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Blogs lead in critical thinking, but newspapers still matter

June 10th, 2013 · 4 Comments

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Here is a record of a couple of recent newspaper pieces. Who says the mainstream media don’t matter any longer? Blogs may be in the lead now when it comes to critical analysis. The best blogs have more expertise and more time to read the sources than journalists. But the mainstream media get the message to a different, and much larger, audience.

The Observer ran a whole page interview with me as part of their “Rational Heroes” series. I rather liked their subtitle [pdf of article]

“Professor of pharmacology David Colquhoun is the take-no-prisoners debunker of pseudoscience on his unmissable blog”

It was pretty accurate apart from the fact that the picture was labelled as “DC in his office”. Actually it was taken (at the insistence of the photographer) in Lucia Sivilotti’s lab.

Photo by Karen Robinson.

The astonishing result of this was that on Sunday the blog got a record 24,305 hits. Normally it gets 1,000-1,400 hits a day . between posts, fewer on Sunday, and the previous record was around 7000/day


A week later it was still twice normal. It remains to be seen whether the eventual plateau stays up.

I also gained around 1000 extra followers on twitter, though some dropped away quite soon, and 100 or so people signed for email updates. The dead tree media aren’t yet dead. I’m happy to say.

3 June 2013

Perhaps as a result of the foregoing piece, I got asked to write a column for The Observer, at barely 48 hours notice. This is the best I could manage in the time. The web version has links.

observer 020613

This attracted the usual "it worked for me" anecdotes in the comments, but I spent an afternoon answering them. It seems important to have a dialogue, not just to lecture the public. In fact when I read a regular scientific paper, I now find myself looking for the comment section. That may say something about the future of scientific publishing.

It is for others to judge how succesfully I engage with the public, but I was quite surprised to discover that UCL’s public engagement unit, @UCL_in_public, has blocked me on twitter. Hey ho. They have 1574 follower and I have 7597. I wish them the best of luck.


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Tags: Academia · anti-oxidant · Anti-science · antioxidant · antiscience · Bait and switch · blogs · communication · conflict of interest · intimidation · management bollocks · nutribollocks · public engagement · Public relations · Public understanding · publishing

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Blogs lead in critical thinking, but newspapers still matter | SecularNews.Org // Jun 10, 2013 at 22:57

    […] By David Colquhoun […]
  • 2 jimjim237 // Jun 11, 2013 at 10:43

    Thanks for all of you efforts – much commended.

    I am not a twit so I was wondering if someone could explain what the following means –

    “UCL’s public engagement unit, @UCL_in_public, has blocked me on twitter”

  • 3 johnstumbles // Jun 14, 2013 at 08:43

    I thought the Observer piece was a fine piece of communicating medical science and critical thinking to the public, and I liked your plainspeaking engagement with the CAM-inclined in the comments.

    I particularly liked that you brought out not only how much medicine can do but also how much it still cannot yet do due to our as-yet-nascent grasp of the complexities of our biology. I think this is a useful and necessary counter to the assertions of the Big Pharma conspiracy theorists that medicine claims to be able to treat every ailment, and also helps counter the simplistic offerings of alt-med.

    I have many friends and acquaintances who, whilst not having drunk deeply of the homeopathic kool-aid, are more-or-less inclined towards alt-med, and it is hard to find information to offer them that’s not likely to immediately alienate them by being couched in the polemical “quack-this” and “woo-that” language we commonly find in sci-and-ebm blogs; whilst the dearth of such material has (I flatter myself to think!) improved the quality of my own writing it’s done nothing for my time management, so it’s great to have another resource to offer.

    Thank you.

  • 4 David Colquhoun // Jun 14, 2013 at 09:14


    Thank you very much indeed. I think that John Diamond put it very well.

    “Indeed, if the boom in alternative medicine is anybody’s fault it’s that of orthodox medicine. It was the orthodoxy -helped by the media and our own vanity – which allowed us to believe that we could all be healthy and happy, that there was a pill for every problem “

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