Adventures in Ethics and Science

At the upcoming North Carolina Science Blogging Conference on January 19, 2008, I’ll be leading a discussion on the ethics of science blogging (not about blogging about ethics in science). If you attend the conference (and if you’re not sucked in by one of the other attractive discussions scheduled for the same time-slot), you’ll be able to take part in the conversation in real time.

But even if you won’t be able to come to North Carolina for the conference, you can help set the agenda for our discussion by editing the wiki page for the session.

Here’s what I’ve posted to get things going:

The central questions we’ll be circling are, WHAT ARE MY RESPONSIBILITIES AS A SCIENCE BLOGGER? and, TO WHOM AM I RESPONSIBLE?

Connected to those big questions are a number of specific issues we could discuss:

  1. How fair and accurate are my posts?
  2. How careful should I be about recognizing the limits of my expertise? About seeing my own biases and/or disclosing any potential conflicts of interest?
  3. Am I entitled to disclose this information? (What are the potential consequences if I do disclose it?)
  4. What are my responsibilities to my employer/professional field? To my readers?
  5. What’s my relationship with my commenters?
  6. Should I be fostering a free exchange of ideas? Heading off a hostile environment? Both?
  7. What responsibilities do I have toward other netizens?
  8. Do I have a responsibility to protect the identities of pseudonymous bloggers and commenters?
  9. Do bloggers need a formal code of ethics?

Since this will be a discussion (not a lecture), I’m hopeful that others will pipe up with the ethical issues in blogging about science that they see as most important or challenging. I’m sure there are others I’ve omitted, some of them intentionally (as I have no interest in working out a theory of just blogwars, for example).

I’m also interested in suggestions people may have about the format of the discussion. For example, if folks think it would be useful to use a concrete case study or two as a jumping off point, I can set to preparing some case studies. If people think the right place to start is a comparison between bloggers and journalists, I can dig up codes of journalistic ethics as grist for the discussion.

I have no objections to having a preliminary discussion of these issues here, of course … just don’t be afraid to share your thoughts on the wiki page.

(After the session, I’ll update the wiki with my version of what actually happened so that those of you not there in body aren’t left out.)