Category Archives: Blogging

Introducing The Guardian Science Blogging Network

Early this morning, The Guardian launched their brand new science blogging network, adding another shiny new island to the growing archipelago of the science blogging universe.

Alok Jha introduces the network:

You would not know it from general media coverage but, on the web, science is alive with remarkable debate. According to the Pew Research Centre, science accounts for 10% of all stories on blogs but only 1% of the stories in mainstream media coverage. (The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism looked at a year’s news coverage starting from January 2009.)

On the web, thousands of scientists, journalists, hobbyists and numerous other interested folk write about and create lively discussions around palaeontology, astronomy, viruses and other bugs, chemistry, pharmaceuticals, evolutionary biology, extraterrestrial life or bad science. For regular swimmers in this fast-flowing river of words, it can be a rewarding (and sometimes maddening) experience. For the uninitiated, it can be overwhelming.

The Guardian’s science blogs network is an attempt to bring some of the expertise and these discussions to our readers. Our four bloggers will bring you their untrammeled thoughts on the the latest in evolution and ecology, politics and campaigns, skepticism (with a dollop of righteous anger) and particle physics (I’ll let them make their own introductions).

The four initial bloggers (apart from Alok who will continue blogging on the already well-known Guardian ScienceBlog) are Martin Robbins, Jon Butterworth, Evan Harris and my old friend and SciBling GrrlScientist.

So, subscribe to their RSS feed and their Twitter list and their official Twitter account, then go and post Hello comments on their blogs.

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Lots of good reading today:

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Just a few….but good ones!

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Terra Sigillata has moved!

My friend David Kroll, better known online as Abel PharmBoy, has found a new home for his blog Terra Sigillata after leaving scienceblogs.com a few weeks ago.

He joined the excellent CENtral Science network, hosted by American Chemical Society.

Change your bookmarks, subscriptions and feeds to the new URL of Terra Sigillata and go say Hello in the comments of the Welcome post.

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Off the grid yesterday, but managed to collect a few good links:

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Briefly:

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Just a few….

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A Data-driven Look at the Real-time Web Ecosystem (video)

Hillary Mason @hmason

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A few miscellaneous links for the weekend:

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Drumroll, please! Introducing: Scienceblogging.org

What? Yet another science blogging network? No, no, no! This is even better. Let me explain.

For four years, Scienceblogs.com was the biggest, most popular, most visible and most high-trafficked science blogging network in the world. A couple of other networks existed, known mostly to the connoisseurs. And thousands of independent bloggers, with a couple of early-adopter exceptions, were almost invisible except for the most devout readers.

For many people, The Last 24 Hours page at Scienceblogs.com was their browser’s homepage. They would start their day by checking the page out, to see what is new in the world of science. That page was a one-stop-shopping page for all things science-bloggy.

But over the last month or two, the world of science blogging changed. Scienceblogs.com is there, big and good, but not as dominant as it once was. Other existing networks suddenly became more interesting and more visible. They started growing. New networks got started and are still being built at an alarming rate of approximately one per week. This is a good thing – many more blogs are now enjoying increased visibility, traffic and influence.

But there is a problem for the reader – how to track all those networks and all those blogs? They are scattered all over the place. It takes time to go through all the bookmarks and feeds in order to catch everything.

So, Anton Zuiker, Dave Munger and myself decided to do something about it – make a one-stop-shopping place for all things science-bloggy.

The result is Scienceblogging.org (also automatically redirected from Scienceblogging.com). Anton was a smart guy and bought that URL years ago!

Now we hope that you will set Scienceblogging.org as your homepage in your browser and start your day there, checking out what’s new in the world of science.

You should also subscribe to the official Twitter account.

So, what is it all about?

The page will aggregate RSS feeds from all the major (and some minor) science blogging networks, group blogs, aggregators and services. As the site develops further, it will also encompass other online (and offline) science communication efforts, including Twitter feeds, links to major scientific journals and magazines, ScienceOnline annual conference, and the Open Laboratory annual anthology of the best writing on science, nature and medical blogs.

If you look around, you will see feeds for all the networks, several major group blogs, press services (like Futurity), aggregators (like ResearchBlogging.org), blog carnivals, etc.

If you are the owner/manager of one of these (or other) sites, and there is something you want to change, let us know – we want the community input as to how to improve the site.

Perhaps you have multiple blogs on your site/network but no common feed. We may have included only a feed for one of your blogs instead of all, or used FriendFeed as a temporary solution. You can fix that – make a common feed and send us the URL so we can switch it.

You may like the way a pretty logo appears next to the names of various networks, but do not like the ugly red Y of Yahoo next to yours. You can fix that as well – switch from Yahoo pipes to a better feed (RSS or Atom) and your logo will show up as well.

Is your network missing? Let us know. Are you building a new network? As soon as it goes live, let us know and send us your feed.

If you have (or intend to post) images on Flickr with science themes, please tag them with #scienceblogging and they will also appear on the site.

We need your help – we want to include independent bloggers as well. But how do we go about it? There are thousands of them! We cannot include all of those feeds. If we fuse them all into a single feed, that would be a firehose moving at the speed of light. There must be a better system!

Of course, indy bloggers will occasionally show up there – when they host carnivals, do guest-posts on networks, or have their posts aggregated on ResearchBlogging.org, but there must be other ways as well – let us know your ideas.

We also intend to include some Twitter feeds. For example, just before, during and after major conferences, like Science Online London, or ScienceOnline2011, we will put widgets on the sidebar showcasing tweets with the associated hashtags. But what other feeds? Twitter Lists are limited to 500 accounts – which 3-5 Lists combined cover pretty much all the important science twitterers? Let us know.

Likewise for FriendFeed rooms. Any other services we should include (YouTube, perhaps)?

What is missing from the Blogroll on the sidebar of the blog?

We are also putting together a common feed for all the sciencey blog carnivals and will try to keep the feed up to date. Are any carnivals missing from this list? If so, do they have RSS feeds? If not, can you make one?

Finally, check out the blog. For now, we have posts there like Welcome to Scienceblogging, Some thoughts about science blog aggregation, Blog Carnivals: what, how and why? and Just one way. We will use the blog to update you on the news about the site, as well as the news about the science blogging community and its endeavors, including meetings like ScienceOnline and the annual anthology – Open Laboratory. I will do a Q&A with founders, owners and managers of all the networks and other sites we cover so you can learn more about each one of them. We will try to highlight some of the independent bloggers who are not on any networks. And we will likely have some guest bloggers in the future. We appreciate all the other ideas you may have. And we welcome all kinds of feedback: criticisms, suggestions, praise.

Subscribe to the blog feed to keep up.

I hope you help us spread the word about Scienceblogging.org, link to it from your sites, save it as your browser’s homepage, bookmark it and visit it often. And help us make it better over time.

Update:

The reaction was overwhelming and overwhelmingly positive. Hundreds of tweets, several blog posts, several new suggestions/applications fo =r getting added to the site. etc. Thank you all so much!

See also posts by Dave Munger on ResearchBlogging.org and his own blog, and the comments there.

Also see blog posts by DrugMonkey, John Dupuis, PZ Myers, Jason G. Goldman, Zen Faulkes, Jeremy Yoder, Odyssey, Sandeep Gautam, Christina Pikas, Larry Moran (being his grouchy self and not having read our introductory posts, including this one, that specifically address his concern in advance of the launch of the site, eh…, Benjamin Brooks and UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, and the comments on them – there is a bunch of interesting ideas for future improvement and development in several of those posts.

As our posts on Scienceblogging.org blog, including the latest – Adding more blogs to Scienceblogging.org – suggest, we are just getting started and are asking the community for helping out with ideas, and technical know-how for future development, especially considering the need to include independent bloggers without overhwelming the system with thousands of feeds (or a feed containing a thousand blogs).

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Just a few, to keep you busy for a little while…

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Rebooting The News, on science blogging and media

Rebooting The News, the cannot-miss weekly podcast about the current state and the future of media, hosted by Dave Winer and Jay Rosen, will have special guests this coming Monday at 10am EDT – Arikia Millikan and myself. The topic will be the current state of science blogging and science journalism. I hope you tune in on Monday at 10, and if you miss it, the podcasts are recorded and will be available shortly after at the homepage.

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Another incredibly busy day…..though Carnal Carnival is on schedule for late tonight, a couple of hours after the midnight deadline….

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…eh, another busy day:

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A busy day:
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Some good stuff collected last night:

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Catching up with the weekend news and blogs:
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Ooops, forgot my blogiversary!

I posted my first post on my first blog on August 14th, 2004. In a previous life….

Why republish an old blog post?

Republishing an old post is usually a way to feed the blog at the time when the blogger has no time to produce fresh content, e.g., during travels and vacations. Sometimes, it is a way to bring entire series of posts in front of new readers (I have done this with my BIO101 posts and Clock Tutorial posts, and more).

Sometimes, this is a way to bring up an old post that provides background context for a brand new post that comes right afterward. This way, readers are served two related posts in succession, instead of being asked to follow a link to get background, which is a more effective way to ensure that the readers of the new post actually read the old, background post.

But I rarely see re-posting done for another reason: editing, updating and improving old posts. Often I read an old post of mine and dislike the way I wrote it. I guess, like most chronic writers, I feel like my writing is improving over time. But I am too lazy to actually do something about it – I let the old posts linger in the archives the way they were originally written.

This week, I will try to do something more with two old posts of mine. The proximate reason is the impending Carnal Carnival. But the ultimate reason is that I want to give this idea a try – see if I can edit and improve on the old posts.

So, over the next few days, expect to see edited, updated, expanded and improved versions of these two posts:

First, Friday Weird Sex Blogging – Postscript to Pittendrigh’s Pet Project – Phototaxis, Photoperiodism and Precise Projectile Parabolas of Pilobolus on Pasture Poop. This post is already long and thorough, but it can use some editing. There was also a cool paper published in the meantime so a mention and citation are warranted. There is also a cool video now available that really should be a part of that post.

Second, How to use a Squat Toilet. This is essentially a picture, one sentence and a link. But it is one of my most frequently visited posts ever, usually from image searches for “squat toilet”. And the link provides a great entry into the topic which I should delve into in some more depth. So, this one is going to be not just mildly edited, but completely written anew.

Stay tuned….

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The Citizens Agenda in Campaign Coverage and Part of Our World: Journalism as Civic Leadership

Here’s Why People Who Don’t Use The Internet Don’t Use The Internet and Home Broadband 2010 – Summary of Findings

Forget Science Blogging vs. Science Journalism: Let’s Talk Paywalls

Journalism Warning Labels

Feds CONFISCATE independent LSU scientists’ samples because project not approved by BP, others and Opinion: The oil’s stain on science

Why Scientific Research on Animals Is Worthwhile

Animal welfare and veterinary ethics

Countries should shift focus to saving species, preserving biodiversity

The US is ranked 35th in Math and 29th in Science worldwide*. Why are we so far behind?

Researcher pursues Ph.D. in Facebook

The danger of using only sources with recent coverage

Open Lab Update

In U.S., Confidence in Newspapers, TV News Remains a Rarity

Blog networks’ problems links

An easy way to boost a paper’s citations and Cite more papers, get more citations?

No wrong ways to write. Right?

Marc Hauser: the end is nigh?

Peer review, schmeer review

How Design Can Help Farmers’ Markets Feed a Growing Demand

Euclid? Moron!

Student ‘Cephalover,’ Blogs About Tentacled Species

Bookmash! and Bookmash game and #bookmash

Another Bad Breakup, with Friends Paying the Price

If Historical Events had Facebook Statuses

New Edition Of Bible Specifically Mentions Second Amendment

Branding Science Blogging: Cooperatives + Corporate Networks

Two recent posts by John Rennie, Do Open Networks Threaten Brands? Part 1 and Do Open Networks Threaten Brands? Part 2, prompted me to respond – first in comments there, and then an expanded version here (and to turn a long post into something more manageable, I omitted a lot of stuff I already wrote in painful detail before, so scroll down to “additional links” for background information that may SEEM to be missing from this post).

The question is about branding. How do incipient science blogging networks manage their public image. John, for example, is not sure if SEED got what it wanted (or initially envisioned), image-wise, from Scienceblogs.com brand. But it is important to remember that Scienceblogs.com was somewhat an anomaly in many respects – it was the only game in town for a long time.

The current situation is different. There are two types of networks arising. In the new ecosystem, we are now seeing cooperatives collecting bloggers who cherish freedom, replicating some aspects of the Scienceblogs.com experience. At the same time, professional/media organizations appear to be following the Discover blogs model of exclusivity for a small number of highly respected writers/bloggers. And it is quite possible that these two types will end up being quite different animals: the blogger cooperatives vs. corporate-owned networks. One way in which Seed Scienceblogs.com was an anomaly is that the atmosphere on the site was Indie, while Seed probably expected Pro.

Blogger cooperatives

Blogger cooperatives, like Scientopia, Lab Spaces, Field Of Science, The Gam, Science3point0 and Genomes Unzipped, for example, are unlikely to have long committee sessions charting their long-term strategies, debating their image and branding, and fine-tuning their budgets. They are run on the cheap, and the essential factor is the feeling of community.

Indie networks like these are likely to collect bloggers who are not interested in being The Media, or, as individuals, breaking into the MSM. Their chances of getting indexed by Google News are slim. They cherish freedom. “Don’t you tell me how to blog” is a very important sentiment.

Freedom is essential – bloggers on indie networks are likely to post whatever the heck they like, whenever they like it, at whichever frequency they want. They will cross-post their stuff wherever else they may be online – from other blogging networks, to personal blogs, to Facebook. They will post some kick-ass science, of course, but they will also cover a lot of personal stuff. And when I say ‘personal’, I don’t mean ‘private life’, I mean using their personal experiences and views to discuss all sorts of things, from scientific findings, to life in academia and careers in science, to politics and religion. They will get into vigorous debates and occasional blog-wars. But they will also use their community spirit to accomplish important stuff, from getting a political appointee hired or fired, to having a media article corrected, to having a paper retracted, to having a successful fundraising action for someone who needs it.

They may make all the decisions as a collective, or there may be a benevolent dictator at the helm, usually the tech-savvy person who runs the server, who is likely to be very responsive to the community.

The indie networks can also be very nimble. There is no paperwork, no dinosaurian CFOs to appease. They can completely redesign the homepage in a few hours, just to do it all over again the next day. They can fix technical glitches in five minutes, not five months. As the Web is changing, they can swiftly change with it. If one day everyone abandons Twitter for some other new shiny thing, the site can start reflecting that over night. Which is why they will always run circles around the corporate networks.

Most of them do not now (except for Science 2.0, as far as I know), and probably never will, have any advertising and any income. Bloggers write for free, and the benefits are intangible – being a part of a community, and as such, being able to further one’s goals (e.g., science education) better than being alone (and no, Blogger and WordPress are not networks, they are software). It will be interesting to see if and how dynamics change if some of these indie networks start advertising and making money – will that change the internal dynamics as well as the outward-facing image?

Indie networks tend to be very interested in building and maintaining diversity – both in the traditional meaning of the term, e.g., gender, race, age, ethnicity, geography, and the more science-blogging focused sense of diversity, e.g., scientific disciplines, topics, formats, styles and voices. It is a difficult thing to accomplish, but they constantly think about it and try to do better all the time.

Indie networks are probably rather easy to join – friendly bloggers and commenters just need to apply, and the procedure is probably quite simple and easy. Thus, cooperatives may grow to be quite big over time. As the sense of community is essential, cooperatives will be joined by friends. This may seem cliquish from the outside, but it is important for the long-term health and survival of the network. On the other hand this may be an undoing for some networks in the future, as friends get in a fight….time will tell.

Without a big corporate brand behind them, there is no telling how long these networks will last. A couple of years or a couple of decades? Or longer? Will the complete archives be saved for posterity once the network dies?

And looking from the outside, what kind of image will these collectives garner? Probably as a fun and rambunctious bunch, smart people who can explain science very well, but who are also all quintessentially human, the good and the bad of it. The new collectives have no established brand to improve or tarnish – they are building their own new brands from scratch, and the brand will be defined by the self-selected and friend-selected bloggers themselves, by what they do, by their voices. No long-term strategy writ in stone – just keep blogging and the branding will evolve on its own.

Corporate-owned networks

Why would a media company want to host a science bloggers network? Good question!

I think they learned from Seed (and they are now rushing into the vacuum left by the implosion of Seed after PepsiGate, whereas they would have suffocated if they tried to do much with bloggers before). Of all the endeavors that Seed Media Group tried, only Scienceblogs.com was successful and survived. Bloggers are so much cheaper to pay for their writing than are professional writers and journalists. An online-only plaftorm is so much cheaper to run than printing a magazine or a newspaper. And bloggers are so much more fun, they bring traffic and deliver the eye-balls to the advertisers.

Bloggers are also useful in another sense. The audience has become more enlightened over the past couple of decades. The readers are bored and unhappy with, and grew mistrustful of traditional, formulaic, impersonal, “view from nowhere”, “he-said-she-said” writing. Once they discovered bloggers, why would they ever want to go back to the dry matter? Especially if they discovered expert, trustworthy bloggers who both know their stuff much better than journalists do AND are much more fun to read. You know where they are coming from, and you know you can trust them (and why), and you establish a relationship with the personality of the blogger. There is a bond that just does not exist between a reader and a professional journalist who is just a name under the headline, not a real person. What’s there not to like?

So, launching a blogger network is a good idea – a sign that the media house is trying to keep up with the times, to evolve, to remain relevant. To do something a little bit risky and experimental. But not too risky and experimental….

Well, there is this thing called The Brand. The Image. Many of those companies have been around for years, decades, even centuries. The Guardian, Wired, Nature, National Geographic, Scientific American, Discover, Discovery Channel, Psychology Today, The New Scientist, Animal Planet, etc. – old and popular brands all. They have carefully built up their brands over time. Having a bunch of unruly bloggers change that image over a short period of several months is a disconcerting idea.

