Raison d’etre


A somewhat belated happy birthday to Fight Aging!, an important resource for lifespan extension advocates that also has some of the best (and constantly improving) scientific coverage in the field. Fight Aging! (and its older companion effort The Longevity Meme) are two fine websites that this humble blog is proud to count as friends. We might not agree on everything, but then again, who does?

If you’re not reading Fight Aging!, you should be.

Congratulations to FA’s proprietor, Reason. Happy sixth blogiversary, and many (many, many…) happy returns!

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I’m trying to claw my way back from a long period of inactivity. In late 2009, experiments and other work prevented me from devoting time to this project, and even after some of those obligations lightened, I was finding it difficult to get back in the saddle. My last moment of inspiration turned out to be a false alarm, and rumors of my resurrection had been greatly exaggerated. Most of the posts in the final quarter of last year were made by one of our other writers (turritopsis’ excellent coverage of the SENS4 conference).

There are a number of forces conspiring against my blogging actively. Most have to do with tradeoffs: I have a limited amount of time (less than I used to, now that I’m commuting from Oakland to Novato every day) and energy, and – especially given how long I’ve been a postdoc – it’s hard to justify spending time on a project that doesn’t create new data. Also I have some ambivalence about the value of blogging as a filter for the literature.

But I’ve decided that this is important to me, for a variety of reasons, both selfish and other-centered. I like the way that Ouroboros helps me keep on top of the literature – even if I’m deciding not to write about an article, I’m thinking about it – and I’ve been missing that. I also liked the small but growing sense that I was doing something that other people enjoyed, and that benefited the field as a whole. On the careerist side: Knowing the field helps me choose the best experiments to do in my own work. Beyond that, as my generation gradually takes over the reigns of academic science, more and more people will appreciate the value of activities like blogging – so hopefully there will be no ultimate career tradeoff between time spent blogging and time spent on research activities.

So as of tomorrow, I’ll be back, in some form. I’ve decided to give the project a certain amount of time every day, and get done what I can in that time, and not worry so much about the absolute amount of writing I get done. Hopefully those of you who are interested will have something new to read (almost) every day.

Baby steps back into active blogging, then. Which is not to say that I don’t have ambitions. Over the next month or so, I plan on moving Ouroboros off of wordpress.com to another server – I’ll still use the WordPress software, but I want to have more control over the site’s structure and content. Also I want to open the door to monetizing the site in some way (probably not through ads, but possibly using a donation-based system like Kachingle, whenever that opens up); one of the things that takes me away from blogging is my consulting work, and it would be easier to rationalize spending more time on the blog if I weren’t paying as much of an opportunity cost when I spent time working on it.

Wow. TMI, probably. I’d better go read a paper. See you tomorrow.

Just to follow up on that last post asking you to help the SENS Foundation win $5000 — it worked! SENS came in first, and won the grand prize. The margins were pretty narrow — well below the number of people who visited the contest page from Ouroboros alone — so it can truly be said that every vote counted.

Thanks to the readers of Ouroboros and everyone else who helped SENS over the top.

The amount of money raised is, in the grand scheme, rather small, but it’s possible that the victory for SENS in what amounts to a popularity contest will help increase awareness of the life extension cause.

“I’m immensely grateful to 3banana for involving us in this great opportunity, and to all the SENSF supporters who took the time to leave comments at the site,” said SENS Foundation CSO, Dr Aubrey de Grey. “These supporters have recognised that a public and eloquent expression of broad-based support for our mission has the potential to raise the profile and perceived legitimacy of our work and thereby greatly amplify the impact of the competition itself.”

The SENS Foundation (which organizes the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence conferences) is in the running for the $5000 grand prize in 3banana’s Share to Win event. The contest seeks to raise money “for causes serving unmet needs in health, education and environment.”

And you can help. It’s pretty simple: All you have to do is leave a comment on this page. (The award goes to the cause with the most comments.) You can sign on using a Google account if you already have one of those, or register for a free one-off account. It’s painless and takes about thirty seconds.

Your comment/vote makes a difference! Right now, SENS is neck-and-neck with the competition — as of this post, they’re 17 votes behind first place. (Well, sixteen, since I just commented.) So don’t just sit there — this is your opportunity to help send real money to a very important cause, at no cost to yourself.

Post your comment now.

There are only four days left in the contest, so time is of the essence.

(For all you social media users, feel free to spread the word via blogs and Twitter. If you’re interested in regular updates from the SENS Foundation, there’s a Facebook page as well.)

UPDATE: The push yesterday put SENS into the lead — thanks to all Ouroboros readers who took the time to comment! But the current lead is tenuous, and it could still be lost. If you haven’t commented yet: it doesn’t take much time, and with margins like these your vote really makes a difference. Would you really want to find out that SENS had lost by a single vote? Please consider taking a minute or so and leaving a comment on the contest page.

Ouroboros has been slumbering for the past couple of months — this was for a variety of reasons, mostly to do with the editor’s other professional obligations. Apologies for the absence.

We’re back, starting with on-site coverage of an exciting conference. Posts about the biogerontology literature will resume next week.

We’ll also be looking for more scientist-writers to help us cover the literature. If you’re interested, see here.

A couple of months ago I lamented that scientific blogging would probably be unable to serve as an effective “filter” for the scientific literature. Scientists struggle to keep up with the literature in their own field (let alone related fields), and it would be nice if someone could pre-screen emerging papers in a way that would decrease the time and effort involved in keeping current. For a variety of reasons, I think it’s unlikely that science blogs will be able to serve this function.

But filtering isn’t the only justification for the existence of science blogs, as is made clear by a recent bumper crop of blog posts and articles about science blogging. Blogging can help an individual scientist share ideas with colleagues and spread the word about one’s own work. Some see blogs as increasingly essential to the process of self-promotion, whereas others see an opportunity to fill growing holes in the fabric of conventional science journalism. There is a consensus that blogging is less prestigious than other kinds of scientific publishing, but as participation grows, this may change.

In rough order of the ideas presented in the previous paragraph, I present these pieces here for your delectation:

It hasn’t escaped my attention that one must scroll down quite a ways to find a post about a journal article about the biology of aging. This isn’t intentional, and it doesn’t represent a permanent shift of focus. I just got really sidetracked — I’ve been busy with experiments and group meeting, so I haven’t had a chance to read papers as frequently or deeply as I usually do.

I’ve also been exploring other interests peripherally related to science and aging. Many of these forays have resulted in significant additions to the Feeds and Search links in the right-hand column, but I appreciate that these aren’t very noticeable. Finally, I’ve been thinking about moving Ouroboros off of the wordpress.com server, basically because I’d like more control over the blog’s format, and the research on that subject is taking time.

None of which is a very good excuse. I just wanted to reassure this blog’s faithful reader(s) that I haven’t abandoned biogerontology. More traditional coverage of the field will resume, hopefully with some consistency, next week.

And as always, if you want to help

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