Great science bloggers winning the battle against the inner swine-dog

I was a judge on this year's Science Seeker Awards, which honor great science writing being done online. The winners were just announced and you should really check out the whole list. It's full of great writing, including some names and blogs you've probably never read before.

I also want to draw your attention to a runner-up post that made a big impact on me. It's a piece by Jalees Rehman about what happens when scientists (and science journalists) settle for easy work and quick rewards instead of pushing themselves. The post introduced me to the concept of der innere Schweinehund, aka "the inner swine-dog", a fantastic German metaphor for the part of ourselves that prefers laziness over productivity, comfort over challenge, and routine over achievement. Everything is a battle against our own inner swine dog. It's a terribly German way of looking at things, but it resonated with me — and will probably resonate with anyone who has ever had to decide between checking Facebook and finishing an important task.

More importantly, reading about it in the midst of judging some really good science writing reminded me of how important that daily battle is. These Science Seeker Award Winning stories will educate you, scratch your itch for curiosity, and help you question your world. Those are incredibly important goals, and the only way we reach them is by fighting off the inner swine-dog.

There is a statue of the Innere Schweinehund in Bonn. Norbert Schnitzler took this photo of it for Wikimedia Commons.


  1. I think you want to translate it “inner pig-dog”.  A “swine-dog” sounds more like a breed than an epithet.

    Although, interestingly, one no-one has ever bothered to attempt:  it would have to be enormous, powerful, exceptionally intelligent, and have mud-phobic fur.

    1. I wonder if a Schweinhund is a pig which is also, somehow, a dog, or just a concatenation of insults, or if maybe it actually is a breed, a special German dog bred for herding pigs or perhaps hunting them.

  2. “Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: ‘Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.’ Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Everyone knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. This traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that, after reading the following pages, the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.” – Bertrand Russel, from “In Praise of Idleness”, 1932.

  3. Along with the offensiveness of associating two of the best animals around with a negative character trait, the whole premise of the SH is bunk. The real cause of procrastination and other forms of underproductivity is disempowerment: “laziness,” “lack of discipline,” etc. are, depending on how you look at it, either (1) symptoms of a deeper problem, or (2) empowered responses (Bravo Kingluma!). The deeper problem is disempowerment, where you are separated from, or constrained from using, your talents, skills, energy, focus, discipline, etc., in the service of the desired project. Instead of disparaging yourself with moralistic / Calvinistic labels, locate the sources of the disempowerment in your life and work and remediate them. The causes of underproductivity are always locatable and at least partly solvable. / I write all this as someone whose profession is helping people overcome blocks and become more productive. I know for a fact that, most of the time, negative, moralistic labels will only make the problem worse.

  4. Everything is fine and well! Well except for the small detail that the sculpture Den indre Svinehund (“The inner Swine-Dog”, “The inner Pig-Dog” or “The Inner Beast”) is not made by Norbert Schnitzler, but by the Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt.

    You can read a little more about it here:

    A quote from the Wikipedia article: 
    “On the occasion of the 10th anniversary Jens Galschiot and his staff initiated a search to find out what has happened to each of the 20 sculptures.
    The fate of the Beasts varies quite a lot. In some cities the statue has been hidden away or even destroyed. All 3 sculptures set up in France have disappeared.
    In other cities the Beast has found a prominent site. In Bonn it has even been incorporated in the German state’s art collection.”

    By the way, “The inner beast” or “The inner Swine-Dog” is a term used to signify that part inside all of us that acts like a racist when we think that nobody sees us or when we throw away our conscience as members of a crowd.

    1. “Since “The inner Swine-Dog” does not first and foremost signify procrastination or the results thereof”

      You’re wrong. The german saying/metaphor describes (the fight against) the lack of willpower/motivation to do inconvenient  or unpleasant things (work, diet, sport etc.).

      You’re right with the artwork “The Inner Beast” from Jens Galschiot. It’s a statement against racism.

      The art by J. Galschiot and the concept of “innerer Schweinehund” are not related – even the german wikipedia article gets this wrong though.

      1. Thank you for that, ffabian!
        It’s interesting then how this expression means two quite different things in German and in Danish. In Danish ones “Indre Svinehund” is the shadowy, racist part of you that only gets out when it feels itself unseen or it can hide in a crowd.

        1. Very interesting observation. I wasn’t aware of this!

          Could Maggie possibly update her post on this?

          Just by the way, this is a very good example of cultural context of a metaphor. I call Temba, his arms wide!
          (This should possibly get it’s own wikipedia entry in English, Danish and German, or at least subsections of current articles. Can someone provide the needed citations?)

Comments are closed.