And the WTF of the Week Award goes to …

Bablab blog….

We have a confession. You have all been part of an experiment in social engineering. This has been in the planning for a while now. But let me step back and explain the purpose of our experiment before we analyze the results.
….. bla bla bla…

Then they go on to explain how the embarassingly narrow minded and, well, just not very well thought out post they put up yesterday was all really a very smart trick. (See this.) The claim is that Scienceblogs.com is evil. One of the reasons sciencblogs.com is evil is because it is commercial.

Funny. Bablab is commercially sponsored as well.

And… scienceblogs.com is evil because it is a group of bloggers, and you know how incestuous that can be.

Funny. Blablab is a group of bloggers. All anonymous, by the way.

And .. scienceblogs.com is evil becuuse it is very successful. Lots of people read scienceblogs.com.

Funny. Blablab is … ah, well, not.

Anyway, here’s what I want my readers (and fellow non-scienceblogs.com bloggers) to know:

Scienceblogs.com is at this particular moment not particularly evil. All the possibilities are there, of course. There is a wealthy individual who owns Seed Media Group. I don’t know a thing