It has been about 5 weeks now since I began this experiment to use a blog as a mechanism for public outreach. I have had some good experiences — seeing some excellent posts, learning a lot, making new friends and joining networks. There have also been some lively debates that I think showcase the utility of the medium for what really are high level scientific conversations.
There has also been a dark side, unfortunately. Sadly, I am not describing spam or anti-science, but how I have been treated by some of my fellow science blog participants. In particular, I point to the recent discussion about the Liu and Ochman flagellum article. A brief recount — the paper was published in the journal PNAS, several bloggers commented on it, and then Nick Matzke came down hard on it. I am glad he used his expert knowledge to point out potential flaws in the study, but I was very put off by the polemical manner in which this was accomplished. And I said so. I have been calling for more respectful discussions, and have been critical of the way this particular case was conducted.
Most recently, there have been discussions on T. taxus (very interesting and scholarly) and Panda’s Thumb, the latter of which has been staggering in its vitriol. I encourage you to have a quick read of the comment section to see what I am referring to. This episode really makes me question whether blogging is appropriate for scientists. I hope that the positive will outweigh the negative in the end, but being personally attacked for voicing an opinion (ironically, about elevating the discourse on blogs) by science bloggers is not something I will have much desire to endure.
Let us hope that this is not the true nature of blogs, but simply an anomalous occurrence.