This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with some of the world’s leading psychology and neuroscience bloggers.
Next up, Vaughan Bell of Mind Hacks.
How did you become a psychology blogger?
Tom Stafford and Matt Webb wrote an amazing book called Mind Hacks that explains psychology through self-experimentation and asked me for a few short contributions. At the launch party (aka: meeting in a pub) they asked me if I’d like to write a few ‘guest posts’ for the blog. Six years later I am still guest posting, normally about 2-3 times a day.
Are you also on Twitter – if so, how do the two outlets complement each other?
I do use Twitter, and I’m @vaughanbell on the service. Early on when writing for the blog, I started writing a weekly ‘Spike Activity‘ post on Friday that consists of lots of interesting links from the week that were worth checking out but didn’t merit a full post with a one line description. For me, Twitter is just like an instant version of Spike Activity. I think of it like a news ticker but just for things I find interesting, and I also use it to subscribe to other people who make interesting news tickers themselves – so it functions like a custom built news wire service where you can choose your reporters from a selection ranging from the BBC to your friends.
Twitter also seems to have an interesting property: the limited message size lends itself to informality so people are less concerned, and indeed, less able to be ‘self-important’ and so will post about their own work and opinions more than in other mediums. For example, imagine you’re working with someone who makes a point of telling you every time they have an article published or read something they found useful. You’d probably get pissed off with them pretty quickly. But for some people, I would like to know this information. Sophie Scott (on Twitter as @sophiescott) is a good example of this. She’s a professor of neuropsychology at UCL who studies speech and language – an area I’m by no means an expert in. When Sophie Scott thinks a new study is important, I’d like to know that. Twitter is the internet equivalent of making these announcements by writing them on post-it notes on your office door. We all know people who have expertise we value – whether that includes neuroscience, football or new music, and I want to read their post-it notes, but without breaching social etiquette and hassling people. Like all communication technology, it’s useful primarily because it addresses a social issue.
How does your blogging affect your day job?
It just kind of slots in. I’m not really sure to be honest. In the old days [cue music] people used to take extensive notes on the things they’d read to make them more accessible. I have memories of researchers with card index summaries of books and papers. I think it works like that except I write my notes up for public consumption and just include anything I find interesting. It’s easy to kid yourself you’ve understood something and trying to explain it is a good way of making sure you’ve got it clear in your own mind. You could be wrong of course, but with the internet you’ll quickly find this out. This sucks by the way, but it is a useful way of learning, even if you don’t realise it until a week afterwards and you’re no longer wound up about being flamed in public. I also love writing and I don’t really see it as work, so I’m happy to sit down and write even after a busy day.
What are your weapons of choice – i.e. what blogging platform / hardware do you use and why?
Matt Webb is a talented digital designer and we have the luxury of having the blog managed by professional web people without having to put too much thought into it. A lucky position to be in.
What advice do you have for any budding psychology bloggers out there?
People like pictures. The best way of getting good at something is to spend lots of time doing it badly. Expect synchronicity. The rewards are in the process, not the product. Readers like regular updates. Explain why something is important: motivate people and they’ll teach themselves. Get used to being wrong. Aim for differing levels of understanding but not necessarily at the same time. PubMed is your co-pilot. Actually, just give it a bash, you’ll learn everything you need to know as you go along.
What blogs do you read (list up to five)?
There are lots of fantastic blogs I read on a daily basis, and I notice that most have already been mentioned by other people in the series, or, are by people in the series! So instead I’ll mention three that I read that I think are under-recognised or you may not know about, probably because they tackle specialist areas.
In the News is a fantastic blog on forensic psychology by a US-based practitioner. Don’t be put off by the fact it looks a bit sparse, it’s a fantastic source of news and recently broke a big story about legal shenanigans in psychopathy assessment that got picked up by major internationals. Sadly, possibly the only blog on UK forensic psychology closed down last year.
Addiction Inbox is a blog by a journalist that covers addiction science in the sort of depth you would expect from a specialist in the field. I sometimes find I don’t agree with his take on things but the issues are covered in enough detail that I have to ask myself why, which strikes me as being a sign of being a good writer.
Advances in the History of Psychology is a group blog by the people behind the popular internet resource ‘Classics in the History of Psychology’. Very well informed writing backed up by a real enthusiasm (they recently announced they would take a break for the summer but keep posting things that are ‘too important’ to miss!) [Having read Vaughan’s comments, the Digest has contacted Advances in the History of Psychology to take part in this interview series].
What books or other traditional media are you reading at the moment? (up to five)
Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s biography of Anna Freud (not a lesbian, as I’d previously thought).
Tenebrario by Nina Melero (a collection of Spanish-language short stories by my ex-Spanish teacher).
Hallucinations by André Aleman and Frank Laroi (no academic book should cost 50 quid but it is excellent).
Into the Silent Land by Paul Broks (again).
One River by Wade Davis (my arm-chair training for a long-promised voyage into the Amazon).
And finally, what blog post of yours are you most proud of and why?
Any that I’ve managed without undetected typos. I am guessing there are not many.