looking at the posts I flagged for inclusion, I find that there’s nothing in these bookmarks that’s a pure politics post. Not because I didn’t write anything about politics, but because I didn’t like any of it on re-reading.

Just so this category isn’t a complete blank, though, here’s a post arguing for John Bardeen as an overlooked great American, and one about how there will never be another Einstein. Which are sort of vaguely political-ish. Kind of.


A decent variety of stuff here: what I was listening to at the time, a thematic list of song titles, the obligatory pick-up basketball post, a list of favorite quotes from books, and the start of the annual-ish tradition of Christmas Songs That Don’t Suck. Pretty typical of my pop-culture output, really.

And then, I totally sold out, a decision with dramatic consequences, the earliest of which we’ll talk about in the next of these posts…

4 thoughts on “Ten Years Before the Blog: 2005-2006 (Part I)

  1. I was struck by a sentence in your “complaint about attitude” post:

    And string theorist in general seem to conduct their business in ways that flout the conventions of the rest of physics … things like the disdain for normal peer review and publishing in favor of doing everything via the preprint server. Whether or not that’s the wave of the future for physics in general, it’s bound to rub some people (myself included) the wrong way.

    Nearly seven years later, how well does that comment age? My understanding is that the physics community (string theory and otherwise) uses preprint servers routinely. When did it transition from “that odd thing string theorists do” to common practice? (Or am I mistaken as to the prevalence of preprint server usage in physics.)

    I’m curious if the transition for physics might teach us anything about the chances other scientific disciplines such as chemistry and biology might eventually use preprint servers.

  2. It holds up better than you might think. I’ve mellowed a little bit, in that I regard the arxiv-above-all model as just one of those things, rather than an affront to science. For my own purposes, though, I continue to get most of my physics news via more traditional channels– I scan through the contents of PRL, Science, and Nature every week, and get the occasional pointer to other journals from Physics World or various people on Twitter.

    The particular subfield where I was trained, and where most of my interest still lies, namely experimental AMO physics and particularly cold atom stuff, is still not all that well represented on the arxiv. When I run across an interesting AMO paper in PRL, Science, or Nature, it’s only about a 50/50 chance that I’ll be able to find a free copy on the arxiv. Now, part of that is due to the restrictive policies of the big-time journals, but mostly it’s just that the community still hasn’t fully assimilated into the arxiv. People just don’t post stuff there as consistently as they do in many other areas.

    I think there are a lot of reasons for this, but part of it is that AMO physics is one of the most collegial subfields around. There isn’t the level of cut-throat competition where you need to establish priority by a matter of days or hours. Especially among experimental groups, the big labs all pretty much have their own things, and it’s relatively rare for two of them to be fighting over exactly the same problem. And the individual experiments are smaller and a bit more self-contained.

  3. When I run across an interesting AMO paper in PRL, Science, or Nature, it’s only about a 50/50 chance that I’ll be able to find a free copy on the arxiv.

    My subfield is also not well represented on the arXiv, but I can usually get copies of interesting papers in those journals (and most of the other journals where people in my subfield publish) via my campus library subscription. If Union’s subscription to these journals includes the on-line content (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t, barring the unlikely situation where they do not subscribe to these journals at all), you should be able to download a copy at the office. I’ll grant that you would have to go through a more complicated procedure if you happen to be at home/Starbucks/Barnes and Noble instead.

    Papers in journals to which your library does not subscribe (and SLACs like your institution won’t cover the specialty journals as well as an R1 like my place) are going to be problematic. So, in my experience, is downloading from one of Wiley’s journals, even if the library does subscribe. Other publishers I have experience with (including APS, AIP, Elsevier, and Springer, among others) generally let me download their online content from journals our library subscribes to as long as I am coming from a university-owned IP address.

  4. I can get all of those journals via Union, and Science via a personal subscription that comes with AAAS membership (which actually gets me better access than I have through Union’s institutional subscriptions, because the entire academic publishing industry is insane). My interest in arxiv versions is that if I can find a freely accessible version online, then I feel justified in reproducing the figures if I decide to write the paper up for ResearchBlogging (because, after all, I’m only saving the reader a couple of clicks plus however long it takes to install the inevitable Adobe updates to read the PDF’s).

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