Category: Bloggers behind the blogs

Bloggers behind the blogs: Petra Boynton

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with some of the world’s leading psychology and neuroscience bloggers.

Next up, Petra Boynton of Dr Petra.

How did you become a psychology blogger?

Initially because I was doing a lot of work with mainstream media and was concerned over how they frequently misreported sex/relationships issues and I wanted a space to correct this and be able to write about all the things I thought the media were missing.

What’s your blog’s mission?

To share independent, evidenced and linked information about sex and relationships health with a Social Psychological slant. It’s a combination of education, entertainment, critical appraisal and activism. Sometimes it serves as therapy for me as a place to shout about things that frustrate (or inspire) me.

Are you also on Twitter – if so, how do the two outlets complement each other?

Yes am @drpetra on twitter. I feel twitter is more immediate, great for sharing resources, networking with practitioners/colleagues, and for activism. Particularly challenging the mainstream media as a few of us recently did when Danny Dyer/Zoo magazine printed ‘advice’ suggesting a ditched boyfriend should cut his girlfriend’s face as revenge. That led to Dyer’s column being pulled and the magazine censured. Because I can now alert people to good/bad practice plus resources quickly via twitter the blog has now become a place to investigate issues or unpack/discuss academic papers/reports in depth.

How does your blogging affect your day job?

My day job as an academic (lecturing in International Health and specialising in research on sex and relationships) and sex educator (teaching health and social care staff, teachers and parents) undoubtedly inform my blogging. However I’ve traditionally kept blogging separate
from work and had it as a ‘spare time’ activity. That’s something I’d like to see change as blogging, to me, is an extension of my academic/researcher/educator role.

What advice do you have for any budding psychology bloggers out there?

Read around blogs, you’ll notice what comes under ‘psychology’ is very broad, styles vary as do the way bloggers tackle issues. Some use their blogs to talk through their research journey, others to focus on unpacking or sharing evidence, still more to reflect/discuss on their practice. It’s important to abide by ethical standards, and have a sense of who you are
writing for. Don’t feel you have to be too fixed though, the beauty of blogs is how they evolve and when they work well are a collaborative effort with you and your readers.

What blogs do you read (list up to five)?

I spend far too much time reading blogs, there are loads of great ones out there, but the ones I read most regularly are: www.mindhacks.com – Vaughan Bell’s fantastic neurology/psychology blog; Neuroskeptic – critical appraisals from a neuroscientist; Matt’s Random Selection – Matthew Greenall writes about health/development issues; About.com:sexuality – Cory Silverberg’s education, analysis and awareness of sexual health issues; and Ed Yong’s Not exactly rocket science.

And finally, what blog post of yours are you most proud of and why?

In five years of blogging there’ve been several posts on exposing poor practice in media, bad surveys, dodgy resarch, and unethical practice in psychology I’ve been privileged to write. But the one I feel is currently most important is focusing on the medicalisation of female sexual functioning.

Bloggers behind the blogs: David DiSalvo

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with some of the world’s leading psychology and neuroscience bloggers.

Next up, David DiSalvo of Brainspin and Neuronarrative.

How did you become a psychology/neurosci blogger?

I’ve always been curious about psychology and spent a lot of time in college reading Erickson, Piaget, Freud, Jung, Adler and others (though I wasn’t pursuing a psychology degree). I eventually took a class on ‘Neurobiology’ that cemented my interest in the psych-neuroscience vector. I’ve been an active follower of research developments in those fields ever since — and have applied the knowledge in research I’ve conducted to support public health and other public education outreach campaigns. A few years hence, I finally got around to documenting my interests in a blog.

What’s your blog’s mission?

My mission is to make research findings accessible to a broad audience, and to engage experts in various psych-neurosci related disciplines to share their knowledge with my blog’s readers.

Are you also on Twitter – if so, how do the two outlets complement each other?

Yes, I’m on Twitter as @Neuronarrative and I find that the two complement each other very well. I use Twitter mainly to send new post updates, but also to generate interest for other blogs that I enjoy reading.

How does your blogging affect your day job?

At times it can be a difficult balance to maintain, but in general it works without too much difficulty. Very often I pull late nights working on posts, but it’s worth it.

What are your weapons of choice – i.e. what blogging platform / hardware do you use and why?

I use WordPress, chiefly because it was the easiest platform to launch quickly and change over time. I house the blog on their server, which means I don’t have the same flexibility I’d have if I housed it myself, but the logistics of doing so just weren’t practical when I launched. Eventually I may shift to a more customizable platform.

What advice do you have for any budding psychology bloggers out there?

