Monday, September 09, 2013

Rise Up and Blog! Any Scientist Can!

The old saying has it that you can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs. 

Tell that to Paul Knoepfler, the UC Davis stem cell researcher who has been something of a pioneer in stem cell blogging and still is -- at least given that almost no other stem cell researcher blogs both as a researcher and patient advocate in addition to taking on wide-ranging business and public policy issues.

Knoepfler does have a few arrows in his back, some from enterprises that are less than happy with his vieww of their conduct and some from within the stem cell research community itself. But overall he has found the experience beneficial and rewarding. 

In an article in Nature Medicine Sept. 6, Knoepfler is recruiting more researchers for the stem cell blog brigade. To encourage them, he recounts his experiences and costs (such as $1,500 for his special domain name, although a normal domain name can be had for virtually no cost). His experiences include working late at night and on weekends. We can testify that the father of three puts in the hours, just based on the nature of the blog content and frequency of posting. 

Knoepfler continues his pitch in his piece in Nature, which is read primarily by researchers,
“To all this a reader might say, ‘Okay, this all sounds well and good, but you can't have your cake and eat it, too! Your science must have suffered from all this.’ In fact, I have lost some sleep, but I have not seen much in the way of negative scientific consequences. My lab has done very well during the past three years, and we have published many important papers, including one earlier this year that demonstrated the molecular similarities between induced pluripotency in stem cells and oncogenic transformation in cancer cells. I even secured tenure during this time.

“Reflecting on my personal transformation to the role of scientist−advocate, I have come to notice many tangible positive outcomes. In a general sense, my work has served to build bridges and stimulate new dialogue between industry and academia in the stem cell field. At the same time, I couple these efforts to accountability. Today, if someone does an Internet search for 'stem cell blog', that person will find my site, with all its educational outreach resources, at the top of the results list. A few years ago, the same search would mostly have yielded sites published by opponents of stem cell research or proponents of sketchy, for-profit endeavors to attract stem cell 'tourism'. I have also interacted with more than 100 patients and caregivers, helping them make more educated and, I believe, safer, stem cell−related medical decisions with their physicians.”
Knoepfler’s bottom line pitch? Any scientist can!

As he put it:
“Any scientist can, and should, do it. It is only logical that scientists would adapt to today's reality—a funding-poor environment that is nonetheless rich with opportunities for communication—by becoming advocates. I predict that any scientist who devotes a tiny bit of time to advocacy endeavors will find that the payoff is greatly multiplied. I will even help. Drop me an e-mail. Or better yet, leave a comment on my blog or message me on Twitter. Let's get the conversation going.”
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