So, what is one to do? Make the network small, and carefully pick the bloggers, choosing the people who are the least likely to do something provocative and tarnish the brand. Go safe.

I can just imagine a committee meeting in every single one of those companies these days. Someone suggests “How about PZ Myers, Ben Goldacre or Orac? They are hugely popular and have enormous traffic to bring to our site. A sure win?” To which the others in the room start rolling their eyes…. “Uhm, I love these guys, but they are just too risky for us. We’d gain a lot of traffic, but also alienate a lot of people. And our legal department (if we have one) would constantly be busy dealing with libel suits and death threats and such, which we cannot afford. Can we find someone safer?”

Yes, the most popular bloggers became so by being fun. And they are fun because they are provocative and uncontrollable. And a corporation needs control over the image. So how do you accomplish that?

Being a brand, you start looking for people whose names are also brands. Being a media entity, the biggest brands in your mindset are a) people who are well known science writers and journalist who also blog. You may also consider b) people who are well known in the world of science and academia, who also blog. Finally, you may also consider c) people who are well known in the world of blogging, who may also be scientists or, even better, who may be interested in a career as science writers/journalists and are thus very self-conscious about their own reputation as calm, impartial and even-handed.

Ideally, you will find people who are spanning two or all three of those worlds. But such people are rare, and probably already taken by your competitors. Or due to heavy competition, they may get too expensive for you.

So you start going down the list… and find journalists whose writing you admire, in a journalistic sense, but who may not have any experience with blogging and you are just hoping would eventually adopt the bloggy style and understand the blogging norms and mores. You give them the training wheels and hope they learn to ride the bike really fast.

What you are probably not looking at are youngsters – n00b bloggers who may actually have the greatest enthusiasm and spunk – but they have no brand names yet. Perhaps your company just does not have anybody who is intimately familiar with the vast science blogosphere beyond the Usual Suspects, someone who has been reading hundreds of science blogs for years, so you do not even know any of those young ‘uns.

And in this conservative approach – looking for ‘safe’, uncontroversial, respected bloggers who are good writers – you are likely to forget about diversity and end up with a ridiculously white, male, middle-aged lineup. And the next millisecond after the celebratory launch of your brand new network, you will have a PR disaster on your hands…blogosphere is very sensitive to this and will punish instantly.

It is interesting to look at this from the point of view of a blogger. If you are paid $200 per month or $100 or zero, you expect to have zero editorial control over you, total freedom to use the blog any way you wish, and total freedom to cross-post or mirror your content wherever the heck you want.

But if you are paid substantially more, you mentally start thinking of your blogging as “a job”. You start writing more professionally. You dig deeper into the literature and documents before writing your posts. You fact-check your own ass more thoroughly before posting. You clean up your language (including not using the word “ass” in the previous sentence). You resist getting into blogwars. You start valuing your own work more, so the idea of mirroring that paid content onto other free places where you also blog (personal blog, co-op network, Facebook) becomes less attractive – you WANT to separate your more professional work from your rants. You want all the traffic to go to the place where you are paid (especially if the payment scheme is linked to pageviews). You may link to it from all sorts of other online places, but you do not want to duplicate it in places that do not pay.

If you are paid substantially, and start thinking of your blogging in a more professional light, you will probably also be much more cognizant of the inert bureaucracy of a large corporation and much more tolerant of its slowness. If you understand that everything requires paperwork and approval by several levels of corporate hierarchy, you may fume inside, but you are less likely to protest loudly (and publicly, on your blog) if a glitch takes five months to fix instead of five minutes. It will take a lot of accumulated grievances for you to finally explode. And if you are paid very little (think Seed) or nothing (think Nature Network), then there is nothing stopping you from getting mad at your host in a very public manner. It is not your job, you are not an employee, in other words the host is there to serve you, not the other way round.

The lesson for all the new media-run networks: pay your bloggers well and they will naturally behave professionally and will not tarnish your brand.

I should clarify that “pay your bloggers well” is not necessarily to be taken literally. The pay can be in $$, but it can also be (entirely or partially) in other ways – have the bloggers associated with a very prestigious brand (yours, if you are lucky to have one), treat your bloggers as professionals, as celebrities, give them a lot of support, give them perks (e.g., exclusive right to use your image/sound/video archives), promote them, help them get their best stuff published in your magazine, give them inside information, send them to conferences on your dime (e.g., to ScienceOnline or Science Online London), etc. – some of those intangibles are worth as much or more than cold cash in the mail arriving once a month. If you cater to their whims, including fast and competent technical support, bloggers will be proud of their association with you and will do their best not just to produce quality work, but also to promote your brand wherever they go online and offline. It’s worth it.

More on the topic – long musings:

A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem
Thank You
Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How
Links ‘n’ Thoughts on emerging science blogging networks

More on the topic – additional links:

Is this something that NYTimes editors proudly allowed to get published?
Ha! We got cartooned (again).
Welcome Scientopia, a new science blogging network
Bloggers, Evolving
Weekend Readings
Quick Links
Quick Links 2
Quick Links 3
Quick Links 4

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Does the future of science publishing depend on the future of science blogging?

Scientific blogging as a model for professional networking online

Science’s experiment in publishing

Blog post echos echo chamber question from Journal of journalism study

Cooking in a Sauna?

Charlie Rose and the Mentally Ill Brain

Old Armenian Shoe Raises Hope for Archaeology in PLoS ONE

Another publisher stonewalls on how he screwed up

Book Review: The Invisible Gorilla

On the Dissertation Care Package

The ethics of data release

I probably shouldn’t say this: I have become concerned about Miley Cyrus.

Are There Different Types of Female Orgasm?

The scientist and the anarchist (part I) and The Scientist and the Anarchist – Part II

A Different Kind Of Reading: A Look at Four Enhanced E-books

Happy employees may be the key to success…for organizations

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Do Open Networks Threaten Brands? (Pt. 2)

Blogging: The skill that begets all others

5 things journalists should learn from bloggers

Another example of the power of blogging

Blaschko’s Lines

An Ancient Sea Monster’s Fearsome Fins

The heart of an octopus is a fickle thing…

Social Cognition in Polar Bears

Expedition records show severe orangutan decline

Why Russians Don’t Get Depressed

Bleached to Death

Megafauna meltdown and Step-dads from Hell

The Zen of Presentations, Part 34: Lessons from the blind

Argument from Authority vs. Trusting Experts

Scientific spectating

Non-traditional alternatives to grant funding

Ecology in Prison

Yay! J. Neuroscience Agrees with Me that ‘Supplementary Materials’ is BS and Ruining Science! and Supplemental materials or no? and More questions about supplemental materials and Disrupting with data.

The shroud of retraction: Virology Journal withdraws paper about whether Christ cured a woman with flu

It’s Going Too Fast — Can Embargoes Manage the Real-time Web?

You Are the Person You Are Now

What I know about Marc Hauser, the recently ‘investigated’ Harvard primatologist

It’s that time again: ‘Broken’ peer review and Let us not skip so lightly past censorship effects of bad peer review, Orac.

XMRV: Not in spooge

Smells From the Past: The Fulton Fish Market

Pro gamers head to Raleigh for showdown

Toward a better agriculture… for everyone

Stop wasting food, save the world’s energy

Millions Of Barrels Of Oil Safely Reach Port In Major Environmental Catastrophe

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Science Bloggers: Diversifying the news

The myth of scientific literacy

On writing and blogging

P ≠ NP and the future of peer review

A Conversation about Aggregators and Professionalism

More mainstream media evidence that presentation skills need to enter the 21st Century – looking at generational divides and why default Powerpoint won’t cut it.

Sleep Deprivation Affects Moral Fiber

Inception and the Neuroscience of Sleep

Mother Tigers Pass Down Territory to Their Daughters

Evaluating the Power of Social Cues in Public Encounters

The Evolution of Ecology

Eat Yer Spinach! …and other tales from Bangkok

Carnal Carnival, meta blogging, links

Just like the NBA, “Science” is a brand

How News Consumption is Shifting to the Personalized Social News Stream

The Virology of Christ and Biblical fever = influenza. You’re kidding me, right? and Biblical flu paper going bye-bye

Internet, schminternet

Tesla who? Gen Y and a Great Mind of the Past

A bootstrap of 1000 miles begins with a single step

Borgs or blogs? You decide!

Some Snails Prefer Doing It Anti-Chiral

Paleophysiology…LOVE IT!

The Turkey Connection

Canadian biotech will grow flu vaccine in RTP

A brief history of science, part 3

Know the history of your field, be it science or pottery

It’s the End of the Book As We Know It — and I Feel Fine

Ant synonyms and linguistics envy

Country Men Laud Stoicism and Suicide…

48 hours in Belgrade

100 Best YouTube Videos for Science Teachers

The Illustrated Guide to a PhD

Is The Child The Father of the Man?

Smart (and Stupid) Metering

Roundup! Work-life balance

The Right Way to Please the Base

Once again: It’s REPUBLICANS who caused America’s exploding debt

The Worst Ethics Scandal on Capitol Hill?

Paving the ancient desert

Another Word for Walking

A Chicago cop gets a new beat

NDM-1: Novel, global, complex and a serious threat

‘All we need now are hagfish.’= New Yorker cartoon insta-caption

Shrimp On Prozac Are None Too Cheerful

Wescott’s Wednesday Wrap Up

Neurodynamics and Everyday Biology join Scientopia, while Arthropoda and Cephalove join The Gam.

The Hauser collection:

Monkey business? 2002 Cognition paper retracted as prominent psychologist Marc Hauser takes leave from Harvard
Reading the Coverage of a Retraction: Failure to replicate is not evidence of fraud
Harvard morality researcher investigated for scientific misconduct
Hauser Of Cards
Marc Hauser, monkey business, and the sine waves of science
Marc Hauser misconduct findings
The Politics of Ideas : Hauser Gone Wild
Why science is self-correcting
What kind of problem is it when data do not support findings?

Carnal Carnival – everything you ever wanted to know about poop you will be able to learn in ten days from today

When people tweet on a late Saturday night, strange things can happen, including this – foundation of another science-themed blog carnival: The Carnal Carnival! Yup, it already has a homepage, and a list of hosts for 13 months in advance, and even a Twitter account.

What is The Carnal Carnival? A monthly collection of best blog posts covering, mostly from a scientific perspective, a variety of bodily functions, fluids and excretions that are usually not discussed in polite company over an elegant meal. But it is science! And it is important! And it is fun! And there is nothing that the Web has not already seen yet, as far as inappropriateness goes, so why not add some sense and some scientific rigor to these topics so people who search for strange words on Google end up actually learning something.

I volunteered to host the very first edition, here on this blog on August 20th in the morning, so you only have ten days to send in the entries.

The topic of the month is Poop! Yes, feces, excrement, frass, scat, droppings and everything about it. Let’s put together a complete online guide to every possible aspect of the topic, all in one place. Need ideas? Here are some:

How do you look for scat out in the field? What can it tell you: what animals are there, how many, where they are moving (perhaps tracking poop trails by satellite), what they are eating and how their digestive systems work? How about insect frass?

How and why various parasites use animal droppings as home during parts of their lifecycles? And what are dung beetles really doing?

Why some animals require time and privacy to poop, circling around, adopting un-natural postures, then straining (e.g., dogs, humans), while others can defecate on the run (have you seen horses pooping in mid-flight during jumping competition)? Penguin projectile pooping?

What determines the shape of the droppings? Why cows make pies, dogs and humans eject sausage-like objects, elephants and horses produce several large spherical droppings, while goats and rabbits make many little spheres? What determines color and smell?

What are the differences in anatomy and physiology of the large intestine in various vertebrates? How does a colon extract all that water from the digested material? Does that mechanism differ in animals that live in deserts and produce very dry poop versus animals that do not need to conserve water that much?

What is the physiological mechanism of defecation? What drugs and chemicals can affect it and how?

Paleontology and physical anthropology: what can we learn about extinct animals and ancient humans by studying coprolites?

Medicine (and veterinary medicine): when stuff goes wrong: causes and treatments of gas, excessive flatulence, incontinence, impacted colon (and cecum in horses), diarrhea, etc.

One word: coprophagy!

What is the best position for humans during the act of fecal excretion?

Anthropology, archeology and ethnography: historical and geographical differences in attitudes toward human (and animal) excrement.

Technology: from doing it in the woods to burying in holes in the ground to open pits to outhouses to squating toilets to sitting WCs to high-tech gizmos that sing to you and diagnose diseases from your poop. How do astronauts do it in zero gravity?

More technology: history and geographical variation in methods for getting rid of human waste. Comparative study of sewers of Great Cities.

Agticulture, environment and epidemiology: use of animal and human waste as fertilizer. Environmental effects of human waste and hog lagoons. How does fecal matter get into the food system and what can happen then? Open communal pits as sources of disease.

Have you read fiction, non-fiction or poetry that focuses on some aspect of poop? Review it!

If you have already written blog posts on these or related topics, send them in – old posts are welcome. If you have not, but have interest or expertise in something like this, you have ten days to send the permalinks of your posts to me at carnivalcarnal AT gmail DOT com (or, this month only, to Coturnix AT gmail DOT com).

If you have posts on other topics concerning strange bodily functions – check the schedule of hosts and topics for the next year and send the appropriate posts at appropriate times.

Quick Links

Busy right now, more posts later today, for now, read these posts:

Hannah Waters: Young or otherwise inexperienced science bloggers: where do we fit in?

Greg Laden: The post-Pepsiblawg world looks a lot like the pre-Pepsiblawg world

David Crotty: Letting The Inmates Run the Asylum: Are Blogging Networks Compatible with Publishing Business Plans? and response by John Rennie: Do Open Networks Threaten Brands? (Pt. 1)

P.H. Lane: Science-Speak

Kate: On the construction of an online identity

Gerty-Z: Benefits of obscurity?

Jennifer Ouellette: we can haz diversity?

Vivienne Raper: Cry about skeptics and let slip a Member Of the Public

Dave Wescott: BlogHer Recap: More Studies Needed

Dan Gillmor: Google-Verizon plan: Why you should worry

Alison Stein Wellner: Big Emotion, Small Stream — and Why I’m Not a Journalist Anymore

Mallary Jean Tenore: Coffeeshop Newsrooms Yield Stories, Sources, Understanding of Journalism and Kelly Poe: Coffee and journalism: friends or foes?

Links ‘n’ Thoughts on emerging science blogging networks

New Science Blogging Networks

It is gratifying to note that many people seem to have carefully read my post about the new science blogging ecosystem and the new networks (it was linked a lot over the past week on other blogs and social networks). I see some of those ideas either discussed or already implemented by various new and old networks.

Scientopia (follow them on Twitter) started off with a Bang, garnering a lot of attention and immediately producing tons of great content by excited and reinvigorated bloggers.

The emergence of Scientopia did not obscure, if anything it actually highlighted, the rapid growth of other self-governing blogging collectives. Lab Spaces had an exciting week of growth and blogging. One of my favorite new-ish blogs, C6-H12-O6, is only one of the blogs to recently move to Field Of Science network. Users of Science3point0 site are starting up their blogs there as well. And The Gam also has two great new additions – John McKay of Mammoth Tales and Chuck of Ya Like Dags?.

The corporate networks are slower – that is the nature of the beast – but they are coming soon, quite a few of them. There is a new Twitter account called GuardianScienceBlogs, with just one tweet to date: “We’re coming soon…”. Interesting times…

‘Explainers’

One of the things I mentioned in my post was a need to collect, collate and organize bloggy material in ways that makes it more long-lasting and useful, especially for people who are new to a particular topic and who need a quick introductory or refresher course in order to be able to follow the ongoing discussions.

Two blogs have tried to do experiments along these lines this week.

On their shiny new blog Child’s Play, Melody Dye and Jason Goldman had a whole week worth of posts on a single topic: pros and cons and confusions regarding the “cookie” test for measuring delayed gratification in children. Then they collected the links to all of their posts (as well as a couple of good posts by other bloggers) in one place which you can bookmark, and which Melody and Jason can keep linking back to in the future, perhaps even have a link to it handy somewhere on the sidebar so it is easy find.

Ed Yong did something a little bit different. He capitalized on his spot at Discover, thus his right to use Discover images and slideshows, to put together a collection of brief explanations, each linking to one or two of his older posts, all about Bacteria living in or on us and other animals – the Microbiome. It looks really nifty! Interesting times…

Bloggers saving magazines

It is brilliant and innovative bloggers like Ed (and others, yes, Carl, Phil, Sheril, Chris, Sean, etc.) who saved Discover magazine, or so it seems, as it managed to sell for more than $1 (paid last week for Newsweek) for a small but still respectable sum guessed to be around $7 million. In the times when magazines are folding or selling for nothing, this is nothing to sneer at, and it is the online part of it – their blogging network – that saved their skin. Which is why pretty much every popular science magazine is now expanding, building or considering building a blogging network of their own right now. Interesting times…

Diversity

Yes, I wrote at length about this in my post last week. But this does not stop the blogosphere from discussing the issue as well, and it shouldn’t – this needs to be dicsussed. See these interesting and enlightening comment threads at ScientistMother and DrugMonkey.

The fact is that most of the networks (see the blogrolls of Scientopia, Lab Spaces, Field Of Science, even Scienceblogs.com…) have around 50% or more female bloggers, and also bloggers spanning a wide range of ages (and countries, as long as they all speak the same language, usually English, but check my Blogroll on the right for other examples), but are sorely lacking in the non-White department. This reflects the situation in science as a whole.

