Five years of blogging

No matter how old, she'll always be my little sister.

Today is my sister’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Sandi! (and keep an eye out for the FedEx truck today..wink, wink.)

Five years ago, I chose to start my original science blog, Terra Sigillata, on my sister’s birthday so that I’d always remember my blogging anniversary (I’m not terrifically fond of the portmanteau, “blogiversary” – my apologies to the bloggerati – heh.). Mind you, I also got married in 2000 thereby making it painlessly simple to know how many years I’ve been married, a task I should be able to accomplish well into senility.

Five years ago, I was out of the academic environment and wanted a venue to both chronicle and share ideas I had about pharmaceuticals and alternative medicines. At the time, and still today, a great deal of information on the internet regarding herbal medicines is provided primarily by entities selling such products. With a background in natural products and degrees in pharmacology and toxicology, I felt that I could provide some truth and add perspective on those marketing claims and other sensationalized information on the web.

I was also very fond of the short, pharmacology news notes that I used to give to launch my pharmacology lectures at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy during the 1990s. These short updates on drugs in the news were and remain an important part of my approach to teaching by giving students a current context in which to apply classroom knowledge. Moreover, following developments in therapeutic areas outside of cancer (my main focus) got me to read primary literature outside of my field that was necessary to keep all of my other pharmacology lectures up-to-date.

Among these vignettes I would also sprinkle a bit of history of pharmacology, biology, or chemistry. I had a great department chairman when I was in graduate school at the University of Florida – Allen Neims, MD, PhD – who would hold informal morning sessions with us to go over classic papers in pharmacology and challenged us to think whether we would have recognized the significance of the papers at the time. For example, we covered this 1938 paper by Merritt and Putnam in the Archives of Neurology & Psychiatry which represented one of the first structure-activity approaches to drug development, improving on the antiepileptic activity of phenobarbital with the comparatively less sedating drug, phenytoin (Dilantin), still used today. The exercise not only gave us an appreciation for our history but also helped us look at the current literature with a discerning eye. (Yes, Dr. Neims – I still remember this stuff.)

I’ve always said that I’d be a success as a blogger if I developed a daily audience of 130-140 readers: the maximum I ever taught at the University of Colorado. Anything that was more than that – those of you who never had me as a CU prof – was gravy. Well, I got gravy. And I’m quite happy about that.

In my original 15 December 2005 post, “A Humble PharmBoy Begins to Sow,” I cited my further inspiration by a David Secko article in The Scientist where he had interviewed Derek Lowe, author of the pharma/chem blog against which all others are measured: In The Pipeline. In his article David asked, “Few scientists have caught onto the Internet’s power of posting, commenting, and debating – where are the rest?”

Well, with a pseudonym that reflected pharmacology history and a play on words for a farmhand looking for a job, Abel Pharmboy launched a blog named after the world’s first trademarked medicine from the earth, Terra Sigillata.

This last year of blogging has seen the biggest changes in what I do here. We spent a little over four years in the ScienceBlogs collective, leaving for points unknown with 20 or so other bloggers after the ethical debacle of SB hosting a paid nutrition blog by Pepsi Co. We languished this summer on an indie site on WordPress until the fine, discerning folks at CENtral Science – Rachel Pepling and Carmen Drahl – offered me a spot at the C&EN news online presence of the American Chemical Society with an accomplished group of chemists possessing outstanding writing and editing chops.

My good fortune continued while we were getting rolling there – Brian Mossop of PLoS (Public Library of Science) contacted us to start a new blog at PLoS Blogs, a  fabulous new niche network split roughly between highly decorated writers and authors and science bloggers of note (and me). Folks who’ve know me since before I’ve started blogging tell me that Take As Directed best reflects my unprotected personality. Indeed, my free-wheeling musings here are what I call, “free-range blogging in the Wild West tradition,” out of respect for the 11 years that the American West has had on my scientific career development. But my contributions at CENtral Science reflect my long-beneficial association with chemists who have appreciated the biology underlying their work.

So I have a little secret – I am incredibly lucky to be here at PLoS and also have a slot at CENtral Science. And the best part is that the managers/editors of each network – Brian Mossop and Rachel Pepling – share a mutual love to supporting all of us who use this media to further science communication to the broader community and our kin – those in our specific disciplines.

So, while many of you new readers may still be getting to know me, I’d like to invite you to drop a comment and 1) let us know your background, 2) why you read us, 3) what other blogs you find useful in your day, and 4) what topics you’d like to see covered more or less. If you’re a first-time commenter, don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear immediately – to fight spam, we’re set up to manually approve the first comments from an IP address and I’ll get to it as the day permits.

