Today is New Years Eve, the last day of 2018, thus giving me the honor of producing the last post of the year for Science-Based Medicine (SBM). I therefore thought that I’d take a little time to discuss my plans as editor for SBM in 2019. Given that our fearless leader Steve Novella has already discussed things that have happened in 2018, I’m not going to dwell much on that, other than maybe one thing. Because I’m still technically on vacation for the holidays, this post will be shorter than usual as well, probably a lot shorter. After all, who wants to read one of my 3,000-5,000 word epics on New Years Eve?
Before I discuss the future, it is worthwhile to briefly mention three key developments that occurred in 2018. First, we started a Patreon page to support our work financially, thus finally (we hope) freeing us from the tyranny of automated ad services, which sometimes embarrassed us by serving up ads for quackery based on the keywords in our posts. Who knew that the algorithms used by Google and other ad services can’t distinguish between keywords in articles promoting something versus criticizing something as pseudoscience? I kid, of course. Unfortunately, no ad service that we tried provided adequate controls to keep the quack ads from popping up from time to time. Second, as Steve mentioned before, it is true that several editors of SBM (myself included), both current and former, were named in a libel suit in November. I won’t say more than that on the advice of my lawyer other than that we are, of course, going to fight it in court. Finally, we are planning on merging SBM and the Society for Science-Based Medicine, because it will allow us to combine all our efforts under one “brand.”
So what about 2019 and beyond?
As managing editor, I’ve been blessed with an incredibly strong stable of writers and other editors, such that I really don’t have to do much, if anything, to guide them. Sometimes I’ll suggest a topic (usually in response to requests from readers). (I also thank our regular proofreader, because he makes sure that I don’t have to do much editing of the copy.) Occasionally, I’ll point out errors in a post (usually minor) or that I disagree with the major point being made in a post (rarely), but for the most part I can just let our regulars churn out posts about whatever strikes their fancy on a given week.
We’ve also had remarkable stability in that the average length of time that our current regulars have been blogging for SBM is nearly nine years, with the “most junior” having been with us for “only” six years. Unfortunately, longtime blogger Mark Crislip left us in 2017, and here’s where the key thing I need to do comes in. We still haven’t found a regular replacement for him; so every other Friday there is either a guest post (if we have any good ones approved and ready) or there is no post. Stability has been good, and our current lineup is stellar, but this failure to find a regular replacement for Mark reminds me that we don’t have a deep bench. Actually, we don’t have a bench at all. I’m as far away from my goal of having at least one post every day, weekends included, as I’ve ever been—farther, actually. (I should have recognized this problem more acutely a couple of years ago when Harriet was off for several weeks with injuries suffered from a fall.) None of us is getting any younger, and perhaps our lineup has been too stable for too long. There are advantages (obviously) to having had such a stable lineup of excellent bloggers for so long, but fresh talent could reinvigorate the blog.
So the most pressing need SBM will have in 2019 is the same one it had in 2018: Finding more regular bloggers. New regulars are most likely to be found as result of the part of my job where I actually do have to do some actual editorial work. I’m referring to guest posts, of course. We actually do get a fair number of guest post submissions, but unfortunately the vast majority of them are utterly unsuitable for SBM. Many are medical clickbait, general medical articles that would be suitable for a general medical blog but not SBM, listicles, and the like. These inquiries I usually ignore, although if someone is particularly persistent I might respond and tell him why his post is not suitable for SBM. Sometimes we get submissions from someone trying to beat his or her favorite hobby horse that’s not particularly relevant to SBM. Hilariously, some are from proponents of alternative medicine touting the benefits of supplements, modalities like reiki or homeopathy, or various other types of quackery. I always laugh and respond to these with a comment along the lines of, “Obviously, you’ve never read our blog. You really should before submitting.” Then, every so often, there’s a diamond in the rough, someone who can write and “groks” what we are about at SBM. These submissions are uncommon enough, but even rarer are submissions from someone who not only “groks” what we are about and can write well but also could contribute a regular post every week or every other week; i.e., could become a regular.
