In the last post, I celebrated Eight Years of Neurocriticism but wistfully noted that this blog's popularity peaked in 2012. The traffic last year showed a decline to 2009-2010 levels. Why did this happen? And does it matter? No it does not, but it gives me the opportunity to comment on the state of a specialized little corner of science blogging. The sort of piece where people say things like “blogging as a chance to exercise our voices doesn’t seem to be going anywhere” and “the blog is dead.”
Except not that.
@practiCalfMRI politely suggested it's the quality of visitor that counts. In 2013 the Average Time on Site for my homepage was indeed up 25%, but I could have been inadvertently cherry picking the data...
Commenters on the post anticipated some of my thoughts. Perhaps it was related to the demise of Google Reader, said one. A drop did occur when the service stopped in July 2013, but traffic started trending downward in April-May 2013. So I don't think this can explain it. Instead, the format may have been a victim of its own success and run its course. As another commenter aptly put it:
What happened? Well, what always happens: with time, people get bored. Of anything. From marriage to cereal bar flavor. When you started Neurocritic, it was new, and people were sick of all the neurocrap published out there. Then, the neurocrap people and others, started realizing that talking crap about neuro stuff got a lot of hits! And so everybody started doing it, from Voodoo correlations to Retraction Watch. It was the fashionable thing to do. That's when it got boring.
The Decline of Neurocriticism
In the latter half of 2012, the backlash against Insula iPhone opinion pieces and the neural correlates of ______ fMRI studies was noticed in the popular press. Allegations of neurobollocks, neurodoubt, and neuroscience fiction had become fashionable. The Mainstreaming of Neurocriticism had arrived, and you know what that means: it's all downhill from there. It's like when The Sartorialist wrote about meggings in 2010, but then USA Today declared them the latest male fashion trend just the other day. So now it's time to throw yours away (or to give them to Justin Bieber).
Then Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience was published in June 2013, prompting a resurgence of dualism (e.g., “The brain is not the mind”).
As I've said before, this general trend has been useful in pointing out flawed studies, overblown conclusions, and overly hyped press releases. But some working neuroscientists thought the naysaying had gotten a little out of hand, because expert critiques are easily misinterpreted. A little neuronuance is needed here, the middle ground that acknowledges limitations yet avoids global condemnations. Around this time, I initiated my own little backlash against the anti-neuro backlash by starting a new blog, The Neurocomplimenter.
Daniel Engbar went out on a limb and proposed that “the public turned its back on neuro-hype” long ago (in 2008) and that “2008 may also have been the high point for critical neuroscience blogging.” But I place the date later than that, in 2012. Nevertheless, popular new blogs like Neurobollocks started after then, and Neuroskeptic shows no signs of slowing down. And there's plenty of blogging to be done that doesn't involve neurocriticism.
Maybe I'm just getting boring (or bored). So perhaps it's time to use a new platform like Tumblr to post animated gifs of brains from cheesy horror movies — OMG Neurocritic!
Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. ... Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.
-Jason Kottke, The blog is dead, long live the blog
There are 123 independent neuroscience and psychology blogs aggregated on @neuroghetto now, and some huge number in networks. Science blogging isn't dead yet, long live science blogging.
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