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    Does the blogosphere drive out undesirable opinions?
    By Hank Campbell | July 20th 2010 11:07 AM | 15 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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    In the continuing wake of the Pepsigate scandal at Scienceblogs (it made a splash, and then seemed to die away, but suddenly there have been 18 departures) a writer at the Guardian takes that community to task for being insular.

    He's not the first to say so.  The running joke among other science media people is good luck being comfortable on Scienceblogs if you are religious or a Republican, but he echoed a point we also made - corporate scientists are, of themselves, not less ethical than academic ones, though we went further and said that if no one complained about all of the institutional blogs recruited there to be public relations tools, it seemed unfair to drive out Pepsi before they even wrote anything.

    As we discussed, we would let Pepsi researchers write here - we just would not force them to pay for the privilege.   Our audience is smart, the community here is smart.  If Pepsi research turned out not to be research but instead self-promotion, the audience and the community would carpet bomb them.   No one would have to leave over a corporate boondoggle because the culture here is different.   Not being owned by a magazine helps.

    Of course, Guardian writer David Appell is not entirely correct in making his case when he writes "Suppression of free speech is never acceptable, no matter who is being censored or who is calling for it. "   First, of course freedom of speech is sometimes acceptable, but more importantly there is no free speech issue in this instance.  Scienceblogs is an invited community owned by Seed and at-will participation by its members.    There is no constitutional right to be on Scienceblogs (or here) - both sites have terms of use and, in the case of Scienceblogs, written contracts for contributors.

    But he brings it back nicely to the point we made, that the audience would calibrate the validity of Pepsi research:
    These commentators, other bloggers and journalists could have evaluated and countered PepsiCo's claims in near real time. They could go toe to toe with PepsiCo, linking to the relevant scientific literature and offering alternative points of view in a manner offered by no other medium. 
    And that's the crux of it.  He criticizes them for being a mob, but they have always been something of a mob - that is the Internet - and mobs can do good or harm.   He also makes it a left/right issue in the political sense but perhaps he is misunderstanding that there are not two points on a graph and instead three on a triangle - liberal, progressive and conservative - and most people inhabit various spaces in there.    Appell may be a liberal in the classic sense so he believes in freedom at any cost but progressives and conservatives have different levels of desire for freedom if it dampens the other goals.

    What is the end result of all this?  A new coalition has been formed already and a few of them will get contracts from Discover.    But the buzz is all about where people will go.  I ask, why do they need to go anywhere and risk another big media mentality?    If the money is not important, and the writers were more important than the brand, they can go on their own and have the same audience they had before.

    Here's hoping they do.

    Comments

    Hank
    It gets weirder.

    PZ Myers, he of the famed Pharyngula column, and a solid 50% of Scienceblogs traffic, has gone on strike.    That means things have reached critical mass because there is no brand without him.  None.    The revenue and the sale value of SEED magazine (and Scienceblogs and Researchblogging.org) evaporates.  

    Adam Bly may have been hoping this would blow over but the first rule of business is you make sure your best customer is taken care of - and he may pay Prof. Myers, but Myers is still very much the customer.
     I get paid for that traffic, too, so it's going to hurt my pocketbook. My wife has already given me one of her long-suffering looks when I told her what I had to do, but then, I get those from her all the time, as you might expect. Sorry, my check will be smaller this month, on top of the salary reductions my university has announced.
    You can always do a guest post here, PZ.   You'll still make money and can veto any darn ad you want if you add 200K pageviews a day.    Plus, as everyone knows, I am in constant contact with people, likely to a point where they wish I would be more like SMG and never speak again.
    The "demands" in the post may be reasonable...but a picket-line of one is weird, indeed. 

    When updating content goes on strike, search-engine indexing strikes the site off the list (soon enough) and then leverage weakens steadily as hydraulic "Google-juice" seeps away.

