Adventures in Ethics and Science

One of the things that came out of the discussion of the ethics of blogging about science at the 2008 NC Science Blogging Conference was a clear sense that we don’t yet have general agreement about what kinds of ethics should guide science blogging — in part, because we haven’t come to an agreement about just what kind of activity science blogging is.


Is science blogging more like journalism or the scholarly activities of scientists reporting their findings to their peers? Is it education or punditry? Is it a profession or a hobby?

Different bloggers (and different blog readers) seem to have different views here.

This makes it tricky to get clear on just what the blogger owes her readers, her sources, and her fellow bloggers (among others). Moreover, it makes it hard to work out whether there is — or could be — a coherent community of science bloggers whose activities are informed by a set of shared values.

The heterogeneity of science blogging didn’t put us off from thinking that it might be valuable to start discussing what responsibilities science bloggers might have, and what sorts of “best practices” science bloggers might adopt. We set up a wiki to collect people’s thoughts on this. If you have a view about the responsibilities you expect science bloggers to live up to (and given that you’re reading a blog, you probably do), please jump right in and share them on the wiki. If you’re shy about editing pages in wikis, you can also share your thoughts in the comments here.

Comments

  1. #1 Ian
    January 23, 2008

    Is there any way to register? There’s a log-in option – is that only for conference participants?

  2. #2 Eva
    January 23, 2008

    Hm, well there are a lot of different kinds of science bloggers. Some talk a lot about funny things, some talk about religion or the lack thereof, some tend to discuss scholarly papers, some make up parodies of science, some post conversations with their children =)

    But in terms of good practise, if the blogger has some information about themselves somewhere on the blog – not even necessarily their name, but their background as related to the blog – then people have some kind of idea of what to expect.

    And links to where they got the information for the post from. If you write a post based on a news article, link to the news article and not (only) to the source paper if you haven’t based your post on that. I think especially for science bloggers this ought to be good practise, because if you can’t even properly cite your reference(s) in a blog post then you can’t do it in your research papers either.

  3. #3 yami
    January 24, 2008

    What would be the differences in the ethical obligation of someone who blogs “like a journalist” vs. “like a scientist giving a conference talk”?

  4. #4 grinnyguy
    January 24, 2008

    I think established publishers should remain the source of new scientific discoveries. The problem lies with the reader, who should not trust everything written on a blog, in the same way as you should not trust everything from journalists. A good science writer can earn trust from their readership and from scientific circles, who may link to the blog, giving it credibility.

    The huge advantage that I see with blogs is the speed of communication that it allows. In this way new ideas can be discussed, even if things have not yet been published, which should speed up research.

    An accreditation system is not something I had thought of, but it would certainly be useful if it helps to disinguish the best scientists and best writers more efficiently.

  5. #5 Zuska
    January 24, 2008

    In determining who are the “best scientists and best writers”, I think we have a responsibility not to reproduce the ill effects we see in science at large through unexamined assumptions about what constitutes “the best”. These unexamined assumptions usually lead people to undervalue the contributions of women and underrepresented minorities, or to ignore them altogether. Also, issues in science that matter to this groups are also sometimes overlooked or considered to be outside the realm of science. So who gets to decide who’s best, and how do they do it?

  6. #6 Thomas Robey
    February 2, 2008

    Hi!

    Thanks for setting this up. It’s nice to work on something that has the potential to benefit the science blogging community.

    I’ve been editing the wiki occasionally, but tonight got a “Holy smokes, Batman!” message from StikiPad when I tried to get in. Hopefully I don’t forget what I wanted to write ; )

    I’ll repost here if it’s not up later this weekend.

  7. #7 Thomas Robey
    February 2, 2008

    Now my browser is telling me that it cannot fond the server for wiki.scienceblogging.com.

    Help!

  8. #8 Janet D. Stemwedel
    February 4, 2008

    It’s back up now.