Doubts about blogging for scientists.

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.



4 comments to Doubts about blogging for scientists.

  • ERV

    Oh I dont think the vitriol is a sign of anything ominous– I think its just a side effect of Matzke and the PT contributors anticipating the Creationist garbage that will no doubt come from this paper, and taking the E/C debate personally.

    Theyre so used to Creationists quote mining and Pubjacking, that when a paper comes out that directly addresses a Creationist Claim, its gotta be prestine. Any chink in the armor, and Creationists will attack. I think the vitriol was in anticipation of PT having to clean up another Creationist mess.

    I would get the same way with an HIV paper that, though loose wording that I didnt necessarily agree with, gave ammo to Deniers. I take HIV Denial personally.

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  • TR Gregory

    Actually I meant nasty personal insults directed at me. But Nick and a few other regulars have since explained that they attract a lot of undesirables at that blog. It’s therefore unfortunate that that is the site where the flagellum discussion has taken place because it is certain to keep scientists away when they see how they are likely to be attacked.

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  • ERV

    Oh dear. I didnt read the comments, so I completely missed any personal insults. No, that is extremely rare– Usually reserved for Ed Brayton vs PZ threads which inevitably degrade to ‘Youre a jerk!’ ‘No YOURE a jerk!’in the comments.

    Dont hold the comments section against PT– Theyre very hesitant to delete comments, even if theyre personal insults, because of Uncommon Descents comical commenting ‘policy’.

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  • TR Gregory

    Thanks, and I am happy to see that others on Panda’s Thumb are returning it to a mature tone.

    The issue isn’t so much the insults per se (though that seemed extremely juvenile), but that the same tactics people decry among anti-evolutionists were being used: ad hominem arguments, quote mining, mischaracterization. It really had me concerned that the line between purportedly scientific and anti-science blogs was less than sharp.

    I think the key is that one must lead by example rather than jumping into the battlezone of some existing blogs and calling for civility.

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