As I am privy to many back-channel conversations, I know for a fact that all of these networks have tried really hard to attract minority bloggers. There are just a handful of obviously and openly non-White science booggers out there, and I am sure they all got inundated by invitations. And as I noted in my post, they had very good reasons to be reluctant to join, even when invited by their long-term bloggy friends and commenters. It will be interesting to see if the corporate networks coming up soon will have better luck.

But the bottom-line is: do not blame the networks for being all-White as they are trying really hard not to be, and do not blame the minority bloggers for being reluctant at this point in time to join networks, as they have quite legitimate reasons for this. Once the situation in science changes, and the situation in the science blogiverse starts reflecting it, there will be many more minority bloggers and the problem of ‘tokenism’ will slowly disappear (we all hope) as they will know they are naturally included in the community anyway, so why not join networks as well.

A much more interesting is the case of diversity of disciplines. As much as all the nascent networks are trying, they apparently cannot attract any Earth Science bloggers or Ocean Science bloggers to their networks. This makes them seem bio-medically biased despite their efforts not to be.

Ocean bloggers have happily built their own community around Deep Sea News blog and Southern Fried Science blog, and The Gam network, and the Carnival of the Blue. They feel no need to join other networks since they have their own, and it is quite visible and well-known outside of their narrow circle – the MSM watches them as well.

On the other hand, geobloggers appear to feel similar to the minority bloggers – always sidelined, always misunderstood, always invited as tokens, always playing the second fiddle and being a second thought. So they are circling the wagons and trying to build their own community. Read carefully the comment thread on this post on Highly Allochthonous and listen to the podcast. They are building their own network, have built a comprehensive RSS feed and all participate in the Accretionary Wedge blog carnival. But they are sorely missing from the networks! So again: do not blame the networks for not having geobloggers (they tried hard to invite them), and do not blame geobloggers for saying no to invites (they have legitimate reasons for that as well).

What some have not read in my post, perhaps, was the “exclusivity” subheading – at this day and age, a network (unless paying enormous amounts of money to the bloggers) cannot ask for exclusivity. Why not have different blogs in various places? A solo blog for ranting, plus a couple of blogs on a couple of networks – perhaps one blog on a community network for the feeling of belonging to a community, and another blog on a corporate network that pays: where you write your most professional stuff. You can even mirror the same content everywhere so you do not have to write 3-4 times as much. This is nothing new – there are a number of bloggers out there who are already writing several blogs in several places (Grrrlscientist and DrugMonkey and Jason Goldman and Dr.Isis immediately come to mind).

There is nothing wrong with having topic-focused networks, but there is no need to be only there and not help generalist networks also showcase your discipline. Or as Grant Jacobs wrote: Blogging groups, lighten up and enjoy your niche! (the text of the post is actually much smarter than the title). More the merrier, in terms of networks, does not just mean pure numbers, it also means diversity of approaches to building networks. So go forth and experiment.

To join or not to join, that is the question

I am not going to be the one to tell you how to blog or why to blog.

But I am a little disconcerted (especially after explaining the difference in painstaking detail in my farewell post – if you link to it, please link to it here, not on Sb, thanks) that a lot of people still do not see the difference between being solo and being on a network. Comments like “URL is an URL” drive me up the wall because they reveal clear lack of understanding of how the Web works.

So I am not going to tell you if YOU should join a network or not – it is up to you and your own blogging goals, but will just try to explain again what is the difference between being on and off a network.

Perhaps we can start by reading (especially the comment thread which is revealing – the post itself is excellent and thoughtful) this post at FemaleScienceProfessor. Then also read the post and comments at Academic Jungle (perhaps also this one) as well.

FSP nicely looks at several factors (that many commenters seem to miss) that play into a decision to join a network, including increased traffic, belonging to a community (see this post as well), change in the type of audience (see this comment) and potential loss of independence.

These factors are more or less important depending on who you are. If you are a FemaleScienceProfessor, or a Larry Moran, or a Rebecca Skloot, or a Jerry Coyne, or a Cliff Johnson or a Deborah Blum, or heck, even me, you can probably afford to go solo. These bloggers have been around forever, they are well known online and offline, they have built over the years a large audience (and probably nice traffic), and they are read by at least a few people in the MSM – the ‘visibility’ factor that FSP did not mention.

But even for bloggers like these, by not being on the network they have to rely for visibility only on their direct traffic, and not the indirect visibility that comes from co-bloggers on the network and the extended visibility that comes from the virtue of MSM monitoring networks quite closely. Whenever a solo blogger needs to have a message spread more widely than the usual crowd, they need to resort to e-mails, tweeting, begging big bloggers for a link, sending stuff to carnivals, etc. Those things come spontaneously and effortlessly for networked bloggers. So if your blogging often requires that as many people as possible see something you posted in order to get important information out or to effect some action (perhaps even to affect policy), being on a network is a good idea. If not, then going solo is just fine.

What if you are not a Skloot or a Coyne? What if you are a young grad student who just started a blog? Not well known online, not well known offline. You can keep posting and trying not to quit just because nobody is commenting. You can keep commenting on other blogs. You can keep linking to other blogs. You can keep posting links to your posts on social networks like Twitter and Facebook and trying to follow/friend as many other science bloggers as you can there. You can keep sending your stuff to carnivals and occasionally hosting one. All in the hope that one day somebody will finally notice you and recognize your writing greatness. And when that happens, what form will that recognition have? Probably an invite to a network!

And these days, as The Usual Suspects are either happily remaining on Sb or NN or Discover, or moving en-masse to Scientopia, or quickly getting poached by other media-hosted networks, there are just not enough of them to go around. So all the new and growing networks are now searching for new talent to fill their blogrolls. This is a good time to be good and productive on your blog if you want to join a community.

What is important for you? If it is editorial independence and a belonging to a community, you should join a blogging co-op. Less likely your stuff will show up in Google News, but still an increase in visibility and reach.

If you are a professional writer or want to become one, you need to go to a place where you can showcase your best writing in the hope of getting noticed. You may get paid or not on a corporate network, you may not have 100% freedom to post whatever you want (especially if you are paid a lot – this become more of a professional job than just personal diary and ranting), but you will be seen by people who are potentially in a position to offer you a gig or a job or a book deal, people like those who read and write KSJ and CJR and NASW and editors of pop-sci magazines and science pages in newspapers.

A co-op is likely to be fast and nimble and flexible and will evolve quickly as the Web evolves. A corporate network is likely to be much more traditional, cautious and timid, and will change very slowly (several layers of bureaucracy, tons of paperwork, etc., so things like moving a widget from left sidebar to right sidebar may take five months to happen instead of five minutes: corp-time, not blog-time). But the corporate network is much more likely to be stable and long-lasting and not die off when some key person suddenly loses interest. So there are pros and cons and compromises in each case.

So it is up to you to decide what are your own best options. It may be going solo. It may be joining a blogging cooperative. Or it may be joining a corporate network. Or, as I said above, do all of it at once and take the best of all worlds.

Tentative conference schedule for Fall 2010

For various reasons, mostly financial, I had to say No to a number of invitations to meetings throughout the summer (including, unfortunately, the Lindau Nobel conference and Science Online London). But in Fall I will be busy again. This is the tentative schedule. Let me know if you will be at any of these meetings so we can meet up there.

August 21st, 2010, Raleigh NC. Science Communication Conference at the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh. See the organizing wiki (Note: I was somewhat involved in advising during the early stages of organization, will attend but will not be on the podium – as it is an Unconference, I am likely to speak up from my comfy chair in the audience). Edit: I will give the Concluding Note at the end….

September 14th, 2010, Boston MA. 140 Characters Conference. I am currently on the “reserve” list in case one of the targeted bigwigs declines the invitation. If given a chance, I will talk about real-time science communication online.

September 16th, 2010, Raleigh NC. PechaKucha Raleigh #4. I will not speak, but intend to attend. The #3 was excellent.

September 23-24th, 2010, Chicago IL. Block by Block: Community News Summit 2010 organized by Michelle McLellan and Jay Rosen, about community news online. I accepted the invitation but am not sure yet about the format and if I am expected to say something from the front or the back of the room. I am assuming that I was invited at least in part due to the local science coverage efforts here in NC, especially Science In The Triangle.

October 1st-2nd, 2010, Greensboro NC. ConvergeSouth. Very tech and business oriented this year, under a new management. But still an occasion to meet my Triad friends.

November 3-4, 2010, Greenville SC. 2010 Conference on Communicating Science. I will do the session “New Tools for Communication (Use of “New” Media)” on the 4th in the morning.

November 5-9th, 2010, New Haven CT. ScienceWriters2010 co-organized by National Association of Science Writers and Council for the Advancement of Science Writing’s New Horizons in Science Briefings®. I will be a part of a panel on November 6th, Rebooting science journalism: Adapting to the new media landscape, together with Emily Bell and Betsy Mason, organized and moderated by David Dobbs.

December 2-4th, 2010, Raleigh NC. W.M.Keck Center for Behavioral Biology Alumni meeting. As I am an alumnus, I will definitely attend to see all my old friends from grad school and am also likely to give a talk about Open Access.

And then, it’s ScienceOnline2011 crunchtime….

dit

Weekend Readings

From around the blogosphere:

Brian Switek: Back In The Saddle

Chris Rowan: The dawn of Scientopia and the evolving science blogging ecosystem

Thomas Hager: Science Blogging Uncovered

Tabitha M. Powledge (NASW blog): On science blogs this week: Deconstruction

FemaleScienceProfessor: Metablogging Interlude

Alexey Bersenev: Scientific blogging as a model for professional networking online

David Orr: Mesozoic Blogosphere

Eva Amsen: Sci Foo – blogging session

Welcome Scientopia, a new science blogging network

Today is an exciting day in the science blogiverse. There is a new science blogging network, a self-managed bloggers’ cooperative – Scientopia (from the press release):

Scientopia.org will launch a new blogging collective to educate and entertain anyone interested in eclectic voices of science on Monday 2 August at 1000 EDT.

Scientopia.org unites multifarious voices from the scientific community to discuss anything and everything that catches their fancy. There are a lot of science blogs out there, and a lot of science blogging networks. When the networks run with commercial interests in mind, the priorities of the bloggers and readers can get lost. Some bloggers began to wonder: what would happen if the bloggers and their readers came first? From this discussion sprung Scientopia.org.

We invite the world to ponder, argue, converse, and laugh along with us.

Each blog is produced by an individual or group that retains complete editorial control of its own content. Some bloggers are moving from other networks; others are creating new blogs.

This will be very exciting to watch. They are launching with 24 blogs with 30 bloggers, about half of whom were at some point in the past blogging at Scienceblogs.com, and thus have the “stamp of approval” by a media company. The others, by virtue of being invited to join the collective, automatically also get that ‘stamp of approval’ from their peers.

This is already a pretty large network and will be adding new bloggers later, so it will be interesting to see how the experiment works with the bottom-up instead of top-down approach to management. They have devised good mechanisms for dealing with various foreseeable problems, and for things like deciding collectively about invitations and acceptance of new bloggers.

The Scientopia network is more than a collection of individuals: it’s a scientific community. It serves the common goals of sharing our love of science, while respecting the diverse interests of its members. At Scientopia, the community — of bloggers and readers, engaging with science and each other — is not a side effect. It’s the whole point.

The theme of a few of my recent posts – that the science blogosphere is changing from one large volcanic island to a whole archipelago of equally interesting and powerful islands – seems to be unveiling as predicted. Unlike networks run by companies, the coop could act fast as they did not need committee meetings, CEO approvals, endless Excel sheets and such – they took only three weeks from the original idea to launch.

And while many excellent science bloggers remain on Scienceblogs.com (and if you have thin skin for discussions of politics and religion you can always skip the “Politics” category or subscribe only to the “Select” feed and be floored as to how much kick-ass science blogging there is at Sb), the appearance of another big network full of well-known personalities of the science blogosphere, provides us all with another place to go.

Scientopia also has its own Twitter account and you should subscribe to their RSS feed.

The bloggers who are starting at Scientopia at the day of the launch are probably most or all already very familiar to you. Here are their old and new URLs so you can check them all out:

Janet D. Stemwedel has moved Adventures in Ethics and Science from here to here.

Ethan Rop will launch a new blog – Attack Polymerase.

Former blogger from Neurotopia, Scicurious, has moved Neurotic Physiology from here to here.

Elizabeth Brown, Dorothea Salo, and Sarah Shreeves have moved their Book of Trogool from here to here.

Candid Engineer has moved from here to here.

Arlenna has moved Chemical BiLOLogy from here to here.

Jason Goldman will continue to blog at The Thoughtful Animal on Scienceblogs, but has also teamed up with the awesome Melody Dye for a new blog Child’s Play.

Christina Pikas has moved Christina’s LIS Rant from here to here.

DrugMonkey and PhysioProf (while keeping their personal rants here and here), have moved DrugMonkey Blog from here to here.

Rob Knop, who used to be on Scienceblogs ages ago (see) has moved Galactic Interactions from here to here.

Mark Chu-Carroll has moved Good Math/Bad Math from here to here.

Professor in Training has moved from here to here.

Prof-Like Substance has moved from here to the newly renamed The Spandrel Shop.

Sanitized for Your Protection is a new blog by Rebecca Montague.

Greg Gbur, better know around the blogoshere as ‘drskyskull’ or ‘gg’ has moved Skulls in the Stars from here to here.

Dr.Isis will continue to blog on her site at Scienceblogs.com but has also started a new blog – The Brain Confounds Everything.

Mike Dunford has moved The Questionable Authority from here to here.

Krystal D’Costa of Anthropology in Practice has added her second blog – The Urban Ethnographer.

Grrrlscientist who you probably know from her old Sb blog, and perhaps from her NN blog Maniraptora, has teamed up with her husband Bob O’Hara (who you may know from Deep Thoughts and Silliness) to start a new (ad)venture: This Scientific Life.

Suzanne Franks has moved Thus Spake Zuska from here via here to here.

Once upon a time, Voltage Gate was also on Scienceblogs. Heather, Jeremy and Jennifer have now moved it from here to here.

PalMD has moved White Coat Underground from here through here to his brand new digs here.

PH Lane is moving from Golden Thoughts to WhizBang.

As you may notice, my blog is not on that list. While this network looks great, I have decided to remain solo for a while and promote all the new and renewed networks springing up, and promote good science blogging in general. Good luck to all my bloggy friends on this endeavor.

Best of July

I posted only 71 times in July – the all-time low. But there is a reason for that – first there was a great reduction in posting between the moment the Pepsi blog was announced on Scienceblogs.com and the moment I left Scienceblogs about ten days later. Then, since the move, my blog changed – all sorts of daily or near-daily features are now gone. No more pressure to post frequently. My blog is again my own, and I post when I want to and not when I feel like I should.

But I would like to think that reduction in quantity will not mean a reduction in quality. I passed the 10,000 post mark in July but expect it would take much more than four years to double that number again. And I think I did post some interesting stuff last month despite all the crises.

The Big Event of the month was the so-called PepsiGate and the subsequent rearrangement of the science blogging (and scienceblogging) community. I collected the initial reactions in the PepsiGate linkfest. Then wrote a thorough history and analysis of the current moment in my goodbye post at Scienceblogs.com – A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem. This was followed by a ruminating Thank You post which inluded many more links to the subsequent reactions. And then I turned my sights to the future and wrote a Free Guide to Building a Successful Science Blogging Network in Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How. A particularly bad article on the event in NYTimes Magazine provoked a lot of responses, which I collected all in one place. Oh yes, we also got cartooned (again) about all of this.

These rapid changes motivated many science bloggers and writers to do some reminiscing – you can see some of those in Bloggers, Evolving.

Since I could not do all the blogging myself, I asked for some help and got this wonderful contribution: UC Berkeley Genetic Testing Affair: Science vs Science Education – guest post by Dr.Marie-Claire Shanahan

I got interviewed, and re-posted the interview on my blog – about science, animal research, ethics creep, and more – Seven Questions….with Yours Truly.

I had more time to read books, so I reviewed ‘On The Grid’ by Scott Huler and ‘The Poisoner’s Handbook’ by Deborah Blum.

We self-organized the Zombie Day on Scienceblogs.com, for which I re-posted my old Revenge of the Zombifying Wasp and wrote a new one – Are Zombies nocturnal? (so yes, there was some actual science on the blog in July).

The series of Q&As with the participants of ScienceOnline2010 continues, with contributions from Anne Frances Johnson, William Saleu and Stephanie Willen Brown.

Open Laboratory got a new Editor.

I answered the Blogging with substance meme and tried to collect the links to all the surviving Sciencey Blog carnivals.

Work-wise, I announced the PLoS ONE Blog Pick of the Month for June 2010.

July 2010 PLoS ONE Blog Pick of the Month….

….was just announced on the everyONE blog.

Origins of Science Writers…but am I one?

The other day, Ed Yong asked science writers, journalists, bloggers and communicators to write their ‘origin stories’, i.e., how they got into science writing plus advice to people who are interested in pursuing this line of work. He received 100 comments so far which is (almost) 100 responses, from some of the top science writers in the world. I find the entire thread fascinating!. In the end I could not resist, so I posted my own comment, reproduced (with mild edits) here:

I think I need to look at the influence of my family. My grandmother was Czech. She got a degree in Philosophy at the University of Prague (at the same time as Franz Kafka and Max Brod). My grandfather came to Prague from Sarajevo, Bosnia. He received two degrees at the University of Prague: in architecture and in civil engineering. The two met at the University, fell in love, and upon graduating got married and settled in Sarajevo where my grandfather designed and built a number of buildings, some of which (including the first skyscraper in the Balkans) are now under protection as cultural and historical monuments. Being a part of elite circles of Sarajevo, they lived under the illusion they were safe. Thus, unlike their siblings who fled the city (and even the country) at the beginning of WWII, they were caught by the Nazis and placed in the concentration camp where they perished close to the end of the war.

