Pharma Blogging Panel at ACS Boston

Welcome to the live coverage of the Chemical & Pharma Blogging panel. Yes, this pharma blog is live blogging the pharma blogging session. It’s very meta. On our panel today is Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline, Ed Silverman of Pharmalot, David Kroll of Terra Sigillata, and Mike Tarselli of Scripps Florida, and our moderater is none other than the Haystack’s Carmen Drahl.

12:08 A slight delay as the crowds descend upon the boxed lunches.

12:16 Derek Lowe is up first.

12:20: Derek started blogging in January or February of 2002. Though he worried at the time he wouldn’t have enough to write about– appears the supply of material is inexhaustable. It helps that he talks about business, IP, legal, science and he tries to rotate between those. It keeps the readership reasonably happy or at least equally unhappy. “I know if i I talk about IP for more than two posts, I can see the readership dropping.” It’s like spray repellant.

12:22 Derek gets about 15-20k pageviews per day. Big spike at lunchtime. Likes to think he has had a profound negative effect on productivity for the country. Readership seems to be a lot of chemists and people who work in the drug industry, but also a lot of folks outside the field.

12:24 Nabakov extensively quoted. Derek is literary, not just scientific!

12:25: A way to tell people where drugs really come from. Why do your prescriptions cost so much? Derek: “It’s me.”

12:26 Ed Silverman from Pharmalot is up next.

12:28 Ed comes at blogging from a different perspective: “I’m a journalist of all thing.” Started out on the pharma beat at the NJ Star-Ledger in 1995, and after ten years he proposed a blog. Got the greenlight in 2006–came up with the name “pharmalot,” with idea of covering what didn’t get covered in mainstream media. Started in Jan ’07.

12:30 Blogging has been an interesting experience–writing a blog has been one of the best career decisions he made. Keeps him in front of issues, meeting people, etc. Trying to cover a smattering of different things, and comes to pharma industry from a different perspective– as an outsider.

12:31 Ed also sees the crowd go quiet when he writes about patent stuff. Ah, the challenges of making IP enticing…

12:33 Now up, David Kroll of Terra Sigillata

12:35 A pharmacologist by training, but he does play well with chemists. He likes to think blogging serves bost chemistry and pharmacology. He grew up within sight of the Roche tower and always wanted to work for a pharma company. Life changed, and landed in academia.

12:37 Terra Sigillata is latin for “sealed earth”–It was the first trademarked medicine that came from a special clay. Abel Pharmboy (his pseudonym on the blog) comes from John Jacob Abel, the father of American pharmacology.

12:39 He came about blogging differently–growing up in NJ, always interested in mass communication and in teaching and conveying scientific knowledge to other folks. The greatest benefit of this medium is the ability to communicate science to non-scientists.

12:42 When he told people he was working on cancer, everyone was always interested and had questions. When regular folks felt like they had access to complex technical info, they seized upon it and got excited about it. “We tend to dumb down our communications too much.”

12:42 Derek Lowe was an inspiration for David’s blog. And felt like he really could perform a public service by talking about the risks and (few) benefits of herbal medicines. In 2006, was invited to join, which he says helped him develop breadth as a scientists by interacting with anthropologists, scientific ethicists, etc.

12:43 David left ScienceBlogs after PepsiGate of July 2010.

12:45 David’s joining C&ENtral Science! He will be moving to C&EN’s website–look for the first post up today! And he will be blogging under his real name.

12:48 David is talking about the many ways that blogging has benefited his career, his students, and more generally has enabled him to interact with a larger community.

12:49 Blogging has given him a chance to interact with a lot of communicators who have then come to the university to speak to students.

12:51 And blogging was written into one of his grants as a means of trying to make students more competitive for graduate school. Putting in a blogging mechanisms is helping students develop writing skills, particularly about science.

12:52 David’s top posts? Components of marijuana, horny goat weed, “stiff nights” (will leave it to the reader’s imagination to figure out what that herbal supplement is for). Even though his blog is dead on ScienceBlogs, it still gets about 900 hits a day from google searches.

12:54 Mike Tarsellis at Scripps Florida is up now. He’s talking about how he uses pharma/chem blogs.

