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.