Through smart and fast action of some friends and relatives, their daughter (my Mom) was saved and many years later she wrote a wonderful piece about her memories of the War which was published in a book. At the end of the WWII, at the age of twelve, she was adopted by her uncle (her father’s brother) and brought to Belgrade (then Yugoslavia, now Serbia). Thus it is my great-uncle and great-aunt who were the “grandparents” I actually knew and grew up with. They both had a profound influence on me. She was a Czech-born ballerina, a world-famous ballet choreographer, and the founder of the first and (still to this day) most influential ballet school in Yugoslavia, in Belgrade. He was an Army colonel, with two degrees from the University of Prague: chemistry and chemical engineering. They were both world travelers and fluent in several languages.

My parents met at the University of Belgrade. My mother was studying English, and my father was studying Philology. They both also studied a variety of foreign languages. My mother taught English for a while, but spent most of her working career working in the depths of the Serbian government. My father, together with a few friends, owned the only printing press in Serbia right after the War. After it was nationalized, he worked as editor and copy-editor for various technical publications. Occasionally he would take me with him to the printers, where they treated him like God (“one of the last old-school copy-editors who does it right” they would tell me) and where I could stare for hours at the printing presses, marveling at the engineering, enjoying the sounds and the smells and smudges of ink on my fingers.

Needless to say, both our house and grandparents’ house were full of books (as is my house today). We were all big readers of books (I swallowed massive doses of science fiction as a teenager). And we were all big readers of newspapers and magazines as well. When I was very little, I would just read the comics page, the weekly kids section, the weekly nature section, perhaps the movie and TV schedules, but as I was growing up, I made sure to turn every page and read whatever piques my interest, which was more and more as I was getting older.

My father was a language perfectionist and he made sure my brother and I learned to speak and write perfect, grammatically correct Serbian. My mother made sure we were started on English as a foreign language early on (when I was about 5). My father was also a choir singer and taught us proper diction, which is why my favorite medium is radio.

Both our house and our grandparents’ house were always full of fascinating people. Theater people, of course, from opera singers to ballet dancers to directors to composers to conductors. Artists. Art photographers. Linguists. Mining engineers. Gay couples. Writers. Physicians. Journalists. A professor of anatomy at the vet school. A food scientist who spent her entire career doing research on chocolate. A philosophy professor who later got elected into Serbian Parliament and ran for President. Many an evening the guests stayed late into the night discussing politics and all sorts of other topics, with my brother and me allowed to stay up late and listen and soak up all of that interesting intellectual discourse.

I always loved animals and planned to do something with them, perhaps become a biologist or a veterinarian of some sort. But I was also always reading and writing and discussing stuff, so a career that involved the use of language was not an unthinkable proposition. And I had a brief stint in journalism – in my middle-school newspaper where my job was to draw doodles and line-drawings (usually of animals) as fillers of empty spaces. I translated two equestrian manuals from English to Serbian. And I bought hay and oats for my horse for a year using the money I earned translating Disney comic strips (Mickey, Donald…) for a weekly.

Life interfered – I was in vet school when the war broke out in 1991. I escaped the country a week before, on one of the last trains out before the borders closed, sanctions were imposed, and the country descended into a decade of chaos. I found myself in North Carolina and, after a couple of years of getting my bearings, decided not to pursue veterinary medicine any more, but to go back to basic science – biology at North Carolina State University.

After ten years of grad school, I realized that things I was good at – thinking, connecting ideas from disparate research traditions, designing clever experiments, observing animal behavior, animal surgery, discussing, teaching, placing my work in historical and philosophical context – were going out of fashion. Instead, biology was becoming more and more an exercise in things I was bad at – pipetting all day and running gels, following recipes, doing what I am told to, working at the bench in complete silence for 13 hours a day seven days a week, getting all secretive and competitive.

So I bailed out. While I was still finishing up my last experiments, I started blogging politics. When the Kerry/Edwards ticket lost in 2004, I switched to blogging about science. The rest is history.

While much of what I do these days has something to do with writing and publishing and the media, I still find it strange to think of myself as a science journalist. I don’t even blog about recent scientific papers very often any more. I write more meta-stuff, e.g., about science communication, science blogging, science journalism, science publishing, science education, media in general etc. I have not published any articles in legacy media and while I am open to that possibility, I am not actively doing anything to make that happen – I feel at home on the Web.

Yet just last week I was granted membership in the National Association of Science Writers (my initial application was rejected as they had to follow their old “printed on paper only” rules, but this prompted them to revisit and revise their rules to allow for online-only publications). So I guess I am now officially a science writer (and will be on a panel at the NASW meeting in November).

Advice? No idea what to say. I write what I feel the urge to write, and it seems some people like it and appreciate it. Perhaps that can work for others as well, I wouldn’t know.

Is this something that NYTimes editors proudly allowed to get published?

A certain Virginia Heffernan (not known for being a zealot about great accuracy) published a piece in the New York Times Magazine section that is probably the very worst ever written about Scienceblogs.com, about science blogging, about blogging in general, about science, and about journalism – Unnatural Science.

Not much to say there – fisking line-by-line would be a useless pursuit and would take too much time.

Brief summary: society is suffering because science is taking over and fuzzy thinking is in retreat; Scienceblogs.com = science blogs, but she wouldn’t know since she doesn’t read them (but can write about them nonetheless); bloggers are mean, especially to the poor innocent religious types; peak oil is not a serious problem; a few misquotes; an open admission that she does not care about journalistic ethics very much; suggested readings: Derrida and the biggest climate change denialist blog. ‘Nuff said.

But if you want to read more, check out excellent responses by Zen Faulkes, Jason Goldman, Scott Rosenberg, P.Z. Myers and David Dobbs. Update: Also see commentary by Chad Orzel, Tim Lambert, ERV, Daniel Lende, T. Ryan Gregory, John Wilkins, Dave Wescott, Mike the Mad Biologist, Paul Raeburn, Dave Winer, Steve Mount, Joe Romm, Kathy Gill, Cheryl Rofer, Sharon Astyk and David Orr. Update 2: Also Andrew Sullivan, Jamie Vernon, David Wescott, Zen Faulkes, Chad Orzel, Jason Rosenhouse, gfish and Brian Switek.

Bloggers, Evolving

Four stories today, each about bloggers and writers evolving and reminiscing about their trajectories as persons and as writers.

First out, my friend Anton Zuiker is celebrating his Tenth Blogiversary! Now that is a long blogging career! Happy blogiversary, Anton! On this occasion, Anton traces back his blogging history in a wonderful piece, and also links to a report about blogging he wrote all the way back in 2002 – Blog Together (the title of which later became the name of our local bloggers organization). Anton certainly bootstrapped the local blogging community!

I have used ecological metaphors to describe what just happened in the science blogosphere, but it takes an ecologist to really get that metaphor right. Delene certainly did, and added more thoughts about her own niche in that new ecosystem – Science blogs and ecosystem disturbance (Delene is also celebrating her blogiversary today – her first).

Over on HASTAC blogs, Cathy Davidson is wondering about her own blogging personality – Who Am I? The Multiple Personalities of a Blogger.

Finally, Ed Yong asked a bunch of science writers and bloggers to give their own stories how they became involved in science communication, and many of the most prominent ones have already responded (and you can, too) at On the Origin of Science Writers.

Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How

Continuing with the theme from my ‘farewell to scienceblogs‘ post, I want to do some more thinking, out in public, about the current changes in the science blogging ecosystem. This post is probably going to end up being just a set of meandering thoughts and I hope people continue the discussion in the comments.

So, let’s start with history and then see how it may illuminate the present.

Inception of the Scienceblogs.com model

In 2006, Scienceblogs.com grew from initial 14 to about 45 blogs. At the time, there were only a couple of hundred science blogs written in English. Thus, the proportion of science blogs that were on Sb was huge, perhaps as many as 10% of them all were hosted on the network.

In 2006, one could argue that blogs on Scienceblogs.com included some or most of the “best” blogs, as well as a representative sample. Seed certainly targeted blogs that were well written and reliable. And Seed definitely tried to collect a diversity of topics, formats, styles and voices.

But Seed also biased their sample in two important ways:

First, they, initially at least, invited bloggers who already, for the 2006 standards, had large traffic. This was definitely a good strategy – the one that made them an instant success in comparison to other (some even older) networks who tried to get non-bloggers to become bloggers (and popular at that) over night. By joining the Seed’s network, these already popular bloggers brought their readers with them, immediately increasing the visibility of the network and immediately increasing the readership of the other blogs on the network. In 2006, some (though not all) science bloggers with the largest traffic, got to be popular by regularly tackling controversial topics (medical woo, pseudoscience, creationism, politics, religion, global warming, etc.) or by giving voice to groups that were up till then invisible in the society and mainstream media (e.g., female scientists, graduate students and postdocs revealing how the world looks like from their perspective, atheists, etc.). Those topics are very important, but are not representative of the broader science blogosphere any more.

Second, Seed initially invited the bloggers who posted frequently. It is not a bad idea, when starting a new network, to make sure there will be plenty of new content appearing all the time. But that kind of frequent blogging style is more of an exception than the norm. Very few bloggers naturally post with the frequency of PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, Grrrlscientist, Greg Laden or myself. And especially in science blogging, writing a detailed, high-quality post about science takes some time, research and effort which most of us cannot summon every day, let alone multiple times a day.

The popularity and visibility of Sb led many people to think “Hey, I can do this” and today there are thousands of science blogs out there. This means that even with 80+ blogs on the network (as of couple of weeks ago, now around 60), the SciBlings represented only a tiny sliver of the science blogosphere, perhaps around 0.1% (totally inventing the numbers here, but these things – what is an active science blog, for example – are very difficult to define, track and calculate).

Over the four years, the science blogging ecosystem changed. Many of us blogging at Scienceblogs.com also changed. Some noticeably reduced their posting frequency (perhaps moving some of the formerly bloggy material over to Twitter or Facebook). Others changed their interests and topics – this is normal as people change and their blogs evolve. These days I blog about scientific papers quite rarely, but blog often about the ways the Web is changing the world of scientific publishing, science journalism, science communication and science education. I completely understand that people who were reading my blog four years ago may not find my current blogging interesting any more (and vice versa).

Thus, in 2010, the Scienceblogs.com stable is even less representative than in 2006. And with thousands of science blogs out there, many of them excellent, nobody can claim that the blogs on Sb are “the best” any more. Some are among the best, but there are many more “best blogs” in the world not on Sb. But as the Scienceblogs.com network was huge, and hugely visible, and hugely respected, and hugely watched by MSM, all those wonderful science blogs outside the network were essentially invisible, living in the shadow of Sb and hoping we’d link to them sometimes (which we tried to do often, but that is not enough). It is like in the Mesozoic – all those tiny little shrew-like mammals hiding in underground burrows and foraging for seeds at night, being unable to spread into any other niches because the big, dangerous dinosaurs are roaming around the land.


[Image source]

But as the ecosystem was changing, the dinosaurs started feeling a little ill (at least for the past year or so). And then at one point, a giant asteroid (with a Pepsi logo on it) hit the Earth and the giant dinosaurs went extinct.

Now, looking at what is happening at Sb today, I feel that the network will survive, at least for a while. But it will be a smaller, more nimble network in which bloggers have a much bigger voice. The series of defections, followed by the blogger strike, and the management’s response to it suggest that from now on bloggers will be very much calling the shots, as they are the only viable part of the enterprise. Bloggers on the network are all experts in (self)promotion or they would never have ended on Sb in the first place. They can come up with fascinating ideas how to promote the network – and themselves as a part of it – that no traditionally trained PR person can even imagine. So, if the new model for Scienceblogs.com will be more along the lines of Workers’ self-management (also see), then we may see a continued evolution and continued high relevance of this network in the future – after all, dinosaurs are still around us, and they are very beautiful and nimble, though small: we now call them ‘Birds’.

But in the meantime, while Sb is rethinking itself, it is obvious that its size and reputation is smaller. This suddenly opened up the space for many other players to come in. An adaptive radiation of mammals after the K-T boundary, if you will….


[Image source]

The Present

So, there is an awful lot of evolutionary experimentation going on right now. Existing networks are expanding and changing their technological architecture to accommodate the growth. Individual blogs are turning into group blogs. Group blogs are turning into blogging networks. Brand new networks are being built. There will be successes and there will be failures, but when everything settles down, we will probably see a very different environment. Instead of one large island, there will be an entire archipelago of smaller islands. And the new ecosystem requires a new behavior in it, and a new way of thinking about it.

Take a look at my Blogroll on the right – most of that list are various science blogging networks. Some are run by big newspapers (The Guardian), several by popular magazines (National Geographic, Wired, Scientific American, Psychology Today, as well as Burda in Germany), some by university programs for science journalism (Scienceline, Elements), some by scientific publishers (Nature), some by scientific societies (American Chemical Society) and several are self-governing blogger cooperatives (interestingly, often aggregated around a single topic). Each of these networks thus has a somewhat different goal, and a different ‘business model’.

What worries me is that so many of these networks are trying to copy what Seed did in 2006. Now, don’t get me wrong – as I stated in my farewell post, Seed did many things right. Christopher Mims who conceptualized, started and then ran the network for the first six months was a visionary – some of the things he did with scienceblogs.com are now so “normal” that nobody can think how it could possibly be done any differently. It is certainly a good idea for all the other networks to analyze what Seed did right and what Seed did wrong, then to apply those lessons to their own goals and concepts. But they should also realize it is not 2006 any more. Four years are a millennium in Internet Time. The world has changed.

What is the overall goal?

My assumption is that most science blogs are tools for communication, popularization and education of science. The goal is to turn the world (including the individual nations in it) into a “scientific” world, aka, into a reality-based world.

If you think of science communication as a series of concentric circles, at the center are data. The only readers capable of understanding raw data are computers. Once computers analyze and visualize data, those can be understood by experts. But just like dumping reams of data online by WikiLeaks does not make an impact, raw data in science also do not make an impact on their own. Just like WikiLeaks outsources story-telling to the Media, so data need someone to turn them into a story. Those stories, the next bigger concentric circles, are scientific papers, readable (as of now, but this may change) mainly by other people in the same scientific field. The discussions going on in the comments on the papers (and this will, over time, become more common-place as more journals adopt the practice and people get used to seeing it everywhere) are the next circle.

The next big step is to translate those papers and discussions into something that can be understood by people outside of the narrow discipline – the lay audience. That lay audience is also stratified. A scientist in one field is lay audience for another field, but is highly educated and tends to think like a scientist. Then there are generally well educated people who are interested in science. And then there are people who don’t even know if they would be interested in science. Thus, there need to be several different levels of presenting science to the lay audience. And there need to be both “pull” (for interested audience) and “push” (for not yet interested audience) strategies for disseminating scientific information.

The “pull” outlets are science-specific, e.g., dedicated science pages in newspapers, science channels on cable TV, science programs on radio, popular science magazines, popular science books, and science blogs. They are seen by people with interest in science, and easily avoided by those who don’t care. Such outlets span a range of levels, from kids to scientists in other fields. Communication in this outlets is generally pretty good, with bloggers doing a great job at pitching to somewhat higher levels – the educated audience that is very interested in science (including scientists in other fields). This is also the level that is not at all covered by any of the legacy media, and has been missing until recently.

The “push” outlets are general media that may throw a science story into the mix. Such stories can be in papers, magazines, radio, TV, movies, eclectic websites, etc. Such stories tend to be written by general reporters, not specialist science journalists, and thus tend to be awful. But it is the bloggers who do a great job correcting such stories and ‘schooling’ journalist who make mistakes (who may, if their egos allows them, listen and learn and get better).

Both the push and pull versions of the traditional media have a large audience. But bloggers still don’t. Congregating into networks is what turns bloggers into Media, makes them highly visible to the legacy media that will spread stories (or correct their own) and make their spread and reach much wider. Building blogging networks is an application of the use of the ‘network effect’ to make this effort more efficient, by giving the bloggers greater visibility both to casual Web surfers and to the traditional media. Just like WikiLeaks is a global, non-national, crowd-sourced media organization that needs legacy media to make an impact with their stories, so blogging networks are also global, non-national (usually), crowd-sourced media organizations that need to be visible by legacy media in order to have their stories spread widely enough to make an impact.

The mindset that the world is a competitive place, where one company or organization will win and the others will go bankrupt (think of VHS beating Betamax and V2000), is a 20th century mindset. Yes, Google is the best and most popular search engine, but there are others and those others still are used by millions of people who have their own, often good, reasons for making that choice. Today, an ecosystem in which multiple, perhaps many, producers of the same thing, coexist, collaborate, co-depend, is becoming more and more of a reality in more and more areas of life, from globalization of the world (One Remaining Superpower model is gone, if you have not noticed), to industry, to publishing, to the Web. And so it is with science communication, which includes, among else, science blogging networks – many, not just one.

Instead of one huge network, there will be a couple of dozen smaller ones. Sharing similar goals, the networks should be collaborative, not competitive. Each network should display widgets showcasing the most recent posts from all the other networks. There should be a central place that sends people to all the networks. There should be common offline events. There should be actions that all networks participate in. Any network that decides to stay out of these things would self-isolate. And just like the world itself is now interconnected and being isolated does not work for you very well (think: North Korea), so blogging networks are interconnected and being isolated will not work for you either – nobody pays attention to you, and when they do they do not say nice things about you, you cannot control your own message and cannot respond to other people’s messages.

What does it mean to be a blogger these days?

Four years ago, one’s blog was the main and probably only way to communicate online. Blogging networks being blogging networks made perfect sense.

