On January 21, this blog will celebrate its first birthday. The purpose of this post is to review how the blog has evolved from its original intent, to review the ways it has been heading recently, and to discuss whether those ways make sense for the future. Specifically, I am asking for your feedback on the kinds of content that you would find most useful in the coming months and year and how to make this blog most interesting and useful for you.
How the blog has evolved so far
The original introduction to this blog stated “The purpose of this Blog is to provide a frequently-updated plain-language companion to my Anti-Aging Firewalls treatise site ANTI-AGING FIREWALLS THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF LONGEVITY. This blog is for people interested in living longer and better lives by taking advantage of developments on the frontiers of longevity science. I plan to post comments on recent aging-related developments from time to time, and welcome any and all discussion by others.” So, now after 224 posts and 236 comments, what has actually happened?
Where the blog has been going
· It is frequently updated, several times a week, and still positioned as a companion to the treatise although it frequently goes into far greater scientific depth in topics discussed in the treatise and includes content related to aging that is not in the treatise. The blog has assumed a life and importance of its own, in many ways exceeding that of the relatively static treatise.
· The blog is still positioned to address the audience mentioned but is not for the general public. It is targeted to informed science-minded people, professionals in the medical arts, researchers in the many areas of science covered in the blog, and laypeople with serious interests in anti-aging developments. It often goes into fairly great technical depth. I have given up on sticking to “plain language” for that would be incompatible with responsibly covering “developments on the frontiers of longevity science.” Instead, I have been introducing more and more advanced technical concepts from the disciplines involved.
· The purpose of the blog is to fill in the pieces of the large puzzle that constitutes aging, and to address fundamental issues related to aging based on hard current scientific research : What are the mechanisms of aging? How do they relate to each other? Which ones are primary? What anti-aging interventions are possible now? Which ones are coming along, and how far off are they likely to be?. This requires following and digging ever-deeper into a number of streams of research involving molecular biology, genetics, genomics, proteomics and other “omics.” And it requires keeping current with research related to a number of aging theories (19 as of now) and ongoing research developments relating to a number of aging-related genes and pathways with names like mTOR, NF-kappaB, Akt, P53, P21, hTERT, and Notch and MAPK signal transduction pathways.
· Scientific and intellectual integrity are essential characteristics of the blog. I research the science items in depth before writing them and it sometimes requires several days to do this. I provide numerous links to research citations and often quote direct passages from research publications. When I have a personal opinion, I identify it as such. I avoid fringe or cult science. If an ancient Chinese or Indian herb is reputed to have incredible curative powers I am interested in it only if the claims are supported by a body of reputable Western scientific research.
· Freedom from commercialism is another important aspect of the blog. I do not accept advertising though I could probably earn some cash by doing that given blog’s growing popularity. Further, I don’t cover commercial products such as supplement combinations except in very rare cases when such a product has a unique scientific character. I am beholden to no commercial interest and own no stake in nor am I employed by any company selling anti-aging products or services.
· In the interest of providing depth, new blog items are usually highly hyperlinked with related past blog items and relevant items in my treatise.
· Current “unique visits” to the blog and treatise typically range from 700 to 1,000 per day. My ISP defines these visits as unique user URLs that visit at least two pages in a session, e.g. two blog posts or a blog post and my treatise. These numbers correspond to 1,400+ page views per day. There has been a slow and irregular upwards trend in usage, perhaps amounting to 5% to 10% per month. Based on these statistics I estimate that there are probably a few thousand people who occasionally visit the blog, and perhaps a few hundred regular avid readers. Increasing numbers of international users are being attracted, probably via personal networks. I would like to see these numbers increased by an order of magnitude during 2010. This will require ways of making the existence of the blog known to wider audiences.
Blog items seem to fall in the following categories:
– Coverage of news items and new research discoveries and “breakthroughs.” Unlike the popular press and many other blogs, I like to provide citations to the original publication whenever possible, citations to previous relevant publications and some discussion of how the discovery fits into the bigger picture and what it means. An example is the recent post Ginkgo Biloba supplementation has no effect on cognitive decline (but it does have other impacts).
– Mini-treatises on topics relevant to longevity. The purpose is usually to provide a review picture of the state of research and research knowledge in a particular area. These are the postings that usually require the most background research work. An example is the three-part post Autoimmune diseases and lymphoma: Part I: focus on Lupus, Part II: focus on inflammation and Part III: focus on lymphomas. Another example is DNA demethylation – a new way of coming at cancers. A few of these mini-treatises have been motivated by a personal medical concern, Spinal cord injury pain – a personal story and a new paradigm being a case in point.
– Original research and intellectual contributions. These are my own ideas not found in the existing literature but representing a synthesis of knowledge and trends that are definitely “out there.” I have made two major contributions and some minor ones in this regard. One of the major contributions is the Stem Cell Supply Chain theory of aging, originally written up in this blog and now part of my treatise. Many later posts refer back to this one. The other major contribution is Giuliano’s Law, related to the exponential acceleration in anti-aging science and the implication of this for personal longevity. Again, this was a three-part series starting with Giuliano’s Law: Prospects for breaking through the 122 year human age limit and going on to More on Giuliano’s Law; calculating my longevity prospects and Factors that drive Giuliano’s Law. Occasionally I will develop an original insight while writing a blog post and mention it in that post. An example from yesterday’s post Important new mesenchymal stem cell therapies was that acupuncture might work because it mobilizes mesenchymal stem cells to migrate to a problematic location where they do their job of tissue regeneration. I plan to research that particular speculation further, incidentally, and report on it in a future blog entry.
