It was a busy weekend here – figuring out whether we were moving, my sister was visting, other friends were visiting, we hit the local County Fair, worked in the garden, you know, life. So until just now, I hadn’t paid any attention to the empty meanderings about science blogs in the Times Magazine. But I did have to read it eventually – Monday comes eventually to all of us – and lo and behold, I got me an awesome dig from the Times – Virginia Heffernan attacks all science bloggers for being part of the “religion-baiting, peak-oil crowd.”
Now that’s kind of funny, because I wasn’t aware that constituted a crowd. I’m pretty good on peak oil crowds, and I’ve never met this one. Now I’m sure that PZ Myers and I have some overlapping readers, despite the fact that I’ve got 1/1000th his traffic, if that, but given that I’m a professing theist, a moderately observant Jew who regularly writes about my religion, I can’t say I ever thought we were anything but colleagues (my husband is nervous now that he’s heard we’re part of the same crowd – he knows I think bearded geeks are hot!)
A quick googling around suggests that the only references I can find to PZ and peak oil are response to Heffernan’s article – it clearly hasn’t been a major focus for him, although hey, ASPO is looking for speakers! As far as I know, I’m the only science blogger presently writing regularly about peak oil, although a few others talk about it now and again, but I have to think that Heffernan’s “peak oil” reference is to me. Oooh, I’m so proud – the New York Times Magazine tech columnist knows who I am – woot! Gotta run out and get Mom a few copies of her screed!
Now there are plenty of atheists in the peak oil community, and I’m sure not a few peak oilers among the atheists – the proportion of atheists among scientists including petroleum geologists and geophysicists alone would suggest this to be likely. Given that the peak oil movement has long been driven by physical scientists, I’m assuming that’s the case – but are they organized? Do they have parties? Are there religion-baiting, peak-oil drinking occasions that I’m not invited to? If they have margaritas, I might be willing to give up my faith.
Hey, I admit, I’m curious. What religions do you have to bait to join the club Heffernan knows so much about? Do you have to accept than any resources are peaking besides oil? Can you be an atheist and a peak coaler and get in? What religions do I have to bait to stay on science blogs, since I’ve got the peak oil thing down?
There’s another possibility here – that Heffernan is on to something deep and important. I mean, how many of you have ever seen Myers and I in the same place? Is it just possible that a thirty-something Jewish mother, farmer and science writer from upstate NY is actually a bearded atheist Prof from Minnesota with one of the highest traffic blogs on the planet, trying to covertly expand the atheist community by infiltrating the enormously powerful peak oil movement? Maybe….just maybe. Or it could be the other way around – that I’m not really a peak oiler, I just wanted to get my readership hooked before revealing my true agenda and plan to take over the world by moving the peak oil and new atheist communities together into one unstoppable political force.
Could be. Or, maybe, just maybe there’s no conspiracy and Heffernan just has no idea what she’s writing about. After all, she doesn’t seem to know what Deconstruction actually is, she seems to feel free to meander around her stated “technology” subject, but doesn’t think anyone else should be allowed to go off topic. For that matter, she doesn’t quite seem to get what blogging is, and why some of us like being able to say things that you can’t say in the New York Times.
She also doesn’t seem to realize that the paper she writes for has policies on advertorial that are pretty much exactly the same ones that Science bloggers were asking Seed to implement. And she doesn’t seem to have read carefully enough to realize that many of the departing bloggers explicitly said the primary issue wasn’t Pepsi, but things like wanting to actually get paid. The funny thing is that there’s a tiny grain of truth in Heffernan’s piece – there are class issues in the dynamics of science blogs. They just aren’t the ones Heffernan identifies:
Clearly I’ve been out of some loop for too long, but does everyone take for granted now that science sites are where graduate students, researchers, doctors and the “skeptical community” go not to interpret data or review experiments but to chip off one-liners, promote their books and jeer at smokers, fat people and churchgoers? And can anyone who still enjoys this class-inflected bloodsport tell me why it has to happen under the banner of science?
One of those class issues is that the writers here, unlike the Times writers, weren’t getting paid regularly. Another one is that we make a lot less than the Times pays its columnists, and quite a number of the writers here are graduate students who depend on that income. I somehow suspect that Heffernan might complain if she didn’t get paid.
Heffernan seems to imagine that real “science writing” should be a. more boring and b. more boring. Don’t get me wrong – there’s more than a little place in science writing for reporting on papers and results and “reviewing experiments” – and some science bloggers do a lot of that, and some a little. Heffernan seems to think that science writers should never talk about society, culture, politics or anything other than data and experiments. I’m sure that’s totally because science has no relevance to any of those things – we never use scientific evidence to make decisions, imagine the future, or to affect our lives in any way, shape or form, so there’s no reason to talk about those things – nope, not science!
Moreover, Heffernan does seem to have been, as she suggests, out of a major loop for some time. Maybe she was out of the one where the Times missed the financial crisis, and the energy price spike – while dozens of bloggers predicted them? Or maybe the loop she was out of was the one where blogging, which isn’t exactly like column writing, was invented (yeah, we bloggers paid $200 month are way, way more privileged than a New York Times columnist…sure) and came to be not exactly the same as newspaper writing.
You see, the problem is that the bland, always in exactly the same style, emotionless, neutral “gotta make sure there’s two sides to every issue, even when one of them is stupid” science reporting niche was already taken – the Times beat me to it. I, like other bloggers, was left to make my way in the wilderness, and find the tiny leftover audience from the Very Important Paper that didn’t want the crap bored out of them, and didn’t want to only hear about peak oil and climate change and the deeper problems of our society after they’ve already occurred.
It is sad – I would, of course, have preferred Heffernan’s job and the chance to write blandly and inaccurately for the Times, but we all have to make the best of things. So that’s why I started up my alter-ego, writing as PZ Myers – because I knew that the religion-baiting, peak-oil crowd was just out there waiting for me…I mean us.