Monday, 6 January 2014

Editor's Note #13: 2014 thoughts...

Virology Down Under.
What does Virology Down Under's (VDU) blog stand for? 

First off, a little background.

The idea of VDU the website, was to provide some useful info on viruses; the type of info that could be used to help less expert people get an idea of what they are and what they do to us. It had its beginnings in 1996 as the website for the Sir Albert Sakzewski Virus Research Centre (SASVRC), my workplace. It then accrued enough mutations that it evolved into VDU.


That endeavor truly started online in 1997; 16-years, 11-months and 9-days ago. Last year VDU spawned a blog. This. 

The VDU website, while in need of sprucing up (still), exists more as a fixed point in time while the blog aims to keep readers abreast of some of the goings on in virology. The blog's focus is on respiratory virology because that's what I know most about, but other things get dropped in on occasion. The focus is also on my take on things, hopefully with some humour thrown in. I initially commented in April 2013 that I'd stay away from blather and keep the opinion related to hard data. That's still my intent, but opinion being what it is I may rant on occasion, I may drift away from citable evidence and I may collect thoughts in a way that cannot be verified by any one single study. Hopefully I'll make that clear but it will all be part of VDU's DNA...probably RNA given its focus on respiratory viruses...and nerdy little comments like that will continue to pop up too!

I've noticed during my short time in "flublogia" (I think that's a hard 'g') that each blog/site/newsboard has a distinct personality. Apart from spending a large slice of their own time collecting, collating and writing about infectious diseases for a largely intangible audience; page hits and comments being key proof-of-life beyond the keyboard. Some key authors I have learned from in 2013 produce a "vibe" through their blogs. I often read the same new piece of information but on multiple sites to see a wide range of interpretations - each one telling me something different, each a specialized cell contributing to the tissue. 

Crawford Kilian emphasizes the human cost to infections, Mike Coston emphasizes ways to personally protect yourself from infection and manages to place new news in superb context thanks to his blog's back-catalogue of posts while FluTrackers emphasize the spotting of information before it even occurs (yes, they are that fast!) and lays the groundwork for trends that are often only visible after their subject matter has emerged. If I want to actually be interested in what's happening in the world of not-viruses, I'll go to Maryn McKenna's Superbug because it's the only bacterial text I enjoy reading (and she posts funny Tweets). There are others but correcting all these typos means that I write slowly and this has already taken a while.

So what about VDU's blog? It aims to identify, define and add opinion to patterns seen during virus infections, epidemics and outbreaks. It's a part-time thing so I post when I can. My opinion may not be bleeding-edge expert or informed by decades of specific literature and research (sometimes it is)- virology has many, many aspects to it and I don't claim to be across them all - but I am most happy to be educated so please do leave comments here or on Twitter, LinkedIn, ResearchGate or anywhere else I've left an avenue for contact.

Another of the VDU blog's intentions is present its data pictorially and certainly to create a reference of somewhat "softened" science for you and also for me; it now serves me as a literature review repository and I hope some of its graphics can also be useful to you in your talks, blogs or whatever. VDU's images remain free to use - I just ask that you link back to the blog.

I won't dwell on the misery caused by virus infections (and there is much), in fact I deliberately keep VDU faceless and focus on the virus rather than the host. Others do a much better job of conveying the human cost than I can anyway. It's not because I don't care (I have written on this topic previously) so I apologize if it all seems a little devoid of humanity.

The VDU blog is not yet 1-year old; still an infant in human terms. It's been crawling along okay so far but it's still got a lot to learn and hopefully some more readers to pick up as it grows. In its 1st year VDU's blog has driven 2 publications, been cited in the scientific literature, under-pinned a lot of interviews with the media and been the reason for few local and interstate seminars (another coming up next month). More than I could have possibly imagined. It has also  created a lot of new links to good people both in science research and in science writing. I have learned much thanks to the help and mentoring these people have provided.

I hope that gives you an idea of what to expect from the blog in 2014. All the best for the New Year.

IanM