21 July 2010

Is ScienceBlogs worth saving?

If you have followed ScienceBlogs, I hope this paragraph sums up the past days well enough:
A communications company is in hiding because it doesn't communicate, while its most valuable asset – the contributors to ScienceBlogs – are dropping out faster than bricks in the grip of a cloud. The indispensable PZ Myers is now On Strike, trying this painful tactic as a salvage operation. There is much talk of trying to get funding to then build a new community of science bloggers – one where words aren't rubbing column shoulders with ads or worse—the ultimate sin that started the stampede of bloggers out, that Pepsi "nutrition blog" that SEED (the corporate communications-company sponsor of ScienceBlogs) stupidly foisted on a community of people with antennae and sensitivities to spare, then removed with a disingenuous apology that only added to the outrage.

So ScienceBlogs is now falling apart, as important commentators like Bora have just written their farewell posts. The saddest aspect of ScienceBlog's crisis now, is that the world really needs its clout and vigour now to save the irreproducible Vavilov fruit and berry collection.

Oddly enough, Bora stated best, three of the six best reasons for keeping ScienceBlogs going, if at all possible.
  1. The high integrity of posts, and ensuing ScienceBlog discussions "You can hide on your own little Blogspot blog. You cannot hide on a network. My first instinctive and unconscious change, something I only became of aware later, was that I changed the way I made factual statements in my posts. What does that mean? I started thoroughly fact-checking the statements before posting instead of learning the hard way that readers will do it for you. Getting invited to blog here is an honor, and the only correct response is to blog with maximal integrity, even during online fights and kerfuffles that alight in every corner of the blogosphere, including the science blogosphere, with predictable regularity. Every single blogger on scienceblogs.com, even those who I may disagree with 99% of the time, blogs here with strong personal integrity (yes, human beings sometimes make mistakes, but they correct them once the onslaught dies down and it is possible to do it without losing face). And that is one of the greatest strengths of this network - just wander around the Web randomly for a while and you'll see some interesting contrasts to this..."
  2. The altruism of interest and ability to foment change "Sustained and relentless blogging by many SciBlings (and then many other bloggers who followed our lead) played a large role in the eventual release of 'Tripoli Six', the Bulgarian medical team imprisoned in Libya. Sustained blogging by SciBlings (and others who first saw it here) played a large part in educating the U.S.Senate about the importance of passing the NIH open access bill with its language intact. Blogging by SciBlings uncovered a number of different wrongdoings in ways that forced the powers-that-be to rectify them. Blogging by SciBlings brings in a lot of money every October to the DonorsChoose action. Sustained blogging by SciBlings forced SEED to remove the offending Pepsi blog within 36 hours. And if a bunch of SciBlings attack a person who did something very wrong, that person will have to spend years trying to get Google to show something a little bit more positive in top 100 hits when one googles their name (which is why I try to bite my tongue and sleep over it when I feel the temptation to go after a person)."
  3. The news and opinion source that "is media", as Bora says, to media "The power of the networks of individuals affects many aspects of the society, including the media."
Three more reasons to keep ScienceBlogs going
  1. What is, works better than you bloggers realise The stats are so incredible that SEED brags about them here,
  2. What is, is already funded, and hopefully will continue be SEED shows prominently on that same page with the stats, other corporate sinners advertisers such as Shell, Dow and Schering-Plough. Many journalists at any time would kill to get the chance to write with such advertising backing that doesn't even direct the content. At this time especially, when media is in a funding crisis with no solution in sight, the preciousness of the ScienceBloggers about ads and what was transparently an advertising stunt "blog" makes an observer question the silence about so much science reporting. Since the funding of studies and research is rarely accounted for in the announcement and coverage of some wonderful discovery or new study, science reporting is often the cheapest and by far the best way for a company to get advertising copy. This bugs me so much that I sometimes write a complaint which is usually unpublished. Here's an example, to a prominent science magazine: "Persistent coughs melt away with chocolate" is a headline that fits a magazine entitled "Wishful Thinking", not "New Scientist". It is only in the body of the article that we find that the study used theobromine, a constituent of cocoa. What if a study finds health benefits in an even larger constituent of chocolate itself: clay? Will you still headline it as cure-by-chocolate?
  3. Anyone who thinks that ScienceBlogs' readership can't tell an ad from a post, insults the readers
I hope that PZ Myers will draw the SEED "team" out of their cave and force them to communicate and treat this resource with respect. But I also hope that the bloggers who left will come back to ScienceBlogs – with coolness, passion, and a certain sense of proportion missing at the moment. After all, if we all fell for the fat-busting miracles, we'd look different, wouldn't we? So quit worrying so much about the ads. No payers, no gainers. People like me don't even see ads and we don't consume them any more than an eagle does the grass around a rabbit. We block what we can, and otherwise, our eyes find what we are seeking on the screen even if an ad jiggles or says 'healthy'.

The 7th
Another reason just snuck in (those 7ths are so pushy). More than any "community" on the blogosphere (zounds, do I hate those terms), SB shows that thinking people have a wonderfully diverse, unpredictable assortment of interests, passions, and opinions, not classifiable 'right' or 'left'; yet they can discuss and disagree in a way that is constructive and composed of well-reasoned sentences and cogitated thoughts, not mere reactions or tribal grunts. As both governing bodies and global conferences have become collections of inflexibles, each delegate thinking this the winning stance, our institutions look ever more like fallen concrete statues. ScienceBlogs is, just, alive. Something is ticking, though I'm not qualified to say what.

No comments: