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    Should science bloggers be paid?
    By Hank Campbell | July 10th 2010 10:38 AM | 12 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

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    In the wake of the PepsiGate scandal at Scienceblogs.com, which apparently everyone except bloggers there saw coming (1), one person comes up with the obvious 'money corrupts all' argument, but is that really so?

    David Colquhoun works in a shot at Americans in wondering why every site has to have ads and blows smoke about the BBC - well, they are different cultures and Americans aren't all that happy about the idea of government-run media funded by taxpayers, including poor people, so if advertisements mean people with less money get to keep more of it rather than paying for situation comedies, that seems okay to me.   And Americans distrust government, thus the reason for that whole seceding from Britain thing that happened once, so letting a new political party run the news every four years is a negative.

    He has no objections to him getting paid for his work, of course, just science bloggers.  Why the difference?   No idea, it is just, he says.  Money is a corrupting influence.

    What he does not understand is that there is more than one business model on the Internet and not everyone is corrupt just because one failing company became corrupt.   Obviously we have been here for years and never had to accept "long term sponsorship contracts" from Pepsi or anyone else, though we aren't big in blogging so perhaps advertising is easier to find.   We have plenty of premium advertisers who do things our way if they want to reach the Internet's smartest readers and I have never had to call up anyone and ask them to do a payola blog, nor have we ever pulled an article because it criticized any of our syndication partners.

    Scienceblogs.com is one company in a small market - yes, they are the biggest in blogging, at least until Discover steals the rest of their writers, but blogging is not the extent of science writing, and writers want more money, not less, if the Internet will be a legitimate alternative to print.   It isn't yet, even among the most strident advocates of online science.   All you have to do is watch social media and see science bloggers criticizing 'old media' until a job opening comes up for a low-paid position at Wired or some other place to know there is a fair amount of hypocrisy about the matter.

    The flawed model is not paying writers, the flawed model is only recruiting writers who already generate a lot of traffic fomenting controversy and who recognize that their traffic has value to a magazine publisher, but then telling them the money comes from some magical place.   And also fostering a culture that says corporate scientists are eeeeevil but wholesome academic bloggers and PIOs for non-profits are all ethical and wonderful.
     
    Don't get me wrong, I am not defending what Seed Media CEO Adam Bly did - when he intentionally had pieces spiked critical of potential advertisers he lost all credibility here, despite my earlier defense of him - but I think it's silly to contend people cannot be paid lest they lose their ethical senses.   BBC employees do not work for free so to think they are immune from pressure because taxpayers support that network rather than advertisers ... well, if you have watched BBC news coverage for any length of time you have seen plenty of bias.

    Scienceblogs.com was created to do just what it does - Adam gathered the highest traffic bloggers he could find and convinced them to join each other and they would all make money.   Obviously I do not feel like writers here are for sale if they make money because our mentality is different.  Rather than being a magazine engaged in marketing efforts online, like Nature or Seed, instead of recruiting bloggers with the promise of money (then, anyway - no new people at Scienceblogs make money, many are bigger name people who signed up to get a larger audience) we went to researchers and book authors and  said we would take money out of the equation by paying it to the contributors - every day anyone writing here can see how much money they make - so they wouldn't feel like they were doing outreach so someone else could get rich.

    So bloggers can certainly make money and still write good stuff, they just need a better business model.   I think it is cynical to assume all science writers simply cannot be ethical if they accept any money because a blogging company lost its way.  Eliminating money entirely leaves the door open for them to instead be exploited by a billion-dollar company like the one that owns Nature Publishing Group, who pays its employees to recruit bloggers who will write for free.   But NPG does not really care, they just don't want to be left out - I still regard them as a Science 2.0 company, whereas Scienceblogs is not, because they make an effort at an open discourse rather than having everything overtly focused on keeping a dying magazine afloat and a threshold for traffic or fame before letting people write.

    It is only a matter of time before someone takes a look at Researchblogging.org and other things Seed owns.    Are some sites blocked out of there because they are competitors to Seed or Scienceblogs?  Is any research included if it praises a product or research Seed likes?   No idea, and I am not alleging anything of the kind, but people are coming out of the woodwork talking about the cultural disaster Seed is, so that will shine a negative light on everything they have touched.

    Back to the topic;  should science bloggers be paid?   The most successful people on Scienceblogs are the best paid and none of them have left, so in a capitalist world, that means being paid did not damage their quality or the audience would not read them.    In a capitalist world where corporations win, they are the biggest and therefore the best.   And they are most certainly huge capitalists.    The miracle was convincing everyone for so long that they were not.

    NOTES:

    (1) Though the departed admit now they were either uneasy or unhappy for a while, leading all in the science writing community to wonder why they just spoke up now, when they knew Adam Bly treated interns like Apple treats Chinese child labor and he didn't like to pay his bills.

    Comments

    Hank
    Just as an aside, we also further eliminate money from the equation entirely by allowing columnists not to run any ads at all.  They don't get paid and no one sees an outside advertisement - they still see stuff for our t-shirts or whatever.
    aaanouel
    Hi Hank (delete once readed)
    I know this is not the place to comment you that I'm having troubles to post using Safari (iMac, no text or images) so I have to use FireFox for doing it...
    I also tried to contact you by "Contact us" but it didn't worked for me (no Safari or FireFox).
    Hank
    Hi Augusto - we have no Safari browser so that one could be difficult.  I will see if I can find someone who can do some testing.  Do you have javascript enabled?
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Hank, did you used to pay Eric Diaz to write his brilliantly entertaining and educational blogs? How many of your bloggers currently get paid and how much roughly do they earn for a good blog with plenty of views?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Hank
    Everyone who has written a blog starts earning revenue but the amount depends on the traffic and what advertisers are paying at the time,  but I don't know what you think a 'good blog with plenty of views' is.   Some articles get 30 readers and some get 300,000 readers.   The rate is in flux because we have different advertisers at different times but the bulk of the money generated by each contributors work is credited to them, they see it in real time every day, we only keep a small amount to pay for the servers.   

    Obviously it goes up if someone gets really popular because they see more ads by premium advertisers.  PZ Myers, the famous Pharyngula who is the top guy at Scienceblogs.com, would make $10,000 a month here, but he is probably making that over there too and we don't have anyone individually doing that kind of traffic.    Some contributors want no money but don't mind carrying an ad so the revenue still accrues for them.  Some people want no ads on their content so revenue does not accrue for them.   It's up to the writers but we obviously never run into the money quandary Scienceblogs did because we have no magazine costs.    

    We have other issues as an open community - people who want legitimacy so they manufacture credibility or write kookiness that isn't science and insist everyone is unscientific if serious researchers don't want to argue about perpetual motion or whatever.   The bigger we get, the more it happens, but we have only had to ban a few people, the rest just fade away.  The moderators here are quite good about protecting the community.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Who are the moderators?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Why can't I find Michael White's blog 'Survivalism, British Style' By Michael White' which is the featured article on the home page? Have the moderators deleted it?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Hank
    You just click on it.  http://www.science20.com/adaptive_complexity/60_years_end_world_scifi_1956
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    For some reason when I was clicking on it before it went nowhere.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Hank
    When it comes to the Internet, is there any chance this character was based on you???  :)
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Yes, probably. I just got diagnosed with cancer yesterday.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Its only skin cancer, very common in Australia. The good news is I need a plastic surgeon to try to fix it, so I'm asking for a facelift at the same time. Still, I'd appreciate it if you could fix my browser problems in the not too distant future, just in case.....
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine