Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Stem Cell Scientist Says 'Blog or Be Blogged'

Paul Knoepfler
Knoepfler Lab Photo
California stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler today published a piece in Nature about his nearly two years as a stem cell blogger – a period that included a bout with both cancer and "negative feedback," including insistence that he shut down his blog.

Knoepfler is an associate professor at the School of Medicine at UC Davis. He may well be the only stem-cell faculty scientist in the world who produces a regularly updated blog on stem cell issues.

Knoepfler writes on subjects ranging from basic science and public policy to peer review and stem cell tourism. He also brings a patient advocate point of view to the subject, which has troubled some researchers.

In his Nature piece, Knoepfler offers tips to beginngers and seeks out other stem cell researchers who may be bloggers.

Concerning his unsuccessful search for scientists who blog on stem cells, Knoepfler wrote,
"Why is this? Other scientists in academia tell me they worry that blogging would damage their careers. Specifically, they fear that colleagues would view them as amateurs, 'wasting time' on blogging, which could reduce their chances of achieving tenure. They fear the wrath of others in the field should they post the 'wrong' thing on their blog, and they worry about payback in negative grant and paper reviews. Some are concerned about attracting unruly and insulting readers' comments."
Knoepfler continued,
"There has been some negative feedback, usually expressed privately rather than on the blog itself. Some critics cautioned that I might anger 'the wrong people' in academia or at funding agencies. Others were more direct with their disapproval of some of my most popular posts — usually those that mentioned specific funding agencies or companies by name — with the implied threat that I would see papers or grant applications rejected. Some who disliked my outspokenness insisted I shut down the blog. But don't let this put you off — the threats came from a very small number of people and have (so far) been toothless. My lab is fine in terms of funding and publishing, and I recently got tenure."
Knoepfler concluded,
"Savvy scientists must increasingly engage with blogs and social media. A new generation of young researchers has grown up with an ever-present Internet. Publishers have been quicker than academics to react to this new world, but scientists must catch up. Even if you choose not to blog, you can certainly expect that your papers and ideas will increasingly be blogged about. So there it is — blog or be blogged. "
Our take: Knoepfler produces a useful and interesting blog. It is a credit to the field and to UC Davis. Ultimately, it and hopefully others like it will help to create greater understanding of some of the issues involved in stem cell research.

To the naysayers: human embryonic stem cell research needs many strong advocates if the field is to continue to advance. For scientists or academcians to turn away from blogging is to surrender the field to opponents. The absence of reliable and well-communicated information means that other, less-well-informed views will fill the void. Not all researchers should be bloggers, but those who are effective communicators should seriously consider emulating Knoepfler's pioneering effort.

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