Dr Daniel Lende - Neuroanthropology

This post is part of our series profiling individuals who have successfully used social media as a platform for science communication.  These individuals cover a broad range of academic disciplines, and we hope that they will be a useful source of info and motivation for others who are considering moving into social media, or for those who are already online but simply looking for some new ideas.

Today we interview with Dr Daniel Lende of Neuroanthropology.  Daniel is Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of South Florida. He trained in medical, psychological, and biological anthropology and public health at Emory University. His main research interests are substance use and abuse, the intersection of anthropology and neuroscience, behavioral health, community-based research, and public and applied anthropology. He has done fieldwork in both Colombia and the United States. You can reach him at daniel . lende @ gmail . com, or follow him on twitter at daniel_lende (bio from PLoS Blogs).

What is the general subject of your blog?  What is a “typical” post for you, both in terms of length and in terms of the topic.
Neuroanthropology covers the intersection of anthropology and neuroscience, with an additional focus on developments in the sciences of the mind and in important news and controversies within anthropology.  We generally write three types of post, shorter post that focus more on “news” and might be 500-750 words, a medium post from 800-2000 words (including our weekly round ups), and a long post, which goes from 2000 words and well on up.


What was your primary reason for starting/joining your blog?
My colleague Greg Downey and I founded Neuroanthropology.net as a way to discuss research and develop ideas based on our interests in neuroscience and anthropology, which proved useful since we were living on separate continents that point after several years of being colleagues in the same department.


How often do you post, and roughly how much time goes into each post?
We post several times a week.  A typical post (short or medium) can take from 1-3 hours to craft, sometimes longer depending on the length of the post.


How do you fit in time for blogging and social media?
I often do social media in “down time” – early in the morning, right after lunch, if I need a break from writing or teaching.  For blogging, writing is writing – so I generally fit it into my schedule whenever some topic catches my eye and I decide to write a post.


Have there been any benefits to blogging, either personally or professionally?
Personally, blogging has given me a way to write consistently that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and also to learn how to integrate social media and writing together, as well as share thoughts and ideas with friends and colleagues.  Professionally Greg and I have been able to put “neuroanthropology” as an emerging field largely through the blog, in conjunction with conferences and scholarly publications – but it’s the blog that has offered the consistent presence outside a narrow academic setting.  I have also used blogging for teaching purposes rather extensively, incorporating students creating posts as a regular assignment in most of my recent classes.  Blogging has also let me create professional contacts with people in my field (anthropology), in neuroscience and psychology, and in journalism that I just wouldn’t have been able to do using traditional means.


Have there been any downsides to blogging, either personally or professionally?
The biggest drawback is more of a trade-off.  Time spent on the blog is time not spent on something else.  Since blogging is still not viewed by many older scholars as a ‘research’ activity, it can be difficult to get academic/university credit for blogging.


What piece of advice would you give other scientists/students/funding agencies in your situation who are considering moving into social media?
A major reason that I committed to doing more with blogging was because I saw students continually searching out information and ideas online – this was the first place they turned, and often the only place.  Creating a presence online is a crucial way to reach students interested in your work, and to make sure that what you do reaches a wide audience.  I’ve subsequently learned that the content you create online can then generate other forms of scholarship and outreach.


What have been the most effective ways of promoting your blog?
Linking to other bloggers’ work – that’s the number one way.  More recently, Twitter provides a way to reach the dedicated community engaged in that forum.  Contributing to carnivals has also been important.


Were you surprised by anything blog related, either good or bad?
The number of views a good blog post, and thus a good blog, can get continually surprises me – the reach is enormous!  Sharing a taxi at a conference once, and discovering that we knew each other through our blogs, was also a pleasant surprise.


You have done some very interesting projects using Wiki’s to discuss the American Anthropological Association’s long term plan, and to create a student-led resource on medical anthropology.  Why did you decide to use Wiki’s for these projects, and are there situations that you feel lend themselves to Wiki-based projects?


I’ve become interested in developing targeted wikis as a way to create projects that leverage people’s interest and learning into something that can have sustained value.  The AAA wiki was a response to an immediate need, an effort to craft a better long range plan.  Unfortunately, not a lot of people contributed to developing content for it – the impact it would have wasn’t necessarily clear, and there wasn’t a clear organizational structure in place to generate content.  The Med Anth wiki has been much more successful, and I believe that it will continue to grow in impact over time, much the way Neuroanthropology has.  I like students contributing to blogs and wikis because it makes them see that their work can have a real-world impact and that what they are writing will be useful to someone else.  They take these projects very seriously, and then are always pleased when they hear about how much a post or a wiki is used.  I see the wiki, in part because of how it is organized and the ability to add content over time and to revise entries, as a cumulative project that has the potential of becoming a major online resource for anthropology and the health sciences, as well as a way for a broad audience to access a wealth of knowledge, media and links related to medical anthropology in one convenient place.


Any other information that you think people would find useful?
The move from a solo site, Neuroanthropology.net, to being part of a group platform through the Public Library of Science has been an exciting development for our blog.  I definitely think there is an important role for independent blogs out there, but I also think there is great value in being part of a network.  I’ve learned so much from being part of the network over the past nine months, and also see how the synergy created helps increase the impact Greg and I can have as bloggers.


Thanks again to Daniel Lende for taking the time to share his thoughts!


If you would like to share your own experiences communicating science through social media feel free to do so in the comments, or to introduce yourself to us via Twitter or email (saunders [dot] travis [at] gmail [dot] com).