We wanted to create a site where the best science writers, regardless of popularly or politics or ideology, could get together in one place and write about science, whenever they want on whatever topics they want. We went to top people in their fields; well-known authors, post-docs and professors in our various categories, and explained what we wanted to accomplish and the response, from writers and from the audience, has been fantastic.
Why? Because science is important but most science 'bloggers' prior to us didn't really write much about science - they seemed to be more interested in traffic and tended toward generating controversy to get it. I admire that kind of savvy marketing but for those of us not interested in self-promotion or too apolitical to be comfortable on other sites, there was nowhere to go.
We opened our doors in February, 2007 and shortly thereafter, Aileen Thompson, writing at Blog Herald, took note of the recently ended "Science Week” and had some comments I think were prescient:
In case you missed it, there was an entire week (Feb. 4-10) of science blogging called “Science Week” - when an entire stable of science bloggers committed to at least one blog a day actually focused on… Science! This may seem a little bit strange to blogophyles who reasonably presume that science blogs must *of course* be about science, but this is unfortunately not always the case. At least, not among the most popular science blogs, which are primarily about politics, ideological posturing, “Culture War” polemics, popular book promotions, pretty pictures of diverse subjects, and (predictably, given the demographics) sex.
That's right, other science sites took some time out of their busy schedule of political commentary, religious ridicule and cultural insight to actually write about science. It was like a thunderclap in the science blogging community.
Except it wasn't. The next week it was back to the same old stuff. But something interesting happened after that. People began to notice us. They found they liked reading scientists who wrote about science and good things happened for us. We only had 30,000 readers the first month and some were competitors making fun of us because we focused on content and not on the interface - but, hey, we don't have a media company or venture capitalists or anyone else funding us, so we weren't much interested in looks - but a lot were serious readers and word began to spread. Content is king and we had plenty of that.
By the time 2007 ended we had become the largest independent science community in the world. And the curve is going up.
So to recap 2007 we are going to highlight some of the most popular stories of the year and then get to work on being even better in 2008 - namely by improving some of the interface features and social aspects that will make the site a lot more fun. So on with the recap:
The top story of 2007 was on a 'stealth' antenna made of gas - turn it on, it's an antenna. Turn it off, and it's just a tube.
Showing that those science sites that do nothing but make fun of people may be on to something, the number two article for the year was Sarda Sahney tweaking a new Creationist museum in her article, T. rex ate coconuts. Sarda's on maternity leave but this gives us a chance to say, "Sarda, we miss you!" and look forward to more in 2008.
Space science was also a big hit with serious readers. Mysterious radio waves on Titan discussed the interesting possibilities of an odd anomaly while Double explosion heralds the death of a massive star was a spectacular visual treat.
Without question, the most popular overall category was biology. There's a good reason; we have a terrific group that can't be matched anywhere else. Lee Silver discussed Human-animal chimeras: from mythology to biotechnology and Michael White boiled down what ENCODE and junk DNA really meant for biology in Our Genomes, ENCODE, and Intelligent Design. Greg Criser kept us abreast of how important mice studies are in Mouse Farm while John Dennehy led us on a biological mystery wondering why any intelligent being would design Genes In Conflict. That's just the tip of the biology iceberg - everyone who wrote either one article or a recurring column put up terrific stuff. Starting in January, we have two more outstanding biology writers joining us, establishing us as the best biology group around.
But icebergs are a nice segue into earth science which was close behind biology in popularity. Our favorite environmental writer, Jane Poynter, had two of our most popular articles, Organic veggies: are they really better than conventionally grown? and Inkjet-printable Solar Panels... Really! Future thought pundit David Houle did an entire series on Leading Scientists and Thinkers on Energy, including Thomas Valone, Martin Hoffert, William H. Calvin, Fabrizio Pinto and even Howard Bloom, who liked our concept so much he joined up and wrote a fascinating series of articles called Who’s Smarter: Chimps, Baboons or Bacteria? The Power of Group IQ.
Neuroscience was led by the indefatigable Seth Roberts who, along with Garth Sundem and a few others, had agreed to write here when it was just a concept. Seth had too many popular articles to list ( so go read them all) but one, Can Professors Say the Truth? dealt with the controversy over Michael Bailey's The Man Who Would Be Queen, which led to the two top opponents on each side of the transsexual debate, Bailey, in Transsexual Smokescreen: Ignoring Science In “The Man Who Would Be Queen” and Joan Roughgarden of Stanford in The Bailey Affair, Again hashing out their positions in one location - certainly something that could not happen if this were a site driven by ideology.
I mentioned Garth Sundem, since he was one of the writers who signed up during our development phase in 2006, and he had a number of articles that were wildly popular but his No Limit Poker: The Bluff Calculator resonated across all cultural and scientific boundaries. The only thing bigger than our site in 2007 was, apparently, no-limit Texas Hold 'Em. At last count, people in over 50 countries have read that article. He was also on Good Morning America shortly after we went into private beta and that certainly doesn't hurt when it comes to getting publicity.
On the cultural front, your favorite Science Mom and mine made the science case for going green in I Wanna Go Green… So Show Me The Math! though 2007 chould also be called The Year Of The Chocolate since there were a disproportionate number of articles sitewide extolling its virtues, most popular being Top Ten Scientific Reasons why Chocolate is the World’s Most Perfect Food.
There are plenty more cultural articles that grabbed peoples' interest. John Fiorentino discussed the use (and misuse) of Bayes' Theorem in What's ailing Bayes? while we had a cornucopia of articles with a humorous slant that were popular, like Smart teens don’t have sex (or kiss much either) and Science Has Bad News For Goth Chicks - Vampires May Not Be Real.
I haven't forgotten about the physical sciences, I just didn't want to show any bias, but if I were going to be biased, Jean-Claude Bradley's pieces on the open science movement, like Science is About Mistrust, are a must-read. Georg von Hippel may be a post-doc in physics but he brings it all to us in a way everyone can understand in articles like Quantum Mechanics - Home Edition.
Obviously I am just touching on a few articles. With over 7,000 things to read here everyone else could cite favorites that are much different than ones I listed.
The great news is we were able to accomplish all of this with nothing but an idea that the science site we wanted to read did not exist so we had to create it. Going into 2008 we know what we're doing. Sometime in January (well, 'when it's finished' is the release date) we expect to unveil a spectacular new interface that will enhance many of the social aspects that make a social science site social.
Thanks for putting us on the map in 2007. Please don't hesitate to let us know how we can get even better in 2008.