– Humorous pieces. An example is P38, P39 and P40 channel receptor functions inhibit activities of BF-110, HE111 and HE177 leading to reduced expression of (SC)1000 in BOB which seems to be a typical jargon-filled paper title from a molecular biology journal but in fact describes World War II fighter plane action. Another example is the Avoidance Magazine stories.
– Review and housekeeping posts, like this one and the recent post Genes discussed or mentioned in this blog.
– Only selective reviews of supplements: While many supplements are suggested in my treatise and are of great personal interest to me and to many of my readers, I do not usually review them because they are mostly already well-reviewed in other on-line resources. I make a few exceptions to this rule when the science is unusual, however, such as in The curious case of l-carnosine.
– More and more-sophisticated comments: During the first 9 months of the blog’s existence, the number of posts exceeded the number of comments. Currently more comments are coming in than posts and the comment-to-post ratio is continuing to grow. And the comments are tending to be more sophisticated contributions.
Why these directions?
I believe the above profile gives the blog a unique character and market positioning, different than the many aging and anti-aging sites out there. The blog strives for both technical depth and true multi-disciplinary breadth and provides viewpoints not normally found in focused research studies. As I add entries, I believe I am constructing an important database of longevity-related articles, again a key adjunct to my treatise. As time goes on the blog gains value because of its retrospective as well as current content. Even now, if a doctor or scientist wants to learn about aging, the blog is an excellent way to start.
Further there is another, personal, agenda involved. Researching these articles, writing this blog and updating my treatise is a full-time job for me, and it is a full-time self-educational process. Eighteen months ago I looked at two options: 1. entering a full time graduate level program in the life sciences at MIT or Harvard, with the four-year objective of obtaining a second Ph.D. focusing on longevity sciences and writing a Ph.D. in that area, and 2. Pursuing the course I am now pursuing of self-education and communication, using the discipline of blog writing and treatise updating to keep me focused, on track, and constantly digging deeper and learning more. And, in the process, building an equivalent of the Ph.D. thesis as I move along, constantly improving it – (that is my treatise and the collective writings in this blog).
I did not like the first track for it would have been a massive digression requiring me to take too many courses and learn too much material only marginally relevant to longevity. And I would miss keeping up with key longevity developments that were unfolding day-to-day. While I would have earned a new Ph.D. and a certain amount of institutional credibility, I would have missed much of the party and most likely would have prepared myself for a relatively narrow career. I compared myself to being a guy with an electrical engineering degree who found himself in a fairly exciting job in a computer industry lab in 1955, already making important contributions, say in the area of storage technology and knowing a lot about computers and where they were heading. Should that guy drop out for four years to get an academic degree in computer sciences? Probably not since most of his professors would know less about what was really important about computers and storage than he did, and he too would have missed the most exciting part of the party.
An advantage of this approach is sharing my education with my readers, making my learning far from a lonely process.
My choice of the current educational track often requires me to stop and backfill knowledge, however. I find it easier and more satisfying to work backwards from current research than to take courses or read entire books which would give me a broader base of mostly-irrelevant knowledge. For example, suppose I encounter research relating to protein folding and how this effects P53 gene activation in the presence of co-activators under certain conditions of histone acetylation. I want to understand what the new research means. This requires digging into these areas to the degree necessary to understand what is going on. And because these areas are new research frontiers, I am not going to find what I want to know all neatly packaged in a course anywhere or even in one book. If the area is complex and important, I may decide to generate a blog post about it as a way of forcing my own learning. I can’t write clearly about something unless I understand it. So several blog posts are about such “backfill” areas of knowledge, an example being MicroRNAs, diseases and yet-another view of aging.
All of this is to say that as I am learning more and the state of knowledge advances my blog entries have been tending to become more complex, technical and sophisticated, and this tendency is likely to continue. I am also spending more and more time addressing comments.
Future of the blog
My current plan is to continue the blog along the paths identified above, but I have some questions for my readers:
· What do you think about the current mix of posts? Which kinds would you like to see more or less of?
· What area of content are you most interested in?
· Do you know how to find all the past items, to use the search features to find past blog entries? I could write a short post on this.
· Do you make much use of the hyperlinks?
· Are you satisfied with how I respond to comments?
· Do you find this site too personal, not personal enough or are you OK with the current mix?
· Right now there is backwards hyper linking of blog entries to previous relevant ones, but no forward hyper linking, say linking an early article on telomerase to the many subsequent ones. Do you think it would be worth the time and effort required for me to generate such forward links?
· What forms of networking or joint activities would you suggest for me with aging research institutions? Any specific links you can suggest? People you know who I should contact?
· Any ideas of how radically to expand the readership of the site? I already have pretty good search engine placement on Google.
· Any other suggestions?