UK science blogger interview: Mun Keat Looi

Mun-Keat Looi is a Science Writer at the Wellcome Trust and one of the editors of the Trust’s blog. The Wellcome Trust blog aims to tell some of the many stories about the wide variety of people, projects and events that the Trust funds. Everything and everybody from new PhD students to senior scientists, genetics to the impact of the environment on health, science, art, history, museums plays and films.

Do you have a specific audience (or set of audiences) in mind when you blog?

Audience for us is a difficult one because we have so many! Our core audience is the people we fund (or are interested in obtaining funding from us), but even that can include artists, writers and filmmakers as well as scientists of different disciplines. Part of what we want to do is introduce people to the other things we fund, outside of their own fields, be it neuroscientists to genetics or sculptors to biochemistry. As a science writer I hope I write in a way that is interesting and accessible to any general reader, and this is something we try to reflect in the blog. Anybody from any background could be reading our posts, so we try not to assume any prior knowledge and just try to convey why we think something is interesting.

Do you have a favourite blogpost ? (as in one you’ve really enjoyed writing)

I have a few favourites — it’s hard to pick one as we have so many different kinds of posts. Some of them are more like feature articles, talking about things that just wouldn’t fit anywhere else in our communications output. For example, I used ‘overmatter’ from a feature I wrote about synthetic biology to post about what it is like for students to be in the iGEM competition at MIT. That’s proved reasonably popular, and I’d like to think it’s been of use to people thinking about taking part in the competition.

On the more conventional side, I like the chance to cover some of the brilliant, if less newsworthy, papers from scientists that the Trust funds (those that aren’t deemed ‘worthy’ enough for a press release or full news story). Some of the smaller studies we fund overseas, for example, or genetics studies that aren’t headline-making. It’s also nice to cover a paper in more depth than in the media — I wrote one post about cognitive enhancing drugs that the researcher seemed pleased with. She felt the media coverage had distorted her findings and was relieved to have the chance to set the record straight.

Maybe my favourite post is nothing to do with science though. I like being more personal in blogging than in news or feature writing and I’ve written a few like this for the Wellcome Collection blog. Specifically a few from a China Symposium we ran, which I attended with my Dad and which very much influenced how I reported it afterwards! Blogging’s allowed me to cover things and talk to people I wouldn’t normally have had a chance to, which is
one of the reasons I value having the blogs as an outlet.

How do you feel blogging for an institution differs from independent or journalistic blogging?

Obviously you have to be a bit more careful about what you say – you’re speaking on behalf of an organisation rather than yourself. Having said that, we have deliberately made the Trust blog a community one with ‘real’ people behind the posts rather than the anonymous news stories we have on our corporate site (and to some extent Twitter/Facebook). We wanted to put more of a personal face to the Trust as opposed to this big amorphous organisation (or hiding behind pictures of dear old Sir Henry Wellcome…).

In terms of what we do, our approach doesn’t differ too much from the way a journalist or blogger might approach a story. All of the writers at the Trust have the same objective: to seek out interesting stories and report as objectively as possible (while being transparent about who we work for).

Where the affiliation pays off is, of course, access to many events, meetings, information and people that others may not have. By virtue of being at the Wellcome Trust there’s tons of stuff going on that we have access to and could share with others interested in the same things.

Obviously we want to raise awareness of what the Trust does, but we’re not the marketing team or the press office (though they do occasionally contribute). I think the way to raise awareness is to let the content (i.e. the people and projects we fund) speak for itself — find interesting people and interesting stories and don’t bang on about yourself all the time. We’re lucky in that we’ve got a reasonable amount of license to say what we want on what we find interesting, so long as we stay sensible and relevant to the Trust’s interests.

Do you feel you differ from blogs from corporate a institution? (or sponsored blogs for that matter?)

I’ve pondered a lot on how the blogging we do is similar or different to other ‘corporate’ blogs and other charities’ blogs like CRUK, who have a more defined audience. The recent ScienceBlogs Pepsigate scandal raised a lot of questions. As many have said, it may have been different if PepsiCo were upfront about it being marketing from the start, or started a blog genuinely exploring the food science behind their products from a more independent perspective. Institution blogging is an interesting area and I hope to hear more people’s thoughts on this at the event.

Finally, care to share your favourite blogs?

Not Exactly Rocket Science, Genetic Future, Cancer Research UK Science Blog, Times Science Blog (before the paywall), Wellcome Library Blog, Alice Bell (no, really*)

As for a non-science blog, it’s Kirainet, which is one of several places I go to for amusing/ interesting/ geeky/ weirdo Japanese stuff. A good example of a blog which is pretty straightforward in terms of writing, but the content is so interesting it pretty much speaks for itself. I’d mention others, but am slightly afraid of giving away how much of a dork I really am….

* I paid him to say this.

This is one of a series of four interviews with UK-based science bloggers. You can find links to all the interviews (and more) here.

One thought on “UK science blogger interview: Mun Keat Looi

  1. Pingback: Has blogging changed science writing? « through the looking glass

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