That brings us to what I’m looking for in a new regular. I’ve long wanted to bolster SBM in areas where we are weaker in expertise. From my perspective, we could really use experts and specialists in (but not limited to) these areas: mental health, OB/GYN and women’s health, epidemiology, public health, cardiovascular disease, surgical subspecialties, immunology, and basic biomedical sciences. (Feel free to leave suggestions of other areas where SBM could use more expertise in order to cover properly and potential other bloggers.) None of this means I won’t consider talented bloggers who “grok” SBM in specialities that are already represented among our bloggers, but I will tend to prioritize filling holes in our medical coverage portfolio wherever possible.
I also realize that beggars can’t always be choosers. Let’s face it. SBM is an unpaid gig, albeit with a large readership for a medical blog and strong Google juice. It’s a well-established brand, so to speak. Being associated with SBM can thus help a blogger get noticed, leading to speaking gigs, either at NECSS or other skeptical conferences, and to reporters contacting him for quotes in their stories. Unfortunately, though, the single biggest hurdle to clear in beefing up our lineup is that most good bloggers who could be a “fit” as part of SBM tend to have their own blogs and/or other writing gigs, some even in the mainstream media. Of course, we only ask for one week of exclusivity, after which a blogger can post on his own blog, and our bloggers retain the copyright to their work; they only give us permission to post it, which they can rescind at any time. Also, as you know, some of our current regulars have blogs of their own, and Steve and Harriet are frequent contributors to skeptical magazines.
Also, in the new year, I plan on trying to remedy my biggest deficiency as editor, namely the speed with which I make decisions on whether to accept or reject a guest post. As described in our Submission Guidelines, guest posts that make it past my initial screen (i.e., that aren’t clickbait, listicles, general medical posts, or posts promoting quackery but actual posts saying something interesting related to SBM) go through an informal “rough and ready” peer review in which I solicit comments from other editors, usually without saying anything about my opinion of the submission, so as not to bias anyone. Unfortunately, that can drag on for a long time, and I’m not always on top of making sure the reviews come through. That’s why I also apologize for times when our determination regarding whether a guest submission is suitable for SBM takes too long. My only excuse is that those of us evaluating them have demanding jobs. For example, as the time gets closer to a major NIH grant deadline, my processing of guest submissions often grinds to a halt, or at the very least it slows way down. (As a heads up, I’ll mention that the next big NIH deadline is February 5, and, yes, I will be submitting at least one R01 then.) In any event, if I have a New Years resolution it’s to do better. The last thing I want to do is to scare away a potential new regular by unintentionally stringing them along.
Also, our presence on social media has been spotty, with our Facebook page and Twitter feed not always being updated regularly. I’d like to try to do something about that as well, even though that’s not part of my purview as managing editor.
So, to summarize, my main goals for SBM for 2019 are:
- to be faster and more reliable and responsive evaluating and publishing guest posts and to try not to leave bloggers hanging as long, in order to get more repeat submissions from promising bloggers who might be able to become regulars;
- to find enough additional regulars to be able to post seven days a week (although I’ll settle for five or six given how difficult this will be);
- to fill as many gaps in our expertise as I can; and
- to get our social media up and running better (if I can).
As always, the goals of SBM remain unchanged:
- To champion science as the basis for producing the most effective and safe medical care.
- To identify and write about areas where medicine is not based on the best science.
- To combat the continuing infiltration of pseudoscience and quackery into medicine and public health policy.
- To educate.
Finally, trials and tribulations aside, I thank you all for your continued readership and support. I also thank Steve for founding SBM and inviting me to be a part of it from the beginning, as well as our editors and all of our contributors for all their hard work and great blogging. I also thank our copy editors/proofreaders, past and especially present, for fixing typos and helping get guest posts ready to publish. We certainly challenge them with our many typos. (Cue the Mark Crislip jokes.)
SBM started on January 1, 2008, which means that we’re entering our twelfth year, hard as it is to believe. I certainly plan that twelve years from now we’ll still be going strong. If you want to be a part of what I envision as an even more successful future for SBM, go ahead, give it a try. Submit a guest post or, if you’re an established blogger, throw your name in the hat for a regular spot on our blogging schedule. If you’re not a blogger, suggest bloggers or areas where we need to bolster our expertise, or, failing that (mandatory begging commences), support us on Patreon to help keep us going.