While I started “my” original blog for me, it’s really ours – your feedback, tips, and lively discussion from all corners of the world have made this a fun and revealing intellectual exercise that’s difficult to replicate in daily professional life.

For those of you who’ve followed us around for five years through our various iterations – kind of like the Grateful Dead or Phish – I thank you for your continued support in spending your valuable time with us. I know, I know, it’s been a pain in the ass to update your RSS feeds – first for Terra Sig and then for this new Take As Directed thing. Late 2010 had been a huge upheaval in how we reach one another so I’m hoping that I am just one of many troublesome folks in your RSS reader and blogroll.

I also want to thank Brian Mossop, the person who believed in me enough to give one of his coveted slots to a pharmacologist who loves all of science. Brian is a fantastic writer in his own right – just take a look at this article on baby tummy time in Slate and his piece on the wiring of dads in Scientific American – and I was fortunate enough to have the breadth and personality that he thought would be of value to his new project.

I’m a lucky man. I hope I earn the luck I have been granted.

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11 Responses to Five years of blogging

  1. isles says:

    Congratulations on the momentous occasion! I always learn something from your posts.

  2. Synchronium says:

    You got your sister a FedEx truck?! Wow!!

    In all seriousness though, well done! 5 years is quite an achievement. Still, plenty more to blog about and learn over the next five years! You’ll be geotargetting content delivery networks and multivariate testing to optimise conversion rates before long. 😉

    I’m looking forward to it!

  3. Constance Cummings says:


    1) Background: theoretical linguistics (phd); interdisciplinary – neuroscience, psychiatry, anthropology (work)
    2) Why you read us: For your perspective as a basic scientist
    3) Other (nonPLoS) blogs: language log, h-madness (history of science), etc.
    4) What topics you’d like to see covered more or less: pharmaceutical bioethics

  4. Pingback: Quick Links | A Blog Around The Clock

  5. David Kroll says:

    Aww, you’re a total sweetheart! Thank ever so much – we’ll be following you on Twitter, as usual.

  6. David Kroll says:

    You got your sister a FedEx truck?! Wow!!

    [rimshot] Yes, he’ll be playing all weekend and is available for birthday parties and bat mitzvahs!

    You’ll be geotargetting content delivery networks and multivariate testing to optimise conversion rates before long.

    Hey mate, is that some sort of British vernacular that I’m supposed to understand????

    Actually, the time is coming for me to consolidate all of my various online content – rest assured that I’ll be seeking your advice when I get a break in the action of the day job.

    Thanks a lot, Synchronium – I greatly value your love of pharmacology and rich content at your own blog and shop. Here’s to five more!

  7. David Kroll says:

    Hi Constance,

    Thank you so much for sharing with us your interests. I’m always taken aback by the diverse interests of folks like you who come by to see what we have to offer. I also love the history of science but had not known of h-madness so I’ll check it out.

    Thanks also for the suggestion on pharmaceutical bioethics – I’m sure that you saw my earlier post on a talk I heard by Duke bioethicist, Ross McKinney:

    Thanks again for taking the time to share a comment!

  8. Samantha says:

    Wow. 5 years. :) Congrats!

    1) Background: at one point I was heading down the psychology road for to be a substance abuse counselor; after a long, interesting academic path, I’m a math major.
    2) Lessee… I think I found your SB blog from a link from Orac… Stuck around because I’m surrounded by people who think that if a drug company made it, it must be evil; thought it might be nice to get a better perspective. Besides, you’ve got heart. 😉
    3) Other blogs: Science Based Medicine, whatever’s new on Scientopia, various other science blogs I happen across
    4) More or less: Hmm. Dunno. I’ve really appreciated your take on pop drugs (ie, the K2 Spice thing, alcoholic energy drinks) and “natural” remedies (MMS) – especially the latter since I’m in a “liberal” town where obviously Big Pharma is Bad and Natural Stuff is Good and Definitely Not Harmful.

    Keep up the good work. :) I appreciate you.

  9. Synchronium says:

    I’ll drink/smoke/consume to that!

    Pharmacology and programming are very similar, really. Pharmacology is the only branch of medical science concerned with tweaking and modifying what goes on in the body, compared to, say, learning about the cardiovascular or renal systems. If you look at the internet as though it were the human body, learning about the major organs & systems would be learning to use email, twitter, blogging, etc – but when it comes to tweaking it and making interesting things happen, programming is definitely pharmacology’s parallel.

    That’s probably why us pharmacologists make the best bloggers, am I right?! 😉

    Let’s hope we don’t overdose on the lastest untested synthetic codes & software being exported from dodgy (comp sci) labs in China…

  10. Constance Cummings says:

    Yup, saw it. Now I’m hooked!

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