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    Caveat Emptor When It Comes To Science Blogs?
    By Hank Campbell | October 14th 2010 05:40 PM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone...

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    The American Chemical Society is not new to disliking New Media - like all businesses, they would like to be self-perpetuating and that means people have to give them money for memberships and get a magazine for free which means getting quality without paying would be very bad for their income.

    Royce Murray, writing an editorial for Analytical Chemistry, seeks to engage in some class warfare and says both scientists and the public should be concerned about bloggers - which is to say that science bloggers are not scientists and the public should be protected from them by real scientists, like those who write editorials in ACS journals.  

    Scientific articles are 'grounded in fact', he writes, but 'the current phenomenon of “bloggers” should be of serious concern to scientists.'   Well, who are these bloggers if not scientists?   He writes, regarding journalism, that 'The quality of this flow of information, I believe, has been mostly high—as judged by its producers’ attention to factual reliability and impact' but how can that be if newspaper writers are not scientists?   How many journalists for newspapers have Ph.D.s in science?  I can't think of a single popular science journalist with a Ph.D.

    I am not sure he has actually read any actual science blogging because he writes "not having a single stable employer (like a newspaper, which can insist on credentials and/or education background) frees the blogger from the requirement of consistent information reliability" - yes, he thinks there are full-time bloggers out there with no credibility duping the public.  And, even funnier, he thinks science bloggers are less educated than journalists.

    But these charlatans must exist, because they work for "blogging “agencies”" that "openly advertise “no formal qualifications are necessary” (as an internet search for “qualifications of bloggers” revealed)."    This is just goofy.   Yes, it is possible to sign up for Wordpress or Blogger and call yourself a 'science blogger' and those people are not getting checked out by anyone, but who reads them?  Are they an agency?   There is a lot of competition out there for eyeballs so the only ones who succeed have more quality, not less. 

    And bloggers have no fact checkers, he laments.   Honestly, two things bloggers do not need are fact checkers and editors, which makes fact checkers and editors nervous but few others.   It is unlikely a PhD in physics is going to get facts wrong that a 22 year old out of journalism school would catch and the absolute best fact-checking you will get is from a science audience.   Everyone knows the best way to find out how wrong you are is to be so on the Internet.

    One thing he does get right, perhaps because of the prevalence of Scienceblogs and their cultural skew, is "writing can be done for any purpose—political, religious, business, etc.—without the constraint of truth." 

    It's true that they tend toward politics and religion-bashing over there but that is nothing new and if his standard is 'journalism' he could have done some actual fact checking of his own before issuing forth his opinion - "without the constraint of truth" - and examined more than one site.    We have science columnists and bloggers that are high science signal and low cultural noise, as does Wired, Discover, etc.    Murray can be forgiven for never having heard of Science 2.0 but Wired and Discover are those magazines he says are the gold standard so implying their blogging is inferior seems like a strange argument to make, especially since ACS started hosting blogs, including some I would put in league with any science writers in the country.

    Caveat emptor, indeed, but we have long applied that to ACS studies and every peer-reviewed journal out there, much less magazine pieces and newspapers.  Bloggers are more popular than ever because those media sources he loves lost the trust of the public.    If they want to get that credibility back, they need to take it.  The days of entitlement are long gone.

    Comments

    Bloggers are more popular than ever  those media sources he loves lost the trust of the public. because

    That is absolutely beautiful, Hank, as is the rest of your writing here - apologies for missing your post overnight when I wrote my own at CENtral Science.
    Hank
    Thanks, I just went and read your take on it and I wasn't aware of Dr. Murray's background, which makes his loose-cannon-ish approach to science outreach even more confusing.   I am sure if he took one of those surveys, he would check all the right boxes complaining about how the public is not educated enough, more science education, etc.  but then complains that scientists are doing just that.

    The generosity of scientists is downright startling - the only place where people write more for less are probably political bloggers, and that has a low barrier to entry.   The many networks and bloggers can exist because scientists generally care about educating the public in a positive way rather than just complaining about the failure of the media or schools and that reaches a lot more people than the ACS.

    I'm glad other people were confused by those 'blogging agencies' he mentions too.
    Hank
    Derek Lowe at Corante notes:
    And it would be worth wondering how much of an impact this editorial would have had if it had only appeared in the print version of the journal, instead of being picked up by the Blogging Hordes. Could it be that he knows much more about the internet than he seems to, and he's successfully trolled us all?
    Those 70-ish old media advocates like Prof. Murray are big onions of Machiavellian complexity if that's true.
    rholley
    they tend toward politics and religion-bashing over there
    Over where?  Is this some aspect of North American geography that I am not aware of?
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Hank
    Sorry, I confess I get too familiar in my prose.
    One thing he does get right, perhaps because of the prevalence of Scienceblogs and their cultural skew, is "writing can be done for any purpose—political, religious, business, etc.—without the constraint of truth." 

    It's true that they tend toward politics and religion-bashing over there
    What's next, my using pronouns???
    rholley
    Oh, I see.  You mean "over there (in cyberspace) at Scienceblogs" rather than on the other side of the North American continent.  I thought that this might be a West Coast – East Coast thing.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Hank
    Larry Moran at Sandwalk has thoughts on this:
    Before blogs, there was no good way for the scientific community to critique the scientific literature. Some scientists think that papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature should be immune from such criticism from the outside. They think that the only criticism should come from within the scientific literature. In other words, if you don't like a paper you have to publish another paper refuting the science. 

    One of the strange things about this attitude is that those very same scientists are very happy about issuing press releases and very happy to have their work praised in the popular press.