I’ve collected several links over the past few days to people thinking about the role of blog networks in the science blogome. Several essays worth reading if you care about meta-navelgazing blog politics. Which of course I do, but many readers may not!
My feeling is pretty simple – I don’t want to look like any other site, I don’t want to be on a feed with people who talk about politics and religion all the time, and I want to be free to develop things like the bibliography section that enhance my research and can be widely shared. I’ve been invited on many networks in the past, and I’ve always turned down those invitations politely, leaving them open for the future. Maybe someday the up/down will change. But I think many people forget that the internet is already a network, and embedding oneself in a clique has many foreseeable costs.
The discussions I’m linking have mostly to do with the strengths and weaknesses of networks. Since many science blogging networks have been sponsored or funded by publishers, the topic of publishers’ interests is recurrent. It seems to me that a series of short commissioned and edited articles would beat a blog network easily for traffic reach and would give academics something that a blog typically doesn’t – a CV entry. One way of looking at the recent blog shakeup is that a lot of talent is out there looking for a home. But I look at things differently. How do you make the right mix of established voices and young, serious writers to create a room that people want to be in and come back to? A feed with 20 entries a day is relentless; when only 5 of those have anything to do with science, it may as well be satellite TV – a lot of random junk, and several blowhards.
Thirty scientists, giving their best 1000-word post once a month - - that would be a room to come back to every day. Or make it 20 regulars and solicit 10 guest spots in a given month. Commission some debates.
On with the links:
Hank Campbell: “Are Science Blogging Networks Dead?”
Wide-open blogging has worked well for Examiner.com and AssociatedContent.com but science is a different animal. If you open it up to everyone, you get stuck with pseudoscience and that will drive out serious people. If you make it just about names and have editors micromanaging content and control like Nature Network (I have an account there because it was going to be an open Science 2.0-type site but in 2010 I cannot access my account or reset my password so maybe I am blocked) you get a Big Brother-ish mishmash...but if you just make it about inviting popular people, like Scienceblogs, your reputation becomes [hot-headed narcissists who write mostly about crap].
Psi Wavefunction: “Conflict of interest is not unique to corporate blogging”
I think there's a bigger problem: too many people, including academics themselves, live in this magical bubble where conflict of interest and the bias it drives somehow fail to exist in the bastion of rational thought that is academia. Research, as soon as it's peer-reviewed, is automatically politically-neutral and scientifically-accurate. That sort of thinking is outright delusional, and dangerous.
Beyond the actual subject matter, communities tend to form personalities, and like it or not, that personality represents your brand. These personalities are hard to spot from the inside of a network. Social networks like these tend to be self-reinforcing, filled with back-patting and congratulations for brilliance being offered back and forth.
John Rennie: “Do open networks threaten brands?”
Rambunctious columnists and knowing how to handle them isnt a new challenge. Editors in print and elsewhere have always sweated over how much to intrude on what columnists write. A reason that you hire a columnist is not just that he or she is good that he or she is reliably good with a minimum of supervision. As an editor, you realize that your columnists may sometimes take positions that the publication as a whole wouldnt stand beside; you also realize that some of your audience will hold the publication responsible anyway. How and when you step in is part of what defines your editorial identity, but it also reflects how well you trust your audience to recognize and value the diversity of views you are presenting.
And the article to which many of these links refer, by Virginia Heffernan in the NY Times Magazine, “Unnatural science”:
Under cover of intellectual rigor, the science bloggers or many of the most visible ones, anyway prosecute agendas so charged with bigotry that it doesnt take a pun-happy French critic or a rapier-witted Cambridge atheist to call this whole ScienceBlogs enterprise what it is, or has become: class-war claptrap.