My advice is that you should follow your passion for the subject and make that passion evident in your blog. But, never lose sight that the discipline deserves your full investment. Don’t try to take on something you aren’t prepared to thoughtfully, judiciously and honestly engage. There are too many mediocre and barely credible blogs out there (to say nothing of the flatly bad ones), so don’t waste time creating another one. If you’re going to do it, do it right —which includes (but is certainly not limited to) devoting a substantial amount of time to research and writing, and reading voraciously.

What blogs do you read (list up to five)?

Tough question because I read so many. If I had to limit the list to the top 5, I’d say: Mind Hacks, BPS Research Digest, Psyblog, The Neurocritic, and Changizi Blog.

What books or other traditional media are you reading at the moment? (up to five)

I’m reading Timothy Ferris’ The Science of Liberty, and recently finished Shenna Iyengar’s The Art of Choosing (for which I’m writing a review in Scientific American Mind), and also recently read The Vision Revolution by Mark Changizi. I enjoyed Mark’s book so much that I asked him to do an interview with me for Neuronarrative, which he graciously did.

And finally, what blog post of yours are you most proud of and why?

You know, I’m not really sure how to answer that question, so I’m going to shift the emphasis just a little and say that I’m very proud of the interviews I’ve conducted with notables in psych, neuroscience and related disciplines. Taken together as a singular body of work, I’m most proud of them.

Bloggers behind the blogs: Anthony Risser

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with some of the world’s leading psychology and neuroscience bloggers.

Next up, Anthony Risser of BrainBlog.

How did you become a psychology/neurosci blogger?

My interest in using and promoting the use of online applications in psychology and medicine dates to 1994. Like everyone else at the time, I started playing with rudimentary HTML tagging; I loved the instant nature of the results online. Being part of several virtual communities later in the 1990s, the constructive feedback from others was reinforcing. I looked around neuropsychology to see what might emerge (not much did at the time!) and did a fair amount of freelance work dealing with management of online content. Within several years, I was trying my hand at developing and providing online courses for undergraduate and graduate programmes. Online outlets seemed ideal for psychological resources.

I opened BrainBlog in September 2004 while drinking an espresso, without having any particular plan or goal for it in mind. The ease of using blog applications was too attractive to pass up and slowly my website gave way to content on the blog. I decided to watch the blog grow and let it dictate what I would do with it, rather than trying to direct it in a specific direction.

What’s your blog’s mission?

I try to provide educational information to my readers, usually by pointing to additional online resources and recommending readings such as the papers I choose for my ‘Neuropsychology Abstract of the Day.’ Based upon the blog’s visitors, comments, and links, I have a high yield of university and graduate-programme students, so I try to give them something interesting to pursue after they click away from the blog.

I also like to post entries to point visitors to lesser-known academic and clinical centres around the world to try to get these sites some additional visitors.

My blog’s weakness is that I do not provide enough of a narrative or an analysis about what it is to be a neuropsychologist and the work that we do. Given the wide-open public nature of a blog, I’ve always struggled with what to say and what not to say.

Are you also on Twitter – if so, how do the two outlets complement each other?

Yes. BrainBlog has a Twitter voice at @neuropsychblog. I use that voice to RT [re-tweet] additional neuropsychology-related content that might not find its way into a blog posting.

How does your blogging affect your day job?

Blogging and related online activities help keep a neuropsychologist thinking about new and creative things. I wish more of us did it!

What are your weapons of choice – i.e. what blogging platform / hardware do you use and why?

I’ve used Blogger in the past (where BrainBlog resides), but I am currently impressed with Posterous. I converted my Blogger-based photo-blog to Posterous and enjoy the ease with which it accepts media files (photos, podcast files, video). Posterous has a simple and clean appearance, too. The video/livestream options like Vimeo and Ustream are pretty cool, too, for those individuals who might opt for creating a non-text-based blog presence – Google ‘Howard Rheingold’ and ‘Joi Ito’ for academic-based examples of such tools.

What advice do you have for any budding psychology bloggers out there?

Blog and Tweet, Tweet and Blog. It keeps you on your toes, it is fun, it is creative. Find your narrative voice if you can (I am still searching for mine!). More likely than not, you’ve had an online presence in other parts of your life – try one specific to your life as a psychologist or as a psychology student or as someone who just has a keen interest in understanding behaviour.

What blogs do you read (list up to five)?

color me katie [life as a photographer by katie sokoler]; londonist [life in london]; wooster collective [life as street art]; jill/txt [life online by jill walker]; cool hunting [life in the cool lane].

What books or other traditional media are you reading at the moment? (up to five)

The current fiction I am reading is Rose Tremain’s recent work, The Road Home. The current non-fiction book I am reading is The End of the Party – Andrew Rawnsley’s account of New Labour. And, daily, The Guardian.

And finally, what blog post of yours are you most proud of and why?

I am most proud of being able to lend support in BrainBlog to some participants of last year’s One & Other Trafalgar Square art project on the Fourth Plinth by Antony Gormley. A surprising number of plinthers promoted awareness of various CNS [central nervous system] conditions and support groups during their hour on the plinth. Two in particular, Laura Hickman and Gavin Cross, received a number of additional viewers from my blog entries. It pleased me to be able to provide them with some extra viewers when they were on the plinth and to provide an educational venue about the brain for some ‘One & Other’ viewers and participants who did not know much about neuroscience.

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The bloggers behind the blogs: Jesse Bering

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with some of the world’s leading psychology and neuroscience bloggers.

First up, Jesse Bering of the blog Bering in Mind.

What’s your blog’s mission?

To answer every nibbling little, strange question about human nature or behaviour that’s ever occurred to me, as they occur to me, one-by-one. At least, to answer them to my own satisfaction. It’s selfish in that sense, really. But I’m glad that Scientific American readers have joined me on my voyage of discovery about the evolution of pubic hair, fag hags, female bitchery and other important issues. Because I cover such heavy subject matter, I’ll occasionally throw in a post or two as a light diversion, say, about God or the afterlife.

Are you also on Twitter – if so, how do the two outlets complement each other?

I just started tweeting about a week ago, so I’m definitely an awkward Twitter virgin. I’m @JesseBering, is that how you say it? We’ll see how it goes. Brevity has never been my strength, so the 140-character limit is a real challenge for me. I’ve been using Facebook to connect with readers since I started the blog last year, and I’ve found that a great way to keep in touch with everyone, to get new ideas and to continue the blog topic discussions. But it seems to me that the Twitter and Facebook demographics aren’t perfectly overlapping, so syncing the two with a Twitter/Facebook widget seemed a logical way to build a bridge between the different camps. I’m not a big news reader, to be honest, and tweeting about my dogs, what I had for lunch, or feeling sad today just seems annoying to me, so I need to find my Twitter mojo still.

How does your blogging affect your day job?

I suppose I’ve always seen myself as a bit of a generalist, so the blogging is part-and-parcel of my day job and my academic personality. My employer may not think so, of course. But experimental psychologists take inspiration from all sorts of things, and curiosity drives our work, so I don’t feel a major tension between the two. It is difficult finding the time to juggle everything, but I tend to save the blogging — at least the writing part of it — for Sunday mornings. Belfast isn’t exactly known for its nice, sunny weather, and Sundays are no exception, so it’s either that or doing something even less productive, like watching another depressing burial service in the church cemetery just across the road.

What are your weapons of choice – i.e. what blogging platform / hardware do you use and why?

Just old-fashioned email, really. I’m fortunate enough to have my editor handle all of the technical bits; I just send her a story each week and she takes it from there.

What advice do you have for any budding psychology bloggers out there?

Don’t worry so much about developing a niche or persona; there’s nothing worse in my view than contrivances. Anecdotes are anathema in our discipline but in the blogging world, it’s a different matter entirely. Be brutally honest about yourself and that’s what will keep people coming back for more; be wise about it, of course, and be relevant. But honesty is ultimately what intelligent readers will appreciate most.

What blogs do you read (list up to five)?

I only follow a few, and even those only semi-regularly for lack of time. But I’m a great fan of Mind Hacks, Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish, Violet Blue’s Tiny Nibbles (NSFW) and 3 Quarks Daily. I also stalk my partner, Juan’s, blog occasionally, but he must know this because he hasn’t posted for a very long time.

What books or other traditional media are you reading at the moment? (up to five)

I’m reading a so-so biography about the old sexolologist Ellis Havelock, Kundera’s Immortality (which I should have read long ago), and about a half-dozen manuscripts which I’m presently reviewing. My next book–hopefully–will be on the subject of sex and I’ll be spending some time this Summer in the Kinsey Library archives at Indiana University, so I can’t wait to lose myself in those old collections. Does it sound perverted to say that I’ll be like a kid in a candy store?

And finally, what blog post of yours are you most proud of and why?

Probably my piece about zoophilia and people who find themselves (preferentially) sexually attracted to non-human animals. As an animal lover myself — but one more of the traditional, non-libidinous bent — writing this piece challenged my own personal beliefs and genuinely changed my attitude about the subject. At least, it opened my eyes to the many nuances that my knee-jerk moralistic biases hadn’t allowed me to see.