    Or, maybe not. I'm just wondering effective a blogger strike that lasts more than a day or so could be.
    Hank
    but a picket-line of one is weird, indeed.
    But he is 50% of their traffic so he stops the show dead.   Sure, our traffic here is a lot more evenly distributed so it may seem like one person would not make a difference, but he is a heck of a draw over there.   If Adam has come to his senses, he is on the phone right now offering PZ stock options and pre-embargo Cuban cigars
    And if Adam doesn't come to his senses (that some folks who know him have affirmed in writing he has enough of) do they both go down? Well, we shall see what happens next, then next, anyway.

    I'm watching to learn. (Thanks!;-) 
    rholley
    You can always do a guest post here, PZ. 
    B-b-but he's a D-D-Democrat!
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Hank
    ha ha ... well, who isn't?   He did try to label us as some sort of rightwing alternative to Scienceblogs one time  ( referenced in Do You Need A Political Ideology To Be A Successful Science Site? and the now legendary, in my own mind, I, For One, Welcome Our New Republican Overlords) - and if you read them for a while, they truly think the varied planets of science media orbit Scienceblogs - but that was many years ago and if 90% of this site aren't Democrats (or liberal party of some sort) I will eat a Science 2.0 shirt.
    Hank, I'm sorry, but this misses so much.

    People are quite free to go toe-to-toe with Pepsi as it is; their Food Frontiers blog has existed for some time, and anyone is free to try to offer alternative viewpoints at any time. And if you want them to post at 2.0, fine. But this pushback ignores THE CENTRAL ISSUE for most of us for left, and particularly for the first of us to leave, which was me and Skloot: The violation of the ad/ed wall, which violation was NOT cured by Seed's proposal to put a couple of stickers on a bought blog (the Pepsi blog) that in every other aspect of design and place was presented as editorial, that is, equivalent to all the other ScienceBlogs. The equivalent of putting a lapel button on someone wearing a tuxedo who is sitting at a table for guests of honor who are all wearing tuxedos, but who got their through merit rather than money.

    As one fellow said on Twitter, It wasn't about the variable (Pepsi); it was about the formula. It was about an ethical breach of journalistic standards -- a breach that the noise afterwards, which occurred ONLY because some bloggers took the stark action of leaving, showed to be part of a larger pattern. All these arguments that people overreacted ignore those key things:

    It wasn't about silencing, it was about a core principle of journalistic ethics.

    Seed reacted ONLY because they started losing bloggers, and were made to fear the exodus that their subsequent bumbling and fence-sitting has accelerated.

    The other revelations of editorial malfeasance -- which also came to light only because some bloggers left -- have confirmed that those who left were dead-on correct in their read of what PepsiGate indicated about the ethical position of Seed Media.

    Hank
    Yep, and this was a continuation of 5 pieces I did as this unfolded so I was writing more for people who have followed (here) as it progressed rather than being a comprehensive argument about the entire thing.    I think Appell was basically correct in his thinking - let them write - but wrong in his reasoning - freedom of speech.   

    We're not soliciting corporate blogs, obviously, but if a researcher signed up to write who worked for Pepsi we would not ban them.   We just wouldn't let someone buy access.  Heck, we might not even know.  One of the other examples I used in a previous article was Mars, Inc.  funding an entire chair in nutrition at UC Davis and having a panel on how awesome chocolate is at an AAAS meeting where all but one member of the panel was funded by Mars.   If a UC Davis nutrition person signed up he would be judged on quality so if the same fellow signs up and says Mars in his bio (literally, one visiting professor at UC Davis was also the Chief Science Officer of Mars) it seems fair to give him the same respect until he loses it.

    I certainly agree Adam lost his way ethically but I bet he finds it again now that PZ is on strike also.
    Mark Changizi
    The violation of the "ad/ed wall" was sufficient justification, indeed. 

    And, in addition -- and not quite independent -- the notion that someone (whether a corporation, non-profit, or private individual) is paying to be at the table at which others have earned a seat.

    -Mark
    Hank
    Yet, according to this 'on strike' post by Grrlscientist, Pepsi and others were paying but bloggers were not getting any of it:
    For the past couple years, I have been very unhappy at Sb; I've found myself worrying constantly over the future of SMG, stressed out by the lack of promised paychecks -- my landlord didn't give a rat's ass as to why I couldn't pay my rent, after all! -- and my writing output diminished sharply when compared to my previous years of high productivity.
    It's just not that friggin' complicated.  Every day, every writer here knows what they make and 45 days later, they click a button and get paid. Done.

    You never want to seem like a vulture and be exploiting turmoil, because clearly the people who have stayed care about the community, but at some point we just have to ask if the whole lot want to write at a site that isn't run by a goofball.

    This was an April Fool's Day post but that doesn't mean it can't happen.
    I'm still shocked by the hoopla that has accompanied this. Are the writers that have "resigned" saying that they would have felt obligated or coerced into going along with the company message no matter what the PepsiCo writers may have written? In a format such as the blogosphere, I don't understand what was stopping them from tearing the writers apart if they were being factually inaccurate or misleading. And given that they never got a chance to write anything, who knows if they even would have been.

    Becky Jungbauer
    Going on strike only hurts readers - wouldn't they be better served by a series of well-written pieces explaining the issue? Come on, fellow Minnesotan PZ. Use your readership to educate, not pontificate.
    Once again---blogging is NOT journalism, yet. journalism is an enterprise in which the OWNERS do not view reported stories as "content," but as a public service that must be transparent if it truly is to comfort the afflicted and the afflict the comfortable. if you do not project autonomy, you don't "gots" it. if pepsi wants to control its public image, take out an ad, but "eff off" when it comes to surfing on my and other writer's credibility. You don't deserve it. go away.

    Hank
    I think even over there they were confused about whether they were journalists or bloggers.  Or employees or not employees.    They used to deny that money was an issue at all until this blew up, then they were cranky that they didn't get paid consistently.    And they spit on journalism but said having a sponsored blog was a violation of their journalistic ethics.

    So I can never figure out what the core issue is, I just know it's been a lot of drama.   Traffic probably went up due to this and they have placated the guy who is 50% of their site, so they aren't going anywhere.   But the CEO seems to have learned a lesson in ethics he never got wandering through art galleries and talking about how science is culture.    Now he knows science is science and science writers don't want to be pissed on.
    Hank
    David Appell, on his blog site, responds to the David Dobbs criticicisms and/or clarifications of his Guardian piece I cited above.    Some of the criticisms were the same - it isn't a free speech issue in an invited community where people are paid.   Some that were missed by many outside Sciblogs were outlined by David so I won't rehash them here.

    He instead takes a different tack:
    What about authors hawking their books and movie deals, and their travel schedules? There's a pecuniary interest there.
    Indeed, SEED ran an entire week of promotion for Rebecca Skloot's book, so is that a double standard?   I don't see that it is.   We keep a rotating list of author books and links right to Amazon on our site and every time an author produces a new book we give them free space to promote it.

    So how is that different?   These writers are already part of the community, writing in the interests of outreach for little money so it is a community way of giving something back to them, plain and simple.  Pepsi simply bought its way in.

    Don't get me wrong, Adam was wrong for doing it and I am surprised that Scienceblogs people didn't object before now because it was literally a running joke among other media people that they were doing this and no one there objected, but it is a much different animal to help an author and brag a little that they are there (or here) as opposed to putting up paid press releases as independent content.

    Appell may be running into a brick wall here.  As I wrote above, Scienceblogs writers were all recruited because they had some combination of traffic and credibility but they were also evaluated first on if they were a cultural fit.    Appell seems to be a classic liberal (in the freedom sense, not the modern political one) whereas Scienceblogs writers are progressives and there is going to be a disconnect that can't be bridged.