But today, there are many other ways to communicate online. One may exchange information on Twitter, discuss it on FriendFeed, keep social connections alive with friends (and blog fans) on Facebook, post shorter ideas on Posterous, cartoons and videos and quotes on Tumblr, upload videos on YouTube, podcasts on Imeem, slideshows on Slideshare, travel photos on Flickr or Picassa, art on DeviantArt, sell art on Etsy or swag on Zazzle (or CafePress), publish books on Lulu.com, submit scientific manuscripts to PLoS journals, edit Wikipedia, review books on Amazon or Shelfari, and use the blog only for longer, original, well-researched or more thoughtful pieces.

Different people will use their blogs in different ways, for different purposes, but in most cases the blog is not the only means of communication. If you go to an independent blog, you will often see not just the content of the blog but also a whole host of buttons and widgets showing that person’s online (and offline, including professional) activities elsewhere. I just started playing with WordPress, but you can already see on the right sidebar my latest tweets, the FriendFeed widget, links to ScienceOnline and to the Open Laboratory books, and to the homepage where you can find all sorts of buttons leading you to other places I can be found online.

For some people, their blog is their central place and all the other activity is satellite. For others, the focus may be on their MSM work, or their books, or activity on Twitter, and blog is just one of many “other places” where they sometimes do something interesting.

I think new blogging networks have to take this reality into consideration. Be networks of interesting people, whatever they do, not just networks of blogs. Help them showcase everything they do, not just blogging. And if, for technological or managerial reasons, an individual blogger is not capable of showing exactly where the blog sits in their own online work, they will not like it, and they will leave. No way to put all those widgets on the sidebar? The blog then feels isolated from the rest of that person’s work instead of as an integral part of it. The person will feel as giving up too much of their own personal ecosystem for the good of the network’s ecosystem.

Accommodate people who are infrequent bloggers, but do other interesting stuff (i.e., no frequency requirements at all). Promote their videos, podcasts, photography, art, books… Have an easy-to-find list of all of your bloggers’ Twitter feeds.

But serious content, the kind people put on blogs, still needs to be central to the project. Otherwise, it is just another social network (one of several dozen failed “facebooks for scientists”). While networking is important, good content is more than important: it is essential. I am watching Science 3.0 these days – less than a month old, thus no established blogs there as yet, but an interesting concept of putting together everything the members do.

Also, consider a way to preserve some of the content longer than the fleeting moment of a blog post. Collect “Basics” posts in one place, or have the bloggers collaborate on building so-called “explainers” on various topics. Such explainers would contain material at different levels – from kids to expert and everything in-between, including raw data and scientific papers, all clearly marked as to who the intended audience is. Such explainers would be updated (perhaps by editing, wiki-style, with preserved history of editing) as new information comes in. Such pages would also contain links to all the blog posts that the network has produced on that topic, and bloggers would likely send their readers to the Explainer page whenever they blog about that topic again. Build something more lasting out of the bloggers’ work.

Mobility and Exclusivity

This is a unique moment in the history of science blogging networks. This is the only time when people leaving a network are regarded as “hot property” and are actively courted by other networks. Being a SciBling has a certain element of reputation that other networks are now trying to capitalize on. At least six or seven networks have talked to me so far and I have yet to give a strong Yes or a strong No to any one of them. May even go solo for a little while longer.

Also, until now, it was difficult to leave the network – you leave Sb to go where? Into the dark abyss of anonymity and invisibility. Thus many people hung on….

But once there is an archipelago of networks, each roughly equally visible and respected, it will be easy to move from one to another. You join one, try it out for a month or two and, if you don’t like it, move on to another one. Networks should anticipate this, and implement a mechanism for easy move of bloggers in and out.

While networks will provide visibility and traffic, they will not automatically turn a blogger into a hot-shot any more. It is like good peer-review (or good editorial decisions in the media) – a blogger on a network has a seal of approval that s/he is OK, not spouting non-scientific nonsense, but there is no guarantee that the person is one of the elite best. For actual reputation, being a member of a network will not be sufficient any more – that, you will have to build for yourself, as an individual.

The exclusivity of the networks (“you can blog with us and nobody else”) has been eroding for quite a while now. At the beginnings of Scienceblogs.com we were expected to close our old blogs and move them to the network. Razib had quite a problem for continuing to run Gene Expression Classic. It is much more common now for bloggers to contribute to multiple personal, individual, corporate or group blogs, and even to have blogs on two or more networks. This will become even more common in the new ecosystem and any network that asks for exclusivity will not find many bloggers willing to join.

Building and Maintaining Community

With the ease of movement from one network to another, and with the ease of having a blog on multiple networks, how does any individual network get to keep anyone on board? How does one build loyalty? After all, each network is now just one node in the network, and many bloggers will feel a loyalty to the broader community but much less loyalty to the particular network they are on. It is also much easier to be a solo blogger today, as RSS is everywhere (no need to use Google Reader for it – RSS imports are on every social networking platform and more), social networking sites are busy, and multituded of networks will have to pay more attention to them now, if nothing else scouting for new talent.

One obvious way is money. If the business model allows it, and if finances allow it, pay more than the other networks, and this will persuade at least some people to come and to stay for quite a while. Bloggers on networks are media, thus they should be paid for their work, just as if they were journalists in a more traditional outlet.

Don’t pay by page-view. This creates internal hierarchies. This also creates pressures (even if there is no formal frequency minimum requirement in the contract) to post often and to post controversial stuff and to post silly stuff, diluting the science content on the network. Every month when you calculate the earnings and deduct the costs, share the rest equally among all members of the community, regardless of how much they contributed either by frequency of posting or by traffic.

Another obvious way is the opposite – promise never to have ads, never to have corporate interests involved, and never to pay anyone for anything. This is definitely appealing to some bloggers who draw salaries elsewhere and for whom complete editorial freedom and complete perception of ethical purity are essential.

Another way is to have kick-ass technical support. This is a big reason some bloggers like to be on the networks. They may have too large a traffic to be able to deal with it on their own. Or they may be too busy to deal with it. Or they may be great writers but with essentially zero technical skills. Reliable technology is a big plus. And rumors and gossip about the quality of tech support on various networks spread fast and wide.

Also, use platforms that are easy for bloggers to use and customize. These days, multi-blog WordPress seems to be in the lead. Drupal is great for developers and for making parts of the site that bloggers will not touch, but is non-intuitive and cumbersome for the non-techie users. MoveableType4 got clunky over time and requires tech support with high level of expertise and seems to be hard to be flexible with – you are building a site not just for 2010 but also a site that can nimbly change as the Web changes. One day Scripting2 will be available for everyone, and it is perfect for bloggers like me who write long posts – the asides, explanations of the basics, references, link-lists, things I inject into my posts as full paragraphs now can be hidden at first read and revealed by those who want to see them by a single click.

If you combine clunky tech-support, and no access to traffic data, with limits to editorial freedom, you get a revolt on your hands and people start leaving. If business ideas trump everything else, you’ll run afoul of the bloggers’ ethics and they willl leave really fast.

Make sure that blogs on your network have a good mobile version. Design good apps for iPhone and Ipad. Make sure your bloggers get them for free.

Provide cool swag. I have collected four Sb mugs over the past four years, one for each member of the family, and they are our favorites – I am actually drinking coffee from one of them right now. I have a t-shirt that says “Coturnix” on the back, with an Sb logo. Seed has provided, in the early years, swag for us to give to readers in contests. That is cool stuff.

Provide backchannel forums. Any platform will do, though I personally prefer Groupsite.com (formerly known as Collective X) as there is a possibility for exchanging large files, having rich profiles, having easy-to-find documents (e.g., How-To manuals for tech questions), having forums for organizing synchronized action, etc. Count on some members not participating there – there are some SciBlings who never logged into the back forums and thus never really felt like members of the community (and were also wildly uninformed about what is going on). Thus, if a network is too small (e.g., 10 or less), you’ll end up with three people chatting in the forums – that is not a community. Be a part of that forum yourself, regularly. Continuous conversation between bloggers and overlords is essential for developing trust, and thus loyalty.

Organize common actions. DonorsChoose drive every October was a great community-building activity on Scienceblogs.com, for an example.

See how your company/organization can help your bloggers’ careers. For example, if yours is a media company, you can help bloggers write for and get published in your magazine. If they publish a book, promote it. Promote the network and the individual bloggers in your promotional materials, in your magazine, on your website, etc. Also, ask bloggers to promote the network wherever they may be – especially if they go to conferences. Give them swag and let them spread the word about you.

Bloggers who come from a journalistic background want to learn how to use all these newfangled online tools. Bloggers who came from other (mainly scientific/academic) backgrounds want to widen their toolbox to include some of the traditional media. Help both groups as much as you can.

Organize offline events. Blogs are a means to finding people to do rhythmic things with. The two SciBlings meetups in 2007 and 2008 in NYC were amazing events! We gelled so well together as a group. We shared several meals, drank a lot, sang karaoke, met with our readers, met Adam Bly and others in the management, visited Seed offices, took group pictures, got tons of swag. It was a blast. It did wonders for our sense of identity as a group. Likewise, the 1.000,000th Comment parties were awesome – the NC event was at the Asheville Zoo with several SciBlings and several readers, followed by dinner.

And for the building of a broader community that includes all the networks, just come to ScienceOnline every January (the 2011 version is likely to be heavily invested in the building of the new ecosystem, so don’t miss it!), send your Overlords and a bunch of your bloggers, send swag, put up posters, moderate sessions, do a Demo of your network, promote Open Laboratory (and your own bloggers’ posts that made it into the latest edition) on your site, be a generous part of the new ecosystem and your own bloggers will love you for it.

Diversity

Make your network attractive to bloggers, feeling welcome there. If The Usual Suspects invite other Usual Suspects, A-listers invite other A-listers, a bunch of buddies who are all white men invite each other, you will have a problem. The first thing the blogosphere will notice, within the first millisecond of unveiling your network, is that there is no diversity on your network, just an Old Boys Club and an Old Clique. Instead of enjoying the attention, you will have to immediately switch into the PR disaster management mode.

Thus, make sure that at least 50% of your starting line-up are women. And hopefully not everyone’s white and middle-aged either. This will also change the internal dynamics of the community – male-dominated groups are much more competitive, and you want to foster a cooperative activity.

If you spent last few years mainly schmoozing with your buddies in science, or tech, or your neighbors in Silicon Valley, and you have no idea what women, minorities, seniors and youngsters to invite, you are a few years too late for this. If you decide to invite some of them to your network, they will probably be very polite in saying No, but to themselves they will be saying something like “Who the hell are you? What planet did you just fall from? I have never heard of you, you never read my blog, you never commented on my blog, so why this sudden interest in it, eh? You don’t follow me on Twitter, we are not Facebook friends, I am not on your blogroll, so why do you want me now? As a token to put on your pretty new network so you can add another notch on your “diversity” belt? Well, no, sirree!” And they will be perfectly correct in thinking that way.

But if you have started years ago, when science blogosphere was young, always looking around for new voices, reading the new blogs because they are fun, commenting not because it’s good for business but because you are personally motivated to say something, ask something, say Hello, than you are OK. Just by chance, half of these blogs will be written by women, some by older people, some by younger people, some by non-white people.

You would be reading them because their writing is great. You would be commenting, and blogrolling them, and linking to them, and promoting them because you love what they do, not for political motives. You would try to meet them in person when you travel, and you would invite them to conferences you organize. You would make fast friendships this way, without any ideas that this would potentially turn into anything like a business deal.

And then, if such an opportunity arises and you can start a new network, you will have a pool of hundreds or even thousands of cool bloggers to pick from, people with whom you already have a genuine friendship and mutual trust. And you would be VERY familiar with their work as you have followed it for years. Thus you will have plenty of choices who to invite in order to have a diversity of topics, formats, styles and voices – and pure statistics will ensure that about half of them will be female and a few of them non-white and non-middle-aged. No need to do anything artificial, or to do something out of the ordinary in order to get “proper balance” – it will just happen.

Later, once the network is live and kicking, you can do more stuff to promote diversity and especially to promote new and young bloggers. For example, you can make an “incubator” blog to which you invite a very new and young but talented blogger (or even a group, e.g., friends from a science journalism school) to guest-blog on for one month (Seed did that with a photoblog for a while). There is no guarantee, or even expectation that any of those guest-bloggers would ever be invited to join the network as individual bloggers, but that one month would be great training, great experience and great exposure to them, so once their month is over they can take their audience with them wherever they go, feeling confident in their blogging skills. You may specifically ask the readers to be “nice to the n00b” and ask your senior bloggers to keep an eye – be there to teach, to advise, and to defend against nasty commenters. And if an individual blogger really kicks butt, drawing a lot of traffic and comments with brilliant content, then you can certainly consider invitation for a more permanent slot on the network. In other words, be a factor in growing the community of science bloggers, not just defending your own turf.

Coda

There are many other ideas I have, and other people have. Each network will have to see what their goals are, what ambitions, what resources they have, etc.

I could have kept all of the above to myself, and charged a single network $100,000 to advise them and help them set up. But that would not work – it only works if most or all networks think about this the right way and do the right thing. A lone network doing it right cannot survive in the interconnectedness of the archipelago if all the other players adopt outdated ideas. It is a network or networks, and I hope that people who run or build networks right now read this, talk about it with each other, and come to ScienceOnline2011 to hatch a common strategy, because we have a common goal, and need to collaborate on reaching it.

Blogging with substance

I was given a Blogging With Substance award and got tagged.

I need to answer two questions:

1. Sum up your blogging motivation, philosophy and experience in exactly 10 words.

Oh my! Is this the most difficult moment to answer this? Let’s say that I am now completely rethinking my blogging – my goals, my format, my style. The only thing I hope remains will be my voice. You just need to wait and watch this blog for a couple of more months, see it evolve.

2. Pass it on to 10 other blogs with substance.

All of the bloggers who recently left Scienceblogs.com got tagged at the same time as I was, so I cannot tag any of them. But there are many other great bloggers of substance, and it is hard to limit oneself to only ten. Here are ten that I have been reading very regularly (some for years, other starting more recently) and like very much (yes, I know, I cannot count, I stealthily added an eleventh one in):

Archy

EcoPhysioMichelle

Bjoern Brembs

Save Your Breath For Running Ponies

Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

Byte Size Biology

Ben Young Landis

Wild Muse

The Language of Bad Physics

Culturing Science

Science with Moxie

Ha! We got cartooned (again).

Remember this? A comic strip by Joseph Hewitt portraying SciBlings.

Well, he’s done it again:

Clever play on the words Diaspora and Panspermia. Just like Seedling Stars, the Sciblings are bursting out of their old sporangia and flying into the deep unknown, landing on faraway planets, adapting to them, geo- and bio- engineering them to fit them better. And of course, except during the Fail Whale moments, communicating across the lightyears via Twitter.

Or perhaps, to stay with the spores, better metaphor may be Pilobolus.

Thank you!

Wow! The last couple of days were quite an emotional roller-coaster. The comments on the old blog our now closed, but the farewell post on the old blog accumulated 89 comments and its copy here already has 40. And they have been so supportive. I am so humbled.

The outpouring of love and support on Twitter (and also some on FriendFeed and Facebook) was overwhelming. The link to my post was tweeted by hundreds of my friends, and also by such luminaries as Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer and Jay Rosen (twice). Unfortunately, Twitter Search works only for the tweets made over the past two weeks so all the replies, retweets and mentions (here or here) will disappear soon. But hashtags are easier to save – just check this out!!!. Wow! Just wow! I don’t know how to respond. #I Owe You All!

A number of people have left Scienceblogs recently, just before or just after me, but there is a common Sb Diaspora RSS feed so you can follow all of us. And a @SBExpats Twitter account.

I really need to thank all of the bloggers who wrote nice things about me or my post, and those who used it as a starting point to an important discussion about the future of the changing ecosystem of science blogging.

Please see the post by Abel Pharmboy, also his farewell post, his first post at the new blog and this amazingly generous post. Thank you so much, bro!

I am not sure if I managed to catch all the links to all the posts, but here is a good sampling. Check them all out: Danielle Lee, Henry Gee, SciCurious, Stephanie Zvan, DrugMonkey, Delene Beeland, Greg Laden, Pal MD, Allie Wilkinson, Grrrlscientist (also here and also her farewell post), Dr.Isis, Jason Thibeault, Ed Brayton, Orac, Carl Zimmer (who has more on the topic), Zuska (see her new digs), Mike Dunford, PZ Myers (who is mightily battling to keep the Sb ship afloat), Dave Dobbs (also in The Guardian), Dave Munger, Dave Bacon, Dave Wescott, Maryn McKenna (check her new blog), Deborah Blum (you can now find her here), EcoPhysioMichelle, John Hawks, mrswhatsit, Dana Hunter, John Dupuis, Sheril, Josh Rosenau, Sharon Astyk (and more), Misha Angrist, Pamela Ronald, Ian Brooks, Jason Goldman, John McKay, Ed Cone, Kristjan Wager, Greg Laden, Naon Tiotami, John Wilkins, John Lynch (more), Prof-like Substance, Grant Jacobs, Kent, Brian Krueger, gfish, Cameron Neylon, Richard Gayle (and two more intriguing posts on the aftermath here and here), Chad Orzel, Anna Tambour, Southern Fried Scientist, Mathew Lowry, Daniel Cressey at Nature News and Michael Whitney at Firedoglake. Edit: And now also Newsweek!

And Thank you to the Sb Overlord Evan Lerner for keeping this Buzz topic on the scienceblogs homepage for the third day in a row:

These are interesting times. For four years there was one huge volcanic island. Now it is erupting, lava is still hot, but it appears that once the lava stops and cools, there will be an entire archipelago of science blogging networks. It will be interesting to see if the original volcanic island sinks into the sea or remains and in what shape. It will be interesting to see how many new islands spring up, their shapes and sizes.

But what will be the most interesting to see is if the new island nations will war or trade with each other, or even join a loose confederation. What kinds of boats will be used to paddle between the islands? What kind of goods will be traded between them?

