Alumnus Profile

Paul Knoepfler ’89

Paul Knoepfler ’89 thinks blogging holds real benefits for biologists—if they do it right.

Stem-Cell Blogger

October 2009 was a tough month for Paul Knoepfler. First, Nature shut down one of his favorite blogs, the Niche, which he had followed avidly in his work as a stem-cell researcher at UC Davis. Worse, he was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer at the age of 42.

Paul wrote a fascinating editorial in Nature about how his battle with cancer gave him the courage to start blogging about stem cells. “After all, how hard can blogging be when compared with facing cancer?” he asked.

It turns out that biologists are often extremely reluctant to blog about their work. They fret that they’ll antagonize adversaries, court needless controversy, publish errors that have to be retracted, complicate their grant applications, or generally seem shallow. Some just don’t want to deal with obnoxious comments. (We sympathize.)

But a year later, Paul found that none of these fears stood up to scrutiny. Despite writing about one of the most controversial subjects in modern science, he has received few attacks and few inflammatory comments. His blog is read by some of the most influential scientists in the field. And it has helped promote discussion among researchers, biotech companies, big pharma, government officials, investors, teachers, reporters, students, and patient advocates. “I find self-publishing on my blog a liberating break from the tedious and frustrating grind of peer review, and it has encouraged me to write more for general audiences.”

His grants have been approved, his articles published, and he recently got tenure at UC Davis. Best of all, he’s been in remission for two years now. Read his blog at online.