Ask a ScienceBlogger: Time

Time – He’s waiting in the wings
He speaks of senseless things
His script is you and me, boys

Time – He flexes like a whore
Falls wanking to the floor
His trick is you and me, boy

Time – In Quaaludes and red wine
Demanding Billy Dolls
And other friends of mine

Take your time

Excerpted from Time by David Bowie(one of my favorite Bowie songs)


This week’s Ask a ScienceBlogger question strikes a bit close to home. This week, our Seed overlords demand of us:

How is it that all the PIs (Tara, PZ, Orac et al.), various grad students, post-docs, etc. find time to fulfill their primary objectives (day jobs) and blog so prolifically?…

There’s no way I can answer this one in 300 words for the simple reason that this question is tied up with one other issue, but I’ll try to keep it briefer than the usual Orac style. That’ll have to do.

Many are the alties who have asked me this very same question with a sneer that you could almost feel even burning up the fiber optic lines that make up the Internet, using the question as an attack, a means of discrediting me. It’s an old ploy that dates back to my time on Usenet, which is where I indulged my love of writing and debate before I discovered blogging. The implication behind the usually hissed question is that I’m not the real deal, that I’m not who I claim I am, that no academic surgeon could possibly post much as I do. Such questions are almost always followed by insinuations that the real reason that I blog anonymously is that I’m not really an academic surgeon or scientist but someone using the anonymity of the Internet to to attack alternative medicine while pretending to be an academic surgeon, that I’m in reality a “pharma shill.” Never mind that it makes little sense for me to claim to be a cancer surgeon to do this (claiming to be an internest would probably carry more “authority” with these people, given the stereotype of surgeons). Never mind that I’m not nearly as anonymous as they seem to think I am and that quite a few people, both friend and foe, know my “real” identity. Heck, my Division Chief, Department Chairman, and Cancer Center Director know that I maintain this blog, and at least one patient of mine (that I know of) has discovered it (after which, almost to my surprise, my world didn’t come to an end). And never mind that I’ve explained many times why I blog under a pseudonym.

Last fall, one mercury mom “outed” me on an autism mailing list with particular level of venom (a list member who disapproved of her action forwarded me her e-mails and some examples of the ensuing debate she caused. This woman, who seemed to be cackling with glee as much as one can do in e-mail, even went so far as to use the fact that my pseudonym had come up in Google searches in association with that conspiracy-mongering and Holocaust denying website to insinuate that I was a neo-Nazi. Sadly, she was apparently too lazy or stupid (or too blinded by the anger that my posts had aroused in her) to realize that the reason I came up on such searches is because of my longstanding efforts to debunk Holocaust denial, not because I was a white power ranger or even a Holocaust denier myself. Following that, an altie in the business of selling supplements, who had commented on my blog before “outed” me with great fanfare on his own blog. This is a guy who at one point had gone so far as to tally up my verbiage, marvel at how well edited and free from typos it was, and claim that it would require someone working full time to write that much.

My response was that maybe he would need to work 40 hours a week to produce my level of blogorrhea, but I don’t. (I’m just that good.) On the other hand, the question isn’t totally unreasonable. As far as I’ve yet been able to ascertain, I’m the only academic surgeon with R01 funding in the world with an active (and, even more shockingly, even a somewhat popular) blog. If someone knows of another, please let me know who he or she is! It’s lonely here.

So yeah, this week’s question hit a nerve, which is why I almost didn’t bother to answer it. However, since Seed mentioned me by my nom de blog, I figured that not answering would look bad. So how do I manage it?

No, it’s not insanity, as Mark cites as his reason. At least, I don’t think it is. Certainly, a response that would apply to me is one similar Chad‘s, namely, this is my freakin’ hobby. It’s what I do when I’m not working at my “real job.” People don’t wonder too much how a surgeon like Sherwin Nuland manages to write all those popular books about medicine.

