Five years of Terra Sigillata

No matter how old, she'll always be my little sister.

Today is my sister’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Sandi! (and keep an eye out for the FedEx truck today..wink, wink.)

Five years ago, I chose to start this blog on my sister’s birthday so that I’d always remember my blogging anniversary (I’m not fond of the portmanteau, “blogiversary.”). Mind you, I also got married in 2000 thereby making it painlessly simple to know how many years I’ve been married, a task I should be able to accomplish well into senility.

Five years ago, I was out of the academic environment and wanted a venue to both chronicle and share ideas I had about pharmaceuticals and alternative medicines. At the time, and still today, a great deal of information on the internet regarding herbal medicines is provided primarily by entities selling such products. With a background in natural products and degrees in pharmacology and toxicology, I felt that I could provide some truth and add perspective on those marketing claims and other sensationalized information on the web.

I was also very fond of the short, pharmacology news notes that I used to give to launch my pharmacology lectures at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy during the 1990s. These short updates on drugs in the news were and remain an important part of my approach to teaching by giving students a current context in which to apply classroom knowledge. Moreover, following developments in therapeutic areas outside of cancer (my main focus) got me to read primary literature outside of my field that was necessary to keep all of my other pharmacology lectures up-to-date.

Among these vignettes I would also sprinkle a bit of history of pharmacology, biology, or chemistry. I had a great department chairman when I was in graduate school at the University of Florida – Allen Neims, MD, PhD – who would hold informal morning sessions with us to go over classic papers in pharmacology and challenged us to think whether we would have recognized the significance of the papers at the time. For example, we covered this 1938 paper by Merritt and Putnam in the Archives of Neurology & Psychiatry which represented one of the first structure-activity approaches to drug development, improving on the antiepileptic activity of phenobarbital with the comparatively less sedating drug, phenytoin (Dilantin), still used today. The exercise not only gave us an appreciation for our history but also helped us look at the current literature with a discerning eye. (Yes, Dr. Neims – I still remember this stuff.)

In my original 15 December 2005 post, “A Humble PharmBoy Begins to Sow,” I cited my further inspiration by a David Secko article in The Scientist where he had interviewed Derek Lowe, author of the pharma/chem blog against which all others are measured: In The Pipeline. In his article David asked, “Few scientists have caught onto the Internet’s power of posting, commenting, and debating – where are the rest?”

Well, with a pseudonym that reflected pharmacology history and a play on words for a farmhand looking for a job, Abel Pharmboy launched a blog named after the world’s first trademarked medicine from the earth, Terra Sigillata.

This last year of blogging has seen the biggest changes in what I do here. We spent a little over four years in the ScienceBlogs collective, leaving for points unknown with 20 or so other bloggers after the ethical debacle of SB hosting a paid nutrition blog by Pepsi Co. We languished this summer on an indie site on WordPress until the fine, discerning folks at CENtral Science – Rachel Pepling and Carmen Drahl – offered me a spot here with an accomplished group of chemists possessing outstanding writing and editing chops. Good fortune continued while we were getting rolling here – Brian Mossop of PLoS (Public Library of Science) contacted us to start a new blog at PLoS Blogs, a new niche network split roughly between highly decorated writers and authors and science bloggers of note (and me). My PLoS blog, Take As Directed, is where you’ll find more of my free-wheeling musings – I call it “free-range blogging in the Wild West tradition.” However, when I post something serious or chemically-noteworthy there I’ll often crosspost or adapt it for here.

The move here to CENtral Science has been particularly fruitful because I see a lot of hits in my referral logs from places Terra Sig has never reached, with a much higher percentage of educational institutions and industrial organizations I had not seen at ScienceBlogs.

So, while many of you new readers may still be getting to know me, I’d like to invite you to drop a comment and 1) let us know your background, 2) why you read us, 3) what other blogs you find useful in your day, and 4) what topics you’d like to see covered more or less. If you’re a first-time commenter, don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear immediately – to fight spam, we’re set up to manually approve the first comments from an IP address and I’ll get to it as the day permits.

While I started this blog for me, it’s really ours – your feedback, tips, and lively discussion from all corners of the world have made this a fun and revealing intellectual exercise that’s difficult to replicate in daily professional life.

For those of you who’ve followed us around for five years – kind of like the Grateful Dead or Phish – I thank you for your continued support in spending your valuable time with us. For my new friends, I hope that we continue to earn your readership. And to Carmen, Rachel, and Rudy, thank you for inviting me to play in your sandbox.

Author: David Kroll

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  1. You’ve done great work David for science outreach David! Not just with the blogs, but the television appearances, helping to organize Science Online, talking to classes about blogging, etc. etc. Keep it all up David, you are a tireless, and in my opinion sometimes underrated, champion of science communication.

    I started following you shortly after I discovered scienceblogs (by way of invitation to join Deep Sea News) in 2007. You have always been helpful, accessible and generous with your time to me even though I am not remotely in the pharmaceutical community. It is because of your awesome attitude that I even have generated an interest in reading this type of stuff, but I also appreciate your sidelines into music and racial diversity in sciences.

    Keep strong brother!

  2. You’re a good man, Kevin – I just love this part of the educational sphere. You guys even have me getting more interested in marine natural products, a more recent source of some of our new anticancer drugs.

    I appreciate the underrated comment but some of the feedback I’ve gotten in the past is that I could improve my profile by posting daily. It’s that day job that gets in the way, you know?

