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THE BLACK HOLE

Blog articles are opinion pieces not news

By JONATHAN THON | NOV 18 2014

Foreword from David Kent: Dear readers, last week I spoke out about the lip service that is being paid to the value of academics that choose to be science communicators, but I did not mean to under-value the contribution that such activity has for making the scientific research environment a better place and for helping the public understand (and get excited about) the work their tax and charitable dollars support. Indeed, this is why both Jonathan and I (and our guest bloggers) make the effort despite the potential drag on our own career trajectory. We feel these efforts are valuable, they stimulate ideas and they get people talking about ways to change things. The comments on our site constantly inform the direction of the blog and the guest posts are wonderful examples of researchers trying to make the future training and research environment a better place. I encourage all our readers once again to contribute to the conversation – write blog entries, write comments, write emails to us, write your MPs and your department heads. Today’s post from Jonathan really underscores the reality of starting the conversation – we write each article with an opinion that can stimulate a conversation. We hope that people respond to that stimulus. Enjoy reading.

This should come as no surprise, and yet the distinction is paramount. Journalists are professionally employed to actively research news stories, compile facts, and provide an objective account of an incident, condition or discovery. The profession has developed a variety of ethics and standards to define how information should be collected and disseminated and, to their benefit, reporters and the news organizations they work for, strive to maintain a standard of quality in the stories they put out.

Bloggers, by comparison, are most often hobby writers employed in other professions, with unique perspectives on matters of personal interest to them, which they then communicate in opinion pieces, typically of 500 words or less. Blogging has seen a particular explosion in popularity with the advent of the Internet and social media – which has facilitated the dissemination of ideas to much greater audiences than “bloggers” were typically afforded when they went by the name “Op-Ed Columnists.”

Blogs are often used as vehicles to sway social and political opinions and policies, and The Black Hole is no exception. Blogs typically pride themselves in their biased perspectives, which are more often than not highlighted in their values statement. In our case, this appears on the top-right hand corner of the screen, and at the cost of redundancy, is reiterated here:

The Black Hole blog focuses on issues affecting early career scientists in Canada.

Topics covered include science policy, science communication, and the education and training of scientists in Canada while also highlighting career opportunities and resources.

The blog is written by a group of early career researchers and led by Dr. David Kent, a Canadian postdoctoral researcher currently at the University of Cambridge.

This does not mean that we do not strive to get our facts right, or research the content of our pieces before we publish them. What it implies, however, is that the amount of time afforded each particular piece is limited by our word-count, and are biased by our experiences (both Dave and I are full-time academic research scientists who maintain this blog for its social value and its value to early career scientists). Where we get facts wrong, we rely on readers to correct us, and wherever our viewpoint lies (be it populist or extremely far from center) we expect them to counterbalance. Unlike reporting, which is meant to disseminate information in one direction, the Black Hole strives to be a conversation and encourages guest blogging for this reason.

While perhaps overly “meta-“ for this post, it has been my experiences that blog articles are more reflective of the character of the authors than they are of their “beat”– and our readers stand to glean more about our value systems than the topics on which we write. It is an interesting psychoanalytic exercise that has seen Dave and I air our grievances with higher education in a manner that is both cathartic for us, and (I hope) of some value to you.

While opinions are like bellybuttons (in that everybody has one), it should be stressed that Dave and I are both successful academics and our assessments of this space are heavily informed by relevant experiences and therefore worth considering (whether or not you are in agreement). We regularly invite our readers to contribute posts of their own, and I extend the invitation again here. For those of you who share our background, I should caution that we take for granted how inaccessible our profession is to non-academics and junior scientists.

This is our vehicle to change that.

ABOUT JONATHAN THON
Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is the CEO and chief scientific officer of Platelet BioGenesis, and a faculty member in the hematology division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
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