But those response still don’t quite answer the question. Here follow a few reasons that I’m able to pull this off. The main reason is that my position is more researcher than surgeon. Roughly two-thirds of my time is spent in the lab (more correctly, spent in my office writing grant proposals to beg for money to keep my lab going, with many of my evenings spent at home doing the same thing). My clinical practice is by design kept relatively small and very focused, so that I can provide good care to my patients and still have time for research. This setup leads me to spend many long hours in front of the computer. All too often, I get a serious case of grant writing block and will alternate between staring at a printout of my grant thus far, looking over references, and staring at the screen without producing much. Believe it or not, I find that taking a little time out to blog helps me break through the block. I’ve also found that it has made me a bit less stodgy and cautious in my grant writing style. Heck, for the Army grants I submitted three weeks ago, I even got a downright bold in explaining how my proposal was sufficiently innovative for the Army. Whether this will pay off for me with grant funding remains to be seen, but I believe I’ve become a better grant writer since blogging and a better writer overall. At least that’s what I tell myself. (Let’s be honest; sometimes, like Mike, I just do it to procrastinate or, like John, to avoid work, just like I’m doing now. I should be reviewing grants for my study section, which meets next week.)

But researchers are crazy busy too; so that doesn’t quite answer the time question. I’ll be more direct. Even though I’m generally at work around 60 hours a week and spend additional hours doing work-related stuff at home, there are reasons that I still manage to find the time to blog regularly. First, I don’t watch that much TV. My recreation of choice most evenings these days is to blog. It truly is my hobby. Unlike TV, blogging doesn’t rot my brain; (at least not usually, except perhaps when I force myself to delve into the depths of antivaccination, altie, or creationist websites–although one can make an argument along the lines that that which does not kill too many brain cells makes us stronger); in fact, it engages it. So, on most weeknights between roughly 9-11 PM, I spend my time writing posts. If there happens to be something that I want to watch on the ol’ boob tube then, I just fire up the laptop , take advantage of my wireless home network, and multitask. During the weekends, I’ll sometimes write up extra posts that I save for times when the week is too busy and I don’t have time (or am too tired) to keep up the normal posting routine. Sometimes I’ll finish off partially written posts very early in the morning before I head to work. Now that I’m on ScienceBlogs and use Movable Type instead of Blogger, I can then simply set the times that I want my post(s) to appear and not look again until after work. Second, I’m a fast typist and writer (for nontechnical things, anyway–see above about my grant-writing block). This post took around 45 minutes to write, and this infamous post of mine was written in its entirety while I watched an NBA Finals game. Finally, I’ve been sparring on Usenet since the late 1990’s and had spent nearly almost as much time doing that then as I do blogging now. When I started blogging, I simply transfered my Usenet efforts to my blog and now don’t do Usenet anymore, except for the now fairly uncommon foray back to my old stomping grounds at alt.revisionism,, and

With all that being said, it would be a lie for me to deny that I have never felt the consequences of my little hobby/obsession cutting into time for other things. Indeed, since joining ScienceBlogs, I seem to have fallen into the trap of slowly increasing my average posting frequency from what used to be once or maybe twice a day on the old blog to nearly double that. I rather suspect that my unfortunately competitive nature (perhaps coupled with the post scheduling feature of Movable Type, which eliminates the necessity for me to post manually) has seduced me into foolishly trying to keep up with the blogorrheic posting habits of fellow ScienceBloggers extraordinaire PZ, Ed, and now Bora, among others. Given the demands of my work and schedule, I’ve always realized that there’s no way on earth I can keep up such a pace indefinitely, and trying to do so can only end badly, either by interfering with my day job to the point where my research effort suffers, messing with my marriage, or both. Consequently, don’t be surprised when my blogging becomes less manic in the near future. Not that I’m ever likely to slow down to less than a post per weekday, except when I’m on vacation later in the summer (during which time Movable Type will allow me to set up a bunch of timed posts taken from the “best of” my old blog, interspersed with the occasional dispatch from the road to keep it fresh, all for your edification during my absence).

After all, I only said I’d become less manic in my blogging. I didn’t say I’d cease to be manic. There’s just way too much altie credulity, pseudoscience, and bad reasoning out there just begging for a taste of Orac’s tender loving Respectful Insolence™.

And I plan on continuing to administer it regularly as long as my schedule and desire allow.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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