As for my own blog? No rush. I need to think. First, it will take me a few days (or weeks) to get this place in shape. I need to move from wordpress.com to wordpress.org (I own coturnix.org so I should make something like coturnix.org/blog and have it there). And make the place pretty.

The traffic at the old site went through the roof earlier this week, and the new site did fine during its first couple of days. I expect it to go lower, but that is OK:

As you may have already noticed, Clock Quotes are gone. “New and Exciting in PLoS” posts are now tweets (though I may figure out a way to do something similar on the everyONE blog, something like “Bora’s Bloggables”, making sure it is obviously my own choice, not that of the PLoS marketing department). Carnival announcements are also gone to Twitter. Announcements for events (e.g., local science cafes, Sigma Xi pizza lunches, World Science forums, etc,) I can bundle 2-3 in a single post instead of each separately. No pressure to have something always on the Last24H page as there is no such page for me now. I will continue doing updates on ScienceOnline2011 and Open Laboratory, posting Q&As with the past participants of ScienceOnline2010, and an occasional monstrously long post on one topic or another, perhaps even science! Whatever rocks my boat.

As for the future? I don’t know. We’ll see. I may stay solo for a while, perhaps end up on another network (or two, or three) further down the line. There is blogging to be done on ScienceInTheTriangle and everyONE blog, so who knows.  If I ever got the opportunity to try Scripting2, that seems to be a blogging platform one could love, not just be satisfied with. That can boost one’s blogging energies in itself.  But for now, blogging itself is not a priority for me right now.

The first priority is to find a way to support my family. If you want to help, check out this store – that is stuff we already have, boxed up and ready to go. If nothing there is interesting, there is always the Zazzle store but hold off on the CafePress as the items there need to have the URL changed first (I should get to it over the next few days). Or click here:

Then, also, Anton and I are now in fifth gear organizing ScienceOnline2011. In order to make the conference a little bit bigger (something like 130 people were left on the waitlist last year!) we need more new sponsors. If you know a potential sponsor, let us know, make contact.

Open Laboratory is also going to be a big project, as it is every year, so December and January will be busy around that as well.

You are all going to see my posts if you grab my feed (or the combined diaspora feed) or if you follow me on Twitter, FriendFeed or Facebook, so I’m fine.

Thank you all so much!

Update: I added more thoughts to the events and the future at Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How

A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem

It is with great regret that I am writing this. Scienceblogs.com has been a big part of my life for four years now and it is hard to say good bye.

Everything that follows is my own personal thinking and may not apply to other people, including other bloggers on this platform. The new contact information is at the end of the post, but please come back up here and read the whole thing – why I feel like I must leave now.

Sb beginnings

Scienceblogs.com started back in January 2006. On that day, several of my favourite science bloggers moved to this new site, posting the URL on their farewell posts on their old blogs. I took one look at the homepage – which at the time was a simple, black-on-white version of the current Last 24 Hours page – and said to myself: this is where I want to be. My instant feeling was that whoever does not get on this site will bite the dust – become invisible in the shadow of the network. I e-mailed several of the original 14 bloggers with a simple question: “How do I get on?” They all assured me that the site will add more bloggers and that my name is already ‘in the hat’. In June of that year, I was one of the 20+ bloggers in the “second wave” of migrants to Scienceblogs.com.

How the move to Sb changed my blogging

You can hide on your own little Blogspot blog. You cannot hide on a network. My first instinctive and unconscious change, something I only became of aware later, was that I changed the way I made factual statements in my posts. What does that mean?

I started thoroughly fact-checking the statements before posting instead of learning the hard way that readers will do it for you.

Of course, I started (in 2003/4) in political blogging where much is a matter of opinion, stakes are high, tempers are short, speed of blogging is important, and stating things confidently and even ferociously is important as a persuasion method. If I have heard some useful factoid somewhere, I would often boldly claim it as true without checking first.

But then I gradually switched to blogging about science. This is the domain of verifiable facts. The goal is education, not so much political action. I wrote about my area of expertise, and I wrote in a way that built on that expertise and made it accessible to the lay public. I wrote about things I knew a lot about and was very familiar with the literature. So I referenced, cited and linked to a lot of supporting documents – peer-reviewed scientific papers.

When I moved to Scienceblogs, I doubled up on that effort, even when writing on other topics. Sometimes I wrote purposefully provocative posts, stating extreme positions and playing Devil’s advocate. Such posts were written as mind experiments, or as “let’s see how far the blind following of the logic can take us, even if it sounds crazy” and I hoped that nobody would mistake them for my real positions. But I tried not to make statements of fact if I was not sure they were actually facts. I became a better blogger. My place here requires I be trusted. For that, I needed to trust myself first.

Getting invited to blog here is an honor, and the only correct response is to blog with maximal integrity, even during online fights and kerfuffles that alight in every corner of the blogosphere, including the science blogosphere, with predictable regularity. Every single blogger on scienceblogs.com, even those who I may disagree with 99% of the time, blogs here with strong personal integrity (yes, human beings sometimes make mistakes, but they correct them once the onslaught dies down and it is possible to do it without losing face). And that is one of the greatest strengths of this network – just wander around the Web randomly for a while and you’ll see some interesting contrasts to this.

How getting hired by PLoS changed my blogging

Most of you probably know that I got the job with PLoS in the comments section of my blog. It is the support for my application for the role at PLoS voiced by my commenters that sealed the deal in the eyes of PLoS. Would I have that kind of support if I was not on Scienceblogs.com?

As an Online Community Manager at PLoS, I try to model myself and learn from the experiences of people like Robert Scoble, one of the first “corporate bloggers” (and everyone who thinks there is anything new or wrong with being paid to blog, should read Say Everything by Scott Rosenberg, a definitive history of blogging which will open your eyes). I have been a supporter (and promoter) of Open Access model of scientific publishing well before I got this job and I often blogged about PLoS papers because I – and everyone esle – have access to them. PLoS is a fabulous organization to work for. Its goals match my own. And I love all the individual people working there. Working with them is a blast, and I am proud of it. It is unfortunate that, in this economic situation (and my own personal economic situation), I can only work there part-time.

I assume that many of my readers are also interested in Open Access and may also be interested in what PLoS does. So, I blog (and tweet, etc,) about news from PLoS. As I see which new papers are coming out in PLoS ONE (and other PLoS journals) a couple of days in advance, I pick those that catch my attention, that I personally find interesting, and post links to them here once they are published. Nobody at PLoS has ever asked me to blog (or not blog) anything work-related on my own individual blog (that is what everyONE blog is for). I do it because I am genuinely excited about some of the papers, or am proud of what the PLoS team at the HQ has accomplished – new functionalities or benchmarks, etc. Like everyone else, I am promoting a cause I believe in, and I am blogging what I want and like.

One of the things that changed in my blogging comes from self-awareness that I am an online public face of PLoS. I need to behave in ways that are appropriate for this role. Thus I try to avoid (as much as that is possible) getting into big online fights and I am more careful about my use of language, especially profanity. The fact that I am much less likely today to blog on very controversial topics reflects much more my own tiredness of such topics and the endless flame-wars and troll-hunting that always follow such posts. It gets really boring after a while. I just don’t have much appetite and energy for that any more (if you think battling Creationists is nasty, try debating nationalists of various stripes from the Balkans on Usenet during the wars there – those people WOULD really kill you if they could physically get at you). I want my blog to be a positive force (while fully understanding that would be impossible if others were not doing the dirty trench warfare at the same time, providing the environment in which a positive blog can exist) and I want it to be a creative place, an informative place, and a peaceful and welcoming place for everyone interested in science and in science communication. And for my Mom. Hi, Mom!

So, while this is supposed to be my individual blog, I think of it as such, and it is seen by others as such, it is impossible to completely separate the personal from the professional. I am one of the lucky few for whom life and work are perfectly integrated – I do what I love, with great support (emotional and financial) from my wife. One of the things I am is a promoter of Open Access and PLoS, so this part of my persona is bound to find its way onto my personal blog – it would be self-censorship NOT to allow that stuff onto my blog.

Metcalf’s Law, or why are we here at scienceblogs.com

It appears that many commenters during the recent l’affair Pepsi did not understand the difference between blogging on Scienceblogs.com and blogging independently on Blogspot or WordPress. It is not so much about the direct traffic. It is not so much about payment (I earned through Blogads, back on my old blog in 2006, the same amount as I am getting here today). It is the ‘network effect’.

Let’s say I keep blogging my usual stuff day after day. I get some regular readers, some people coming from searches, some people coming from external links, etc. I also get a lot of traffic from other blogs here, from the homepage, Last24H page, from the various widgets (e.g., Reader’s Choice, Editor’s Choice, top page banner), multiple kinds of RSS feeds (e.g., Select Feed), etc. But if I have to say something really important, something that may require action, or something that many people need to know, or an important question that I may ask, there is a group of people that I can rely on much more than just my usual daily readership – the SciBlings (the name given to my fellow bloggers on Scienceblogs.com). I know they will pick up an item, link to it on their own blogs, and dramatically increase my reach for that one particular item. I don’t need to beg, or e-mail anyone, this happens spontaneously by the virtue of me being piece. Remember that still very few people read blogs through RSS feeds – they come via searches and links. These days, some of those links are posted by my SciBlings also in other places like Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook. Then others, outside the network, start linking to it and blogging/tweeting about it, spreading my message far and wide. This is something that would be much more difficult on an independent blog. This is what I call “indirect traffic” – a potential instant reach that I get just by virtue of being on this network.

This kind of network effect resulted in an explosive rise in the online reputation and ranking of Scienceblogs.com. Technorati does not count Sb as a single entity (it used to), but ranks each blog independently. The most high-trafficked blog here, Pharyngula, is ranked at number 68 today. The 68th most influential blog in the world right now. Even if Pharyngula accounts for as much as half of the traffic here (I think it is at around 40%…OK, just checked, it is 42.15%) and half of the number of incoming links to the site, the site as a whole is probably up around top 30th of all the blogs in the world. That is serious visibility and influence for all of us.

All that interlinking between us, as well as links from outside, result in all of us having Google Ranks of about 6 or 7. That is huge. Much of my traffic comes from searches (of course – I have more than 10,000 posts on many topics, some very long, using many different words and phrases). If I click to see a particularly interesting set of search keywords that brought someone to my blog, I discover that my blog is one of the top ten hits for that search string. And studies have shown that most people only check the top ten results when they do a search.

Furthermore, such a significant rise in traffic and rank of scienceblogs.com resulted in all sorts of other deals. Choice posts of ours are linked from the New York Times science page. Likewise with the National Geographic site. Our blogs are sold on Amazon.com for Kindle. And the site is indexed not just in Google but also on Google News.

This means not only that each one of us gets more direct traffic, and more potential indirect traffic from our SciBlings due to being on the network, but also an even larger and more powerful indirect traffic and visibility outside of the network. We are being closely watched, both by thousands of other bloggers and by the mainstream media. Whenever Scienceblogs.com explodes with a story, MSM takes note. It is not by chance that some of the first reactions to the Pepsi scandal, even faster than on individual’s blogs, appeared in places like The Guardian and the Columbia Journalism Review. As Jay Rosen and Dave Winer noted in their weekly podcast, the distance between us at Sb and the global media is very small. We are not just a loose collection of individuals blogging just for fun any more.

That is huge power. I keep mentioning this power every now and then (see this, this, this and this for good examples) because it is real. Sustained and relentless blogging by many SciBlings (and then many other bloggers who followed our lead) played a large role in the eventual release of ‘Tripoli Six’, the Bulgarian medical team imprisoned in Libya. Sustained blogging by SciBlings (and others who first saw it here) played a large part in educating the U.S.Senate about the importance of passing the NIH open access bill with its language intact. Blogging by SciBlings uncovered a number of different wrongdoings in ways that forced the powers-that-be to rectify them. Blogging by SciBlings brings in a lot of money every October to the DonorsChoose action. Sustained blogging by SciBlings forced SEED to remove the offending Pepsi blog within 36 hours. And if a bunch of SciBlings attack a person who did something very wrong, that person will have to spend years trying to get Google to show something a little bit more positive in top 100 hits when one googles their name (which is why I try to bite my tongue and sleep over it when I feel the temptation to go after a person). The power of the networks of individuals affects many aspects of the society, including the media.

With great power comes great responsibility, and I am not sure that all of my SciBlings are aware of the extent of this power. A Scienceblog is not a personal diary or a hobby any more.

Scienceblogs.com is Media

Scienceblogs.com has always been the project of the Seed Media Group, thus at least a self-designated media organization. But since the moment our blogs got indexed in Google News we de facto became writers for a media organization. I am not sure some of my SciBlings really understood the importance of that day and how that changed who we are and what we do.

Most of us here do not consider ourselves to be journalists or even have goals of wanting to become journalists. A few of us are. And a few of us are not sure what we are any more. But by virtue of being searchable on Google News we are journalists, whether we want it or not.

Do we write news? Some of us sometimes do. But videos, cartoons, quotes, linkfests, etc. are considered not not to be News only if one adopts a very narrow and traditional sense of the term – reporting on an event that just happened. If you open a newspaper, you will see much more than News in that sense – there are obituaries, comic strips, classifieds, horoscopes, quotes, photos, poems, crossword puzzles….all of that is News in a sense that most consumers of news think: News is what comes in the Media.

I think it is much more productive to think of media in a different way. Media is a means to disseminate and exchange information. Some of that information is important, some is informative, some is entertaining, some is educational, some is aesthetic, some is comic, some is analytic, some is opinionated, some is relevant to many people, some is relevant to just a handful, and yes, some of it may actually report on “what event just happened”. Some of it is distributed by legacy media companies, some is distributed by individuals to each other.

We here at Scienceblogs, by virtue of moving from our individual blogs to the network, have largely left the realm of “distributed by individuals to each other”. We are the Media. Which means we need to be aware of it, and behave accordingly. This does not mean we have to change anything about our blogging. After all, we were picked and hired in the hope we would continue to do exactly what we were doing with our blogs before the move to Sb. But the same picture of a cat posted on WordPress just for fun, as a hobby, becomes News once posted on Scienceblogs.com. Gotta keep that in mind at all times.

We have built an enormous reputation, and we need to keep guarding it every single day. Which is why the blurring of lines between us who are hired and paid to write (due to our own qualities and expertise which we earned), and those who are paying to have their material published here is deeply unethical. Scientists and journalists share some common ethical principles: transparency, authenticity and truth-telling. These ethical principles were breached. This ruins our reputation, undermines our work, and makes it more unpalatable for good blogger to consider joining Sb in the future. See also Jennifer’s post on this issue for a clear-headed take.

Seed is not in magazine business any more

Seed Media Group was founded in order to publish Seed Magazine. And it was a very nice magazine, glossy, lush, filled with awesome visualizations. Some articles were awesome, others a little flakier, but nothing nearly as bad as some other (don’t make me name it again) popular science magazines managed to publish under their own banners. I liked Seed Magazine. My kids liked it. It was a cool, modern and novel way to design a pop-sci publication.

In a happier time, before the meltdown of the media industry and then a general meltdown of the economy, Seed Magazine would have survived. But it was not meant to be. About a year ago, the last issue of Seed Magazine appeared on the newsstands. Its brand was not big enough, with enough longevity and reader loyalty, for any other corporation to step in and buy it out. It’s gone.

But if you think you are in the magazine business, if you think that your main product is a magazine, and if you have an office full of writers, editors and graphic designers, what do you do? You retain the mindset of a magazine publisher. Instead of rethinking the mission of the organization as a whole, Seed was only rethinking how to repackage Seed Magazine. They did not let the magazine die. They moved it online instead, retaining most or all of the editorial and writing staff. As Jay Rosen likes to quip about Washington Post, “the print guys won”. The print mindset won.

Yet, at the same time, Seed had a bunch of “side-projects”, including some cool visualization stuff and yes, Scienceblogs.com. Some of those projects, including the magazine itself, fell by the wayside. But Scienceblogs.com was going from strength to strength:

Looking at the graph (I know, PageRank measures one thing, other services measure it differently, but the take-home message is the same), it is obvious that the main product of the Seed Media Group is Scienceblogs.com.

One could argue that traffic is not the proper measure, but I cannot think of a better one. If it was a scientific journal, having a middling traffic would not be so bad if other metrics, e.g., citations, media coverage, incoming links, proportion of visits that result in a PDF download, etc., are high. But there is no such thing to measure for a magazine. Impact of an article in a magazine is measured only by traffic, and traffic is also an important metric for advertisers.

What used to be a fun side-project, Scienceblogs, became the centerpiece. Or so you’d think. But remember that the print guys won. Seed never realized that they were not in the magazine business any more. It is telling that some commenters during last week’s fiasco said they never heard of Seed Magazine until now (I had not heard of it before I moved to Scienceblogs either). It is squirreled away on its obscure website, with miniature traffic, no brand recognition, not even much linking from Scienceblogs.com to it to drive at least some traffic there. We do not hear about new articles there to help promote them (except when Dave Munger writes one and tweets the link). If we are not aware that there are new articles in the magazine, how are others going to be?

Several months ago (in the wake of a loss of a couple of our top bloggers) I suggested they move the magazine onto Scienceblogs as an “editor’s blog” and let us pitch stories for it and use the existence of in-house editors to make our stories more polished than a usual blog post. It did not happen.

What Seed Media Group is doing right now is trying to run a magazine, while treating Scienceblogs.com as a source of revenue. What Seed Media Group should be doing, what every media group should be doing, is become a tech-oriented company (one of the reasons PLoS is successful is that it is essentially a technology-rich publishing company, with an incredible and visionary IT/Web team working with the editorial team in driving innovation). Instead of trying to produce content in-house, which is expensive (all those salaries!), Seed should realize that they already have 80 (now more like 60 and getting smaller every day) producers of content. Barely paid producers of content. I know, it is really hard to fire all those wonderful people – but keeping them can just speed up the end-point so everyone ends up jobless in the end. If Seed Media Group (SMG) has money for employing twenty people, fifteen of those should be tech folks, driving innovation, serving Scienceblogs.com, making it bigger, better, more powerful.