12:55 Mike’s giving us his daily blog-reading schedule. In the Pipeline and Pharmalot are the morning coffee reads. Mid-morning? ACS Careers & Chemjobber (he’s a postdoc). Mid-afternoon? The Haystack (Aw…)

12:57 Mike did a survey of some fellow chemists, and most of them read them, but few trust the info. The idea was too many opinions, too few citations or too little verification.

12:58 Totally Synthetic most read among the scientists he works with–followed by the long-defunct (but much missed) Tenderbutton. When he asked them what they wanted out of a blog, they asked for more practical, hands-on info, more citations, yet also more gossip, and trouble-shooting advice. Most wanted: peer review discussion.

1:02 Some examples of crowd-sourced peer review that have or are having an impact on science. He’s talking about a controversial paper on biaryl formation by DMEDA organocatalysis–first post on this was by Derek on August 5. Has lead to a cadre of chemists all over the world repeating these reactions.

1:05 Q&A is now starting! Send your questions to me via twitter @lisamjarvis or in the comments to this post!

1:08 First question is basically whether you had a comfort with writing before starting a blog. Derek says he saw it as a strength of his that he thought he should try to put to use; David used to write for student newspapers before becoming a scientist; Ed was an accounting major in college, but loved literature; and Mike says he just likes to speak a lot.

1:14  A grad student asks about the potential pitfalls and how to navigate writing a blog as a grad student (her university wants her to write a blog). Derek talks about using his real name: he decided in the end it would come across as more trustworthy and it could only help to write under his real name. But blogging in grad school is a tough one because of relationship with professors, he notes. David thinks the university is forward thinking to want her to blog, and that it’s a great idea. The trick is to keep your experiences veiled enough, but it could be a tremendous opportunity to get away from the isolation many feel during PhD training. Ed talks about making the switch from working at a daily mainstream newspaper to blogging, which has some negative connotations. He’s dealt with that by being very transparent and by responding to comments without inserting himself into the conversation. Mike talks about tenderbutton, whose professor specifically asked him to stop blogging. Many advisors want you to be focused on work, and there can be a backlash as its seen as disrupting that.

1:16 What are the advantages of blog moderation? Derek takes down personal insults unless they’re interspersed with something interesting…David has only censored 2 comments in 5 years.

1:17 A question from chemjobber: How many non-reporter (i.e. non-professional journalist) blogs can the chem/pharma blogosphere support?

1:20 Ed tries to maintain civil order, and only inserts himself if there’s a question that needs answering.

1:22 Someone who recently finished his PhD thanks Derek for providing a forum for having insight info on what is going on inthe industry. He ended up at Genentech. Derek says he hopes that blogs can give grad students and post docs a look into what its really like because he had no idea what was going on in industry before he joined.

1:30 Finally going to get to chemjobber’s question!

1:34 Ed: Fewer than 1? The good blogs I look at are people who are already working regular jobs– they’re lawyers, they’re scientists, they’re professors, they’re not yet media moguls. Derek would agree: he hasn’t tried to turn his blog into a profession cause he’s always had drug discovery as his day job. Thinks he may e eating weeds out of his backyard if he tried to do that. David notes that you get $25/month per 10k pageviews on ScienceBlogs, which isn’t really going to support anyone. PZMeyers is probably the only one who can support himself that way.

1:37 A professor in the audience asks: when you sit down with a paper you want to write about, and you are aiming at a scientist (positively or negatively) rather than at a company, do you approach it differently? David notes that he just finished a five-year stint at NIH, so avoids anything related to that. And he tends to stick to positive papers. Derek will often write about a paper because he’s excited about it and thinks its neat stuff. But if he’s saying something nasty–which he does–he tries to put a disclaimer in there.

1:40 Mike: Academia is very compartamentalized, and one of the things blogs do for science is popularizes some things. If Derek puts up a paper, we are all deconstructing it by lunchtime, good or bad.

1:46 Someone asks who should get more attention? David suggests White Coat Underground while Ed thinks FDA Law Blog is good.

1:50 Carmen is wrapping things up and letting our illustrious panel off of the hot seat after two hours!

Author: Lisa Jarvis

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  1. How many professional bloggers (not a reporter, not connected to a larger print publication) does the panel think the pharma/chemblogosphere can support? I suspect that the number is larger than 2, but smaller than 7.