    I love what you do all around, in Deep Sea News, music, and the science communication and outreach communities. We’re all a team as I see it. Thanks so much for offering your comments and insights. See you up here in Jan but I’ve got to do a better job of getting down to your neck of the seagrass.

  3. Happy anniversary, David! You’ve been a terrific addition to the sandbox, and I’m so glad you came to play with us.

  4. 1) I don’t work in the lab – I read lots and work in chemistry but don’t do lab work. It mostly involves organic and some medicinal chemistry, hence my interest. I read you through (I think) Adventures in Ethics and Science at Science Blogs until the detonation.

    2) I get irritated at supplement advertising so I like to see someone puttting out accurate information on what they are and do. I don’t know much about pharmacology, but it interests me, so I read.

    3) I read about ten blogs or so – (I’m not italicking, sorry) – In The Pipeline, Carbon-Based Curiosities, ChemBark, The ChemBlog, and Chemjobber a lot, The Sceptical Chymist, Chemistry World, Pharmalot, and Totally Synthetic and Adventures in Ethics and Science (because they’re both busy) less but some.

    4) I don’t really have any requests – I am fortunate enough to have something to read, so…

    Thank you.

  5. Happy birthday to Sandi and to Terra Sig! 5 is what- 70 in blog years? I’m glad the chemNobel grumblings put us in contact and gladder still that you’ve joined our lil’ collective. I’m learning every day from your example about how to be a helpful presence in the scicomm world.

  6. David, I am an avid reader. I don’t have a background in science, but I’m CURIOUS. I’m just so CURIOUS. I stumbled upon ScienceBlogs when I was googling a new disaster or disease to study. (I know everything it is possible to know about the Bubonic Plague. Note: Does NOT make for a good first date conversation starter.) And I’ve stuck around ever since.

    I love your posts about drugs. Love. Them. As a recovering alcoholic, I’m always on the lookout for the ones I never got to try! I kid. Sort of. But now that I work with addicts and alcoholics myself, I need to know what’s out there. And I like to know the chemistry behind it as well.

    Anyway. I love reading your blog. It is a highlight to see it come up in my reader. Always.


  7. @k8 – I’m very lucky that you follow me around. I obviously share your concerns about unintended dependence on naturally-occurring substances. But you have educated me far more in the RealWorld than I can approach in the literature. Your friendship and participation in these discussion substantially enrich what we discuss here.

    Beyond our relationship regarding substance abuse and pharmacology/physiology, you are simply an exemplary blog reader and commenter – whoever else earns your readership is very fortunate.

  8. Keep up the good work! You probably already know my Neuroscience background. I really enjoy your blog a lot although I don’t comment often,you make pharmacology interesting. I particularly like posts on drug development, drug mechanisms and such. I also wanted to thank you for promoting my blog early on, if it wasn’t for you DM and Isis I’d have 3 readers.

  9. David, I am an academic chemistry librarian, and like k8 I am curious about everything. I like to start my day with CENtral Science. I promote RSS feeds and blogs to grad students as a way to keep one’s perspective. I am a great believer in serendipitous discovery, and I am intrigued with the notion that just around that next click is a new connection to be made or discovered. Students congregate outside the library waiting for their labs to begin. I routinely post blog postings on a bulletin board in that space to entice students into the wonderful world of chemistry information. Happy anniversary!

  10. Rachel and Carmen – I’m just so, so lucky to know you both. You’re both great mentors and being here has been a wonderful opportunity. I have so much more to learn about “real” writing but I am so fortunate to have your supportive guidance.

    Indeed, Carmen, we caught up when you first quoted me here:

    Seems like forever ago.

    Hap and Namnezia, thank you very much. Namnezia, I’m so glad that you started your own blog. You have such a thoughtful and introspective writing style; you hooked me with one of your first posts in July about being a minority faculty member. You get better every day.

    Emily, you are awesome! What a fantastic way to use blogs to expose your students to chemistry news! I must share that idea with a few folks in the day job – beautiful!

  11. Geez, and I wanted to use “blogiversary” here, dammit!

    Hey, happy anniversary, David, which means a happy birthday as well to “little sister”. You’re one of the truly good guys out there I’ve met through this process and I’m proud, no honored, to call you a friend. Continued success with this and all that you do.
    Cheers, Bud!!

  12. Brother Scribb! Thank you so much for taking time off your shift to send your kind wishes. I truly appreciate the sentiments – and I hope to bring little sister to experience your craft in the near future.

    For those who’ve not read scribbler50’s blog, Behind the Stick, you are missing one of the best literary bartenders in the blogosphere. His weekly columns are rich in astute cultural observation and commentary – definitely the reading highlight of my weekends. Scribbler’s stories take me back to a time when my grandfather would take me to a local bar after his shift at the chemical factory, when the corner bar was as integral to the community as the library or hardware store. Be forewarned that there may be an occasional word from George Carlin’s list of “seven words you can’t say on television,” but he wields even salty language with loving care.

    Thanks again, brother!

  13. Congratulations and keep up the great work! I find your blog to be a reliable source on pharmacology and biological chemistry, areas of interest to me but no expertise. I especially enjoy your posts on various aspects of science with a human touch, whether that be on policies, or safety, or discrimination or success. You have written many worthwhile posts with information I just wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. Always something worth thinking about.

    Thank you!