Everything at Seed should be set up to be in service of Scienceblogs: administrators, legal staff, editors, and most importantly a large, powerful, innovative technical staff. The experiment was run, the results are in, scienceblogs.com was shown to be a successful endeavor, and the rest of the experiments, magazine included, were failures and need to be thrown out and forgotten. I guess that many people in the office are emotionally invested in the magazine, but tough luck – the thing is a corpse. Mourn for a while, and move on.

Who gets to be on Scienceblogs.com?

A couple of years ago I heard the statistic that Seed got an average of seven applications per day to blog here. That is thousands of bloggers over the years to date!

The network had a succession of several excellent Community Managers who made decisions on who to invite next. As the site grew and changed, their visions also changed, which determined what kinds of blogs they were looking for. Sometimes, they would accept a new blog, and let us know about it only about a day in advance. But in most cases they consulted with us. They would ask us to recommend who we thought were the best bloggers in a particular area, e.g., technology, infoscience, art, food, chemistry, etc., whatever they thought we lacked and needed more of at any particular time. And they would usually consider our recommendations and invite bloggers we respected. There were even times when we ganged up on them and relentlessly lobbied for a particular blogger to get invited and they would have to agree eventually.

Not everybody who was invited said yes, either, but most did. And over the years there was a natural cycle – as new blogs got added, some of the older ones shut down or left. Often life and work interfered and people decided they could not continue blogging any more. Or just got tired of blogging. Some felt too much pressure to blog more frequently than they were comfortable with. Some bloggers fused their blogs into a single multi-author blog. Some invited co-bloggers to help. Some got better-paying gigs elsewhere. Some left due to personal conflicts with other bloggers. And now several have left due to the damaged reputation of the network that started with a sale of a blogging spot to a corporate entity.

And more are leaving, and will be leaving, due to “Bion’s effect“:

“You are at a party, and you get bored. You say “This isn’t doing it for me anymore. I’d rather be someplace else. I’d rather be home asleep. The people I wanted to talk to aren’t here.” Whatever. The party fails to meet some threshold of interest. And then a really remarkable thing happens: You don’t leave. You make a decision “I don’t like this.” If you were in a bookstore and you said “I’m done,” you’d walk out. If you were in a coffee shop and said “This is boring,” you’d walk out.

You’re sitting at a party, you decide “I don’t like this; I don’t want to be here.” And then you don’t leave. That kind of social stickiness is what Bion is talking about.

And then, another really remarkable thing happens. Twenty minutes later, one person stands up and gets their coat, and what happens? Suddenly everyone is getting their coats on, all at the same time. Which means that everyone had decided that the party was not for them, and no one had done anything about it, until finally this triggering event let the air out of the group, and everyone kind of felt okay about leaving.

This effect is so steady it’s sometimes called the paradox of groups. It’s obvious that there are no groups without members. But what’s less obvious is that there are no members without a group. Because what would you be a member of?”

Yes, suddenly everyone is getting their coats on, all at the same time. This party is not as fun as it once was. Time to go.

Scienceblogs.com – The Good

Four years is eternity on the Web. But try to think back to early 2006 and understand how revolutionary that concept was at the time: grabbing a bunch of already popular bloggers, putting them all on the same site, paying them a little bit, and giving them complete editorial freedom. Anything goes! The editorial hand is in the initial choice of bloggers. Once you choose the people whose work you like, just let them loose.

The existence of Scienceblogs.com as a one-stop shopping place for all things science resulted in the high visibility of science and of science blogging and spurred the explosive growth of the science blogosphere. In 2006, I could read every post by every science blogger in the world. Today, there are thousands out there that I don’t even know about. And there are many other media companies who tried to emulate Seed and build their own networks, with, to be generous, mixed success so far.

The Seed motto, “Science Is Culture”, also contributed to opening science for the lay audience. Many of our readers are not scientists. The stereotypical image of scientists as socially inept recluses who speak in incomprehensible lingo was dispelled.

In many ways my feeling that “who is not here will bite the dust” was not realized. Instead of building an isolated elitist community, we felt the responsibility to be generous, to constantly look for, seek out, link to and promote bloggers who are not on the network. Instead of acting as “we are elite bloggers producing elite content”, we acted as “we are elite filters, finding and choosing the best content on the Web and showcasing it to everybody”.

Thus, much of what we did as SciBlings had, as a goal, the building of the science blogging community that is much broader than just our own internal network community. Nobody got rich from, and many put a lot of work into, the Open Laboratory anthologies which not only showcase the best of science blogging to the audience outside of the Web, but also promote new and upcoming bloggers outside the network. The ScienceOnline conferences (now a full-time job to organize, but still done for free on our own time) also contribute to a similar effort to get people on and off networks together. The DonorsChoose action every year brings us all together, as well as many other such actions. Scienceblogs.com was definitely a key player in the emergence and building of the science blogging community.

Scienceblogs.com – The Bad

The network has evolved over time. The initial offering was composed of bloggers who were already popular – they brought their readership with them. They just happened to be mostly bloggers – and this is probably why they were popular in the first place – whose blogging covered those aspects of “science is culture” that are quite controversial, from beating up on pseudoscience and medical quackery, to the relationship between science and religion, to the politics and politicization of science. This made for quite a lively discourse on the network, bringing up discussion topics that were important to have yet were considered taboo before. This did not sit well with all of the audience, many still squeamish about breaking of such cultural taboos (especially bold defenses of atheism), and the network got somewhat of a bad reputation in some circles, as a hotbed of godless, pinko-commie, liberal whateverwhatever people. That reputation, even during the most recent period when only about five out of 80 bloggers focused much on politics and/or religion, seems to persist.

Since the continuous additions of popular bloggers did not add many new readers and traffic (they were all already reading here anyway), and as the erroneous perception which Sb-haters promulgated that “there is no science on scienceblogs.com” needed to be countered, Seed invited many bloggers who never touch controversial topics and only blog about science. They also invited a couple of bloggers who are openly religious and a couple of conservatives. More recently, several bloggers who joined were reputable science writers and journalists. A new idea was to try and pick up some very new and not-yet-established bloggers, especially very young ones with talent, and bring them here and help them grow.

But none of this helped dispel the nefarious myths about Sb being an atheism network. In this effort to dilute politico-religious content with science content, Sb grew, in my opinion, too big. I think 80-something blogs with 90+ bloggers is too big. Internal rifts and formation of cliques was inevitable in such a large group, which led to some hidden and some very public fights, and resulted in some of our prominent bloggers leaving in a huff. This did not look good from the outside, I’m sure. And it did not work well for the bloggers’ morale either.

The chronic inability of the Seed management to communicate to and with bloggers did not help either (I feel the Overlords who tried to represent our interests were sidelined in the Seed newsroom). As a result, there is not much loyalty to the Seed brand. We are here for the network effect and traffic (and even the little money we get is important grocery money for some of us, including me), not because we are in love with Seed.

This is not about Pepsi

Two weeks ago, as most of you probably know, Seed started a new blog on Scienceblogs.com. It was to be not just sponsored, but authored by people from PepsiCo, a continuation of their Food Frontiers blog (go take a look). It was to be hosted, I believe, for three months, for a fee that PepsiCo would pay Seed (out of which, I guess, we bloggers would also get paid, perhaps even get up to date on payments – I just got my April check).

We have hosted a few corporate-sponsored blogs before, but the main bloggers on them were either independent journalists or some of our own bloggers. Those blogs were introduced to us in the backchannels in advance, we were consulted, changes were made as needed, and some of us still protested on our blogs or wrote posts that are quite damning to those corporations, their shady corporate behavior, and their products.

It is not well known – at least I did not see anyone mention it – that Seed tried to hire an outside freelance science journalist to host the Pepsi blog. Apparently, they could not find anyone. So, when the date came when they promised Pepsi they would start, they launched the blog without an independent host, with just Pepsi employees blogging. Huge mistake! They should have quickly asked some of us to pitch in that role, but instead they did not even tell us about it – the appearance of the blog was a total surprise to us all. Orac was the first one to spot it on the Last24Hour page and alerted the rest of us. Understandably, we all went berserk (and if you think our anger was strongly worded on our blogs, can you imagine what it looked like in the backchannels!?). This is a flagrant breach of the wall between content and advertising. A huge no-no in any kind of media. We are Media and this was the (un)ethical straw that broke the camel’s back.

Greg Laden was not the first one to think of it, but explained it the best the other day how the blog could have been made much more palatable to us and readers, if Seed just thought to ask us (even if that meant a delay of a couple of days before launching) to blog there. We have many bloggers here who could have contributed their expertise on various aspects of food. We have bloggers who could write with authority on obesity from physiological, medical, public health and sociological perspectives, on the chemistry of food, on poisons, on neuroscience of appetite, on nutrition, on raising one’s own food, on evolution of food plants and domesticated animals, on endangered seafood, on the economics and politics of the food industry, on useless dietary supplements, on the reason why a piece of bread always falls on the buttered side, how to desecrate crackers, and even how to roast a zebra and share it with locals in Africa. Not to mention pie recipes! That could have been fun and informative. And if Pepsi scientists contributed as themselves, not as frontmen for the company, their perspective would have been interesting as well.

Instead, we got an infomercial posing as one of us.

It is completely irrelevant that it was Pepsi.

It is completely irrelevant that it was about food.

It is completely irrelevant that they never got to post anything on the blog before it was removed under the storm of criticism by us, readers and the media.

It is completely irrelevant if their content was going to be good or bad.

What is relevant is that a corporation paid to have a seat at the table with us. And that Seed made that happen.

What is relevant is that this event severely undermined the reputation of all of us. Who can trust anything we say in the future?

Even if you already know me and trust me, can people arriving here by random searches trust me? Once they look around the site and see that Pepsi has a blog here, why would they believe I am not exactly the same, some kind of shill for some kind of industry?

Even if you know me and trust me, would you be able to trust any new addition to the network? All those thousands of bloggers who applied to Sb and did not get invited to join? What are they all thinking now about someone paying to blog here? Do you think anyone will ever apply again?

Is Scienceblogs reputation permanently damaged?

In the wake of the Pepsi scandal, other things started coming to light. Things like this and this and this and this, all adding up to the realization that Seed is not what it makes out itself to be. So yes, I think the reputation of Seed is permanently damaged. The quick reversal, under pressure, and removal of the Pepsi blog is not enough.

Will it survive? I don’t know. Probably it will, but smaller (this also depends on the biggest-traffic bloggers remaining). But the scienceblogs.com stable is shrinking rapidly, and I do not see it growing in size or reputation again any time soon. Without it – the only profitable enterprise in the SMG – I am not sure the company can survive. We won many big races, but our racing career is now over, and we should retire to some pleasure riding in the meadows now (not ready for the slaughterhouse yet, not me).

Where will bloggers go?

Some of the most prominent bloggers who have left – or will leave – can quite easily go solo. Since 2006, the Web ecosystem has evolved and now has mechanisms, including social networking sites, that can keep an already popular site from fading into oblivion by going solo. One’s blog is now only one part of one’s online presence.

Others have been approached or will be approached (as soon as they make their leaving Sb official) by many other existing or incipient newtorks out there. Field Of Science is a new network. There is also Lab Spaces. GenomesUnzipped is a new group-blog for people interested in genomics, All Geo may try to collect geobloggers, and Southern Fried Science new network may accumulate more ocean bloggers. Panda’s Thumb offered evolution bloggers defecting from Scienceblogs.com to post there (I am not sure how to think about the division by topic – does it mean that general science networks can never attract a geoblogger and an ocean blogger any more?).

SciBlogs NZ is a wonderful network, but limited by geography to New Zealand bloggers only. There are German Scienceblogs and Scienceblogs Brazil (in Portuguese). There is a growing North Carolina group science blog.

Ira Flatow offered to host bloggers on Science Friday. And so did Wired UK (and US?) and apparently The Guardian as well. Scientific American is bound to jump into the fray, picking up defecting SciBlings. National Geographic has a blog network – I guess they are watching these developments as well. These media-run blogs/networks may well be changing their technological architecture as we speak in order to absorb multiple new bloggers they are trying to attract.

Blogging on Huffington Post is an instant loss of credibility – a day of a Pepsi blog is nothing compared to years of pseudoscience, medical quackery, Creationism and Deepak Chopra’s posts there. Nobody in their right mind would want to be associated with such a cesspit of anti-science.

There are awesome blog/news networks for students of science journalism at NYU (Scienceline) and their counterparts in the UK, mainly at City University (Elements).

Nature Network whose target audience are primarily scientists rather than lay public, and Science 2.0 (formerly Scientificblogging.org, not to be confused with the similarly named but very new and interesting Science 2.0 network that does more than just blogging) seem to be pretty open and approachable and have nice internal communities, but are essentially invisible from the outside. Likewise for Discovery Networks Blogs. The Psychology Today blogs is a very big network, but they do not seem to have anything like a community, and seem to be pretty non-selective as to who they accept. I have heard of at least three new networks still in the making.

But going to any of these is potentially a step down and a big loss of visibility and traffic. The only network that has recently started to come close to the clout of Scienceblogs.com is Discover blogs, but they have a specific type of blogger in mind and do not appear to have an appetite at this point to suddenly invite dozens of new bloggers – they seem to be building the network as a small, but highly elite place for people with some existing journalistic and professional writer cred. Definitely ones to watch!

New scienceblogging ecosystem

The potential step down and loss of visibility by leaving Sb may be an illusion. It makes sense in the existing ecosystem in which Scienceblogs.com is The Borg and everyone else is biting the dust. But the ecosystem is changing. Scienceblogs.com is rapidly losing reputation and bleeding bloggers. A number of other networks are absorbing these bloggers and adding more, growing in size and visibility very rapidly. Very soon – and I mean SOON as in weeks – instead of one big place to watch, there will be two dozen medium-sized places to watch. Instead of one site that everyone reads, there will be a number of sites that will have to read each other instead. Networks that get too large will be viewed, perhaps, with suspicion they are not selective enough. Networks that are too small will get lost and invisible in such a crowded ecosystem. The trick is to find the Goldilocks solution – just the right size.

Many science bloggers are personal friends, and many are also heavy users of social networks like Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook, so the ties will remain. The popularity of blog carnivals may come back up, at least temporarily, due to their well-established effect of building and maintaining the community. ResearchBlogging.org, apart from building respect for science bloggers in the outside world, is also beginning to serve as a center of the blogging community (and I hope it survives, funded by Seed or, if that becomes impossible at some point in the future, by whoever else can be lured to do so).

Instead of one big network, there will be a network of networks. Nobody can afford now to ignore or be ignored by others. I bet we will see aggregators springing up that link to all the networks, perhaps networks will carry each other’s RSS Feed widgets on sidebars to facilitate cross-linking and traffic between networks, and thus raise visibility of all. And the legacy media will have to adjust to the new ecosystem as well, and instead of just watching Scienceblogs.com, find a way to monitor all of the networks at the same time.

When science blogosphere was young, existence of Scienceblogs.com was a boon – it lifted all the boats with it, made both the science and the science blogging visible and prominent. Today, having only one overgrown site so visible is toxic – it takes the oxygen out of the system, and makes the other networks and independent bloggers invisible. With the current process of Sb being cut to size, and concomitant process of other networks growing in size, visibility and relevance (as well as brand new networks springing up), we are reaching a point where being on Sb is not the pinnacle of one’s potential science blogging career – it is one of many places where it is good to be.

Many who are, for now, deciding to stay on Sb, are doing so because they are terrified of becoming invisible by going solo. But in the new emerging ecosystem, going solo is not necessarily going to mean invisibility. People who go solo will still be a part of the community – yes, the same science blogging community that Scienceblogs.com was a key to building in the first place.

Going solo also makes one “fair game”. Other networks will not approach Sciblings who are not officially leaving as they do not want to tread on Adam Bly’s territory or be seen as poaching. But they will approach people who go solo. And they will also approach independent bloggers who were never on a network before – because those bloggers are really good and have been left out so far, because there are not enough Sb defectors to build sufficiently large networks just out of them, and because they do not want the perception that they are growing and building networks entirely on the ashes of Seed.

A growing number of networks and growing visibility of all the networks, also means that bloggers will have many choices. Seed is not the only game in town any more. Some networks pay bloggers, others don’t. Some have advertising, some don’t. Some have posting frequency requirements, others don’t. Some are run by for-profit organizations, others by non-profits, and others are bloggers’ cooperatives. Some have complete editorial freedom, some have limited restrictions. Some have excellent tech support, some lousy or none at all. Some are smaller and highly selective as to who they invite, others are big and also accept bloggers who are not really up to par. Thus, each blogger has a range of choices and the ability to choose according to what each individual finds important for their own goals. And those bloggers who think of this as a hobby and do not want to be seen as Media, can easily go solo and remain connected to the ecosystem in a variety of ways.

What will I do?

My first impulse when Pepsi blog suddenly and surprisingly showed up on the homepage was to bail out immediately.

But I decided instead to take some time to think and decide. My wife also told me to wait and watch the events unfold instead of saying anything myself. Wise.

Not saying anything publicly also made me open to others – I was approached by many with questions, fears, confusions, and their own plans. I have heard a whole lot from various people – who is courting them, where they are going to go, what new networks are being secretly built, etc. which gives me a pretty good lay of the land. I have a pretty good grasp of what is going on out there, I think (though I can be surprised, I’m sure). Most people are quite secretive about their plans, and I will NOT reveal anything that anybody told me until they themselves go public, but I am also not ready to completely reveal my own plans just yet.

