Monday, January 27, 2014

Eight Years of Neurocriticism

A Mad Scientist Party Idea, from Party on Purpose.

Eight years ago, I started a blog out of sheer frustration. I decided to call it The Neurocritic. I sent out an anonymous e-mail to some of my friends to describe the project.

subject: unveiling The Neurocritic

I've started a blog to critique the most outrageous claims published in high-profile journals and discussed in the popular press:

Because The Neurocritic is not a member of the all-powerful Editorial Boards at Science, Natute, or Neuron, The Neurocritic is published under an assumed identity.  Your comments are most welcome.

Enjoy the inaugural posting! [we'll see how long it lasts.]

[I had forgotten how surprised I should be that the blog has lasted this long.]

At first, I invited others to join. Two people expressed interest in joining the party, and one was issued an account (but never posted). I soon became very proprietary and revoked that account. I had become The Neurocritic.

I didn't think anyone would read the blog. But then a funny thing happened. Several posts that discussed journal articles drew the attention of the authors, who actually commented.

Meanwhile, I tried my best to stay under the radar and hoped that no one would think of me as a real person.

Pretty colorful brains and simplified explanations of human cognition and emotion and personality had became staples of mainstream newspapers and magazines, first in the dying print media and then in purely online news sources and press release farms. Gradually, a backlash grew against studies on the neural correlates of shopping at Macy's. This blog (and others such as Mind Hacks, Neuroskeptic, and Neurobonkers) was mentioned in the same press outlets that ran outlandish opinion pieces about Loving Your iPhone:

Neuroscience: Under Attack (Nov 23, 2012)

Neuroscience Fiction (Dec 2, 2012)

Why ‘neuroskeptics’ see an epidemic of brain baloney (Apr 13, 2013)

This blog reached the height of its popularity in 2012.  Then we hit 2013... the year of decline.

What happened?? I'll explore some possible reasons in the next post, and take a glimpse into the future.

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At January 28, 2014 1:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations! It's my favourite blog, and I always try and read each of the posts. Sometimes though, I find them to be too lengthy.

At January 28, 2014 6:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One reason I read it less is the demise of Google Reader. It did a great job of letting me know when there was a new post. I haven't had the same relationship with Feedly or Digg reading is down, but productivity at work is up!1

At January 28, 2014 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone can be cynical or simply disagreeable. Your uniqueness is that you combine reasonable skepticism with the demands that your readers think further and deeper. You insist that your audience acts like competent scientists. This is where your academic background is essential. Your discussions are often complex, but so are the topics. So please, don't lighten it up for us! Reading you is a major joy.

At January 28, 2014 10:53 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Thanks so much for your kind words. I agree the posts can be a little long at times... but I'm glad some feel that the complexity is part of the blog's uniqueness.

Your comments also anticipate some points I'll raise next time:

- Did the demise of Google Reader affect people's blog-reading habits?

- What kind of demands do I make on my audience? Will this change, and if so, how?

Thanks to all for reading!

At January 28, 2014 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy BDAY!
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.

At January 28, 2014 11:05 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Thanks for the BDAY wishes! You too have anticipated a topic for next time - has the format been a victim of its own success and run its course? Am I getting bored (or boring?) These are the reasons I started the "backlash against the fashionable anti-neuro backlash" blog, The Neurocomplimenter (which has been a bit underactive)...

At January 31, 2014 2:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neurocritic, I don't find your blog boring at all, but I'm a hard core neuro person obsessed with these topics! I agree with the earlier comments, your posts are always well researched and thoughtful, unlike those of many other blogs that often just "retweet" stuff from CNN.

At January 31, 2014 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CongratulationsI love your site and appreciate all of the work you put into making it so unwaveringly fascinating and trustworthy.

At February 23, 2015 5:39 AM, Anonymous Premier Biomedical, Inc. said...

t is pretty obvious that the "helping the veterans" mission is just a cover, given how little the Government seems to care about veterans. This is rather ominous, especially when you get purely mercenary entities like Draper Labs involved. You know they are up to no good. There are huge neuroethical problems with this. Not the curing neurological illnesses aspect, of course, but potential abuses of this knowledge and techologies. So, let's hope this leads to nothing of substance, like most DARPA projects. Because if it does lead to major technologies of this type, we know that one day the NSA will find ways to exploit them to monitor and/or possibly control people's brains. Trust has been breached irrevocably and nobody can be called paranoid anymore because what seemed to be the most paranoid scenarios are turning out to be true!


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