After agonizing for almost two weeks, I finally made a decision. I will leave Scienceblogs.com, effective today.

I am not making this decision lightly. A number of factors played a part in this. On one hand there are negative factors – the loss of reputation by Sb, the complete lack of technical support here, the deflated morale of bloggers here, and the indications that all the recent changes at Seed are not a sign of losing the print mindset, which makes it unlikely that meaningful changes will happen. There is also a feeling that SMG is financially a sinking ship. On the other hand are positive factors – I am excited by the swift evolution of the new science blogging ecosystem and want to position myself well within it. I feel that this is also an opportunity to make something better once the dust settles. But the main reason I am leaving is the ethical breach that has seriously placed our reputation in jeopardy.

Unlike some others, I have nothing personal against Adam Bly. We have met once and he seems to be a really nice guy. We loved going to the New York City meetups in the early years and meeting with him there and being hosted at his house. He has interesting ideas and I think his goals are quite in sync with my own – increasing the prominence and relevance of science in our society. I just think that he is consulting with (and sometimes hiring) people with the old legacy media mindset, getting outdated ideas from them, and not being aware how the world has changed even in the past four years and how those changes require a much more dramatic change in direction.

I also want to acknowledge how much being on Scienceblogs.com has meant to me both personally and professionally. This is where I got my job, many other gigs, invitations to give talks, preview copies of books, and a general prominence and reputation in the worlds of science, publishing and the Web. Without Scienceblogs.com, there probably would never be Open Laboratory and ScienceOnline. I have made many fast friends here, both SciBlings and readers, and I am optimistic that these friendships will continue, wherever any one of us end up blogging.

Though many other solutions are possible for me, I have decided that I want to be solo for a little while – I want to see who approaches me and with what kinds of offers. Perhaps something great comes out of it. With my wife on disability leave our finances are shot, and I need to find a way to get paid for all the things I do so I can support my family. And even if no good offers come about, at least when I make up (and announce) my final decision, I will be sure I had all the necessary information I need to make the best decision for myself.

So, farewell, Scienceblogs, it was honor to be a part of this community for so long.

You can find me, in the meantime, at https://coturnix.wordpress.com/. I will continue blogging at everyONE blog and Science in the Triangle blog as well. And you can follow me on Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook, so you will know when I make other moves in the future.

Another interesting graph….

Click on image to check stats, play around…

The PepsiGate linkfest

I will not be saying anything about PepsiCo thing myself yet. I do have opinions (and decisions that come from them), but I am not revealing anything until I am ready (and it may end up being one of those horribly long posts, who knows).

But in the meantime I can put together this linkfest, so you can have a one-spot-shopping place for all the key posts about the event. I don’t think this is a complete collection, and I could not order them in a chronological order (too much work, so the order is random) but close enough – the key posts/articles are here, and the comment sections are very informative as well on all of the posts.

Jennifer Ouellette

John Rennie
John Rennie

Martin Robbins

Abel PharmBoy
Abel PharmBoy
Abel PharmBoy

Columbia Journalism Review

The National Association of Science Writers blog

The Guardian
The Guardian

Gaia Vince

Rebecca Skloot
Rebecca Skloot

David Dobbs
David Dobbs

Brian Switek

Scicurious

Pal MD
Pal MD

Janet Stemwedel

Page 3.14
Page 3.14

Alex Wild

Pamela Ronald

Skulls in the Stars

Carl Zimmer

Knight Science Journalism Tracker
Knight Science Journalism Tracker
Knight Science Journalism Tracker

Colin Schultz

PZ Myers

Martin Rundquist

Orac

Grrrlscientist
Grrrlscientist

Mike Dunford
Mike Dunford

Jason Goldman
Jason Goldman
Jason Goldman

Chad Orzel

Chris Clarke
Chris Clarke
Chris Clarke

Chris Rowan and Anne Jefferson

Christie Wilcox
Christie Wilcox

DrugMonkey

Maryn McKenna

Sharon Astyk:
Sharon Astyk

Deborah Blum

John Wilbanks

Dr.Isis

James Hrynyshyn

Zuska
Zuska

Mike the Mad Biologist
Mike the Mad Biologist

Josh Rosenau
Josh Rosenau
Josh Rosenau

John Dupuis

Greg Laden
Greg Laden
Greg Laden

Dave Winer

The Dog Zombie

John Wilkins
John Wilkins

PhysioProf

David Colquhoun

Slashdot

Mark Chu-Carroll

DailyKos
DailyKos

skeptifem

Grant Jacobs
Grant Jacobs

Lab Lemming

Jonathan Eisen

Consumerist

Hank Campbell
Hank Campbell
Hank Campbell

Southern Fried Scientist

Forbes.com blog

Scholarly Kitchen

Metafilter

ERV
ERV
ERV

Adam Bly

More:

John Pavlus

Eric Michael Johnson

Liz Borkowski

DrugMonkey

Chris Rowan and Anne Jefferson

Andrew Gelman

Jay Rosen and Dave Winer

Michael Welland

Watching the Watchers

OmegaMom

Jason Rosenhouse

John Dupuis

Jennifer Jacquet

Brian Switek

DrugMonkey

Update: You can find follow-ups by me (and by others, linked within) at:

A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem
Thank you!
Science Blogging Networks: What, Why and How
Is this something that NYTimes editors proudly allowed to get published?
Welcome Scientopia, a new science blogging network

I’m a Social Media Guru (video)

On the other hand….read: Lesson From Social Media Day: I’m An Expert, Too.

Who are you, again?

I see – DrugMonkey, Janet, Pal and Jason are reviving the annual tradition of asking readers to say in the comments who they are. I did this in 2008 bit can’t find if I did it in 2009. The original questions and instructions are:

1) Tell me about you. Who are you? Do you have a background in science? If so, what draws you here as opposed to meatier, more academic fare? And if not, what brought you here and why have you stayed? Let loose with those comments.
2) Tell someone else about this blog and in particular, try and choose someone who’s not a scientist but who you think might be interested in the type of stuff found in this blog. Ever had family members or groups of friends who’ve been giving you strange, pitying looks when you try to wax scientific on them? Send ’em here and let’s see what they say.

But my blog is different – many different topics and only a handful of posts per year really dissecting a scientific study. There is much more about media, science journalism, blogging, social networking, communications, science publishing, Open Access and that kind of stuff. And videos. And I am always surprised how many people (including veteran serious bloggers) really like Clock Quotes! They get comments here and on FriendFeed and Facebook.
So, tell me also what kinds of posts you like here? What makes you keep coming back for more? What would you like me to do more? And also, what do you skip and ignore?

Seven Questions….with Yours Truly

Last week, my SciBling Jason Goldman interviewed me for his blog. The questions were not so much about blogging, journalism, Open Access and PLoS (except a little bit at the end) but more about science – how I got into it, what are my grad school experiences, what I think about doing research on animals, and such stuff. Jason posted the interview here, on his blog, on Friday, and he also let me repost it here on my blog as well, under the fold:

Continue reading

PLoS ONE Blog Pick of the Month for June 2010…

…was just announced on everyONE blog. Go and see who won!
And while there, check out the latest edition of the (bi)weekly Blog/Media coverage.

Real Guys Immunize

guyzimmunize logo.jpgLast week I went to Philadelphia to a very interesting meeting – a Social Media Summit on Immunization. Sponsored by Immunization Action Coalition, this was a second annual meeting for health-care non-profits, organized (amazingly well, with great attention to detail) by Lisa Randall (and, I am sure, a small army of helpers).
Over a day and a half of the meeting there were two simultaneous sessions at each time slot, but I did not have much opportunity to ponder my choices as I was at the front of the room at three sessions, and participated actively in several others. The style was very ‘unconference-y’, with barely any PowerPoint – we talked and showed stuff on the Web as needed.
We discussed pros and cons of using various online platforms for spreading the message about vaccinations (which also means pushing back against anti-vaccination propaganda), making sure that all of the representatives of the non-profits understand they don’t have to use all (or any) of them unless this can be useful for the work they want to do and the goal they want to achieve. But if they do feel it is necessary, we were there to explain and demonstrate how to do it: static pages, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., the best practices and strategies for using each of these platforms, the metrics for measuring the spread of their message, etc. This was a LOT of stuff, and we covered a lot of ground, but I hope we were useful.
On the second day, we had a very interesting discussion following the presentation by Anna Kata, anthropologist from McMaster University, whose recent paper, A postmodern Pandora’s box: anti-vaccination misinformation on the Internet, analyzed the arguments by the anti-vaccination groups use in their online discussions. What is most interesting is that every single one of these arguments is nothing new – each has been used from the very beginning of vaccination, in 1796, from personal attacks on Edward Jenner, to arguments about “playing God”, to fear of putting animal material into bodies, to suspecting a conspiracy by government, industry and medical profession, to arguments for personal freedom, to proposing alternative theories of health (and disease and treatments). It never really stopped, it just has some very prominent spokesemen right now, visible in the media.
What is important is that people who reject vaccination are not the uneducated and the poor. The poor tend to trust the authority of physicians and will gladly vaccinate – if they can afford it. It is the upper-middle-class, at least nominally well educated, that refuses to vaccinate their kids. Trying to change their minds by presenting them the information does not work – they do not treat that information as valid. They live in a post-modern world in which everyone is entitled to their own facts. Their notions of body, health, and disease are very holistic, very New-Agey, so medical information does not mean anything to them. But they (not the activists, but parents seeking information) can be swayed by peer pressure. And nothing works better than for them to hear, from their friends, family, neighbors, colleagues and physicians, over and over again “I vaccinated my kids, trust me, I know what I’m doing, you should vaccinate yours, too.” If people they trust vaccinate, they will start wavering in their beliefs and may end up vaccinating themselves in the end. It is that social pressure, and need to socially conform, that is much more powerful than all the medical information in the world.
As a demonstration of the way, and ease of the way, for putting together a social media strategy, a group of ‘Social Media Ninjas’, about 5-6 of them who have never met or worked together before, took over one of the rooms and all of its computers during the meeting. They had 24 hours from start to finish. They started by crowdsourcing ideas, then picking one and running with it. The one they picked was focused on explaining ‘herd immunity’ and the target audience was men.
Almost all of the activity in persuading people to vaccinate their kids targets women, as it is supposed that mothers are the only ones making decisions about their children. This leaves out half of the population. And that half of the population can really help. In some families, still in the 21st century I know, the father has the last word. In other families, mother may resist vaccines out of fear and insecurity and her husband’s support can make all the difference – they can study the issue together, discuss it and make the decision together.
So the Social Media Ninja team, in that 24-hour period, came up with the name – “Real Guys Immunize” – drew a logo, and built a static web page, which explains what this is all about, provides brief FAQs and links to external resources. It also provides an easy way for readers to post personal stories.
They started a Twitter account (and the #guysimmunize hashtag), a YouTube channel and a Facebook page. They designed an e-card for Father’s Day. They had a couple of participants write blog posts (see here and here). And they put together a cool slideshow:

They decided against making a video (24 hours was too short, and nobody in the room was a real video-maven) though this can be done later, and made other changes to the original plan as the 24 hours passed. At the very end, they presented all of that to the gathering, including the first metrics of their reach (whatever one can measure after such a short time):

The site (and everything else associated with it on social media) is not really owned by anyone – it was just an experiment done to show how such a thing is made. So, if anyone is interesting in taking over this initiative and moving it forward into the future, there is a contact e-mail there, just click.

Welcome the newest SciBlings! And more.

Now this is big: ScienceBlogs Welcomes the World’s Top Scientific Institutions to Our Network:

We here at ScienceBlogs are pleased to announce that beginning today, we will be helping to spark the next generation of research communications by introducing new blogs to our network from the world’s top scientific institutions. The initial list includes: CERN, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), SETI Institute, Weizmann Institute of Science, and Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The first two of those are already live – check out the Weizmann Wave and Brookhaven Bits & Bytes. Go and say Hello. The others will go live soon. And if your institution is interested in doing something like this, contact the Overlords over on Page 3.14.
Also, the ScienceBlogs Book Club is back! The first book discussed right now is ‘Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service’ by Mark Pendergrast, who is himself participating in the book club. Later, who knows, perhaps some books from this list?

No, blogs are not dead, they are on summer vacation

It is always funny to hear how “blogs are dying”, being abandoned in droves as bloggers are all moving to Twitter. It’s funny how that works – you see fewer posts on a blog, or a couple of bloggers going on a summer hiatus, and the sky is falling!
In response to the latest such lament (which includes a seed of an idea that many have already developed at length and detail), I wrote this in the comments, and thought I’d repost it here for more discussion:
It is June. Blogospheric summer slump has been observed every summer since blogging started. Nothing surprising: kids are out of school and the weather is nice, so it is much more fun to go to the beach than to blog. Many bloggers make official summer breaks in blogging, others ease up and put up filler material like YouTube videos.
The very first blogs were linkblogs. Web was young and most of the stuff on it were static pages. Bloggers would discover interesting pages and link to them from their blogs for their audiences – they served as filters (what years later moved to digg, redditt, stumbleupon, etc.).
Soon after, as the blogging software improved, people started using their blogs for all sorts of things. Some continued linkblogging. Others started writing in long form. Most did a mix of little bit of everything.
Today, there is a plethora of different platforms that are more suitable for various activities that in the past had to be done on a blog. Quick links or brief statements can be placed on microblogging platforms like Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook. Some things that are a little longer, or a little different (photos, videos, quotes) are best posted on mesoblogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous. The good ole’ blog is now free from all that small stuff and remains the platform for long form essays only, at least for some bloggers.
So, what a blogger used to do only on a blog is now distributed across several platforms. It is pretty short-sighted to judge a blogger’s output by the blog alone – one needs to evaluate the activity of the person across all the platforms: short form on microblogging services, medium form on mesoblogging services, and long form on macroblogging services.
Mindcasting is a process of using all those services in a fashion that is not disjointed. One starts with the idea, and gathers feedback (crowdsourcing) on microblogging places, develops the ideas further, incorporating feedback, on mesoblogging platforms, and puts together the final long-form product on the blog. If one is interested, one can go even further – pooling several blog posts into a magazine article, and several such articles into a book. That coordinated and systematic use of multiple platforms towards development of a single idea, is called Mindcasting.

Am I A Science Journalist?

OK, a busy day, mostly offline, so here’s another provocation for you to trash in the comments 😉
There are several different aspects of science communication. If we classify them, somewhat artificially, by who is the sender and who is the receiver of information, we can have something like this:
A) Scientists to scientists – mainly via scientific journals, also conferences, and recently via blogs and social networks.
B) Scientists to traditional media – mainly via institutional press releases, now also blogs and social networks.
C) Traditional media to interested (“pull” method) lay audience – in newspapers, magazines, on radio and TV, also movies and plays.
D) Scientists to (probably) uninterested (“push” method) lay audience – in the classroom, for credit and grades required for graduation, these days often using the Web as a classroom tool.
E) Scientists to interested (“pull” method) lay audiences – in popular science books and recently via blogs and social networks
F) Scientists to highly interested and involved lay audiences – offline via Citizen Science projects, also museums, science cafes, public lectures, unconferences, and online on blogs, computer games, and social networks.
For a very brief period in history, roughly six decades from 1940 to 2000, the term “journalism” was assigned, for technological and business reasons, only to the C above (not ‘since Gutenberg’ – it took 150 years from Gutenberg to the first newspaper, and not until early 20th century was there anything resembling the broadcast-only, one-to-many, corporate media ecosystem we are all familiar with and some people erroneously assume is “the norm”). This is unnecessarily narrow. For several centuries before this period science journalism was, and the last decade or so after this brief aberration in history is again, essentially equal to ‘science communication’, thus, “all of the above” applies, not just C.
If anything, that C is the weakest link – the worst form of science communication of all of the above choices as it is the only one performed by people who are unlikely (yes, I know, there are some fantastic but rare exceptions) to have sufficient expertise to understand and explain the science. Journalism requires expertise in the topic, and science journalism is a prime example of this requirement.
It has been only a couple of decades that it has become a norm to become a journalist by going through a journalism program in college – before that, science journalists tended to come from science backgrounds. Such science journalists had the ability to understand the science news and to translate them into lay language. Of course, science news was never reported only by specialized science reporters – there are examples throughout the history of media of regular beat reporters and op-ed writers covering science, usually quite disastrously.
Now back to the self-centeredness from the title of this post….
I try to be as complete a science communicator as I can be, trying my hand at all of the above as much as I can:
A) I have published several scientific papers, including one quite recently (and still have enough unpublished material for four manuscripts) and presented at a number of meetings.
B) As a blogger for PLoS, I often highlight some of PLoS ONE papers, distilling them for lay audience, mainly for the benefit of the media.
C) I have never attempted to publish in traditional media, a priori frustrated by length limits, headline writers, and potentially ignorant editors. But I am willing to try. And I am also an outside advisor to the PRI/BBC/World experiment in connecting science stories on the radio to the Web.
D) I teach Biology 101 to non-science majors in non-traditional education at college level.
E) I write this blog (yes, including real science posts) for which I am paid. I write for ScienceInTheTriangle blog, for which I am paid. I post interesting science links on Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook and am ready to answer questions from non-scientific audience on such platforms. I try to practice the new journalistic workflow. And people think I am not that bad at it. And I edit and guide the collection and production of Open Laboratory anthologies.
F) I am very interested in getting involved in these kinds of “engage, don’t lecture” projects in the future. And organizing ScienceOnline conferences is one of the ways to engage.
And I read, think and write a lot about the current changes in the world of journalism.
So, am I a science journalist, in a 21st century sense of that word? I think I am (and there is also an undisclosed business reason why I am claiming this, but that is peripheral), and if not a journalist at least a ‘science writer’, but people who internalized by osmosis the 20th century ideas about journalism may beg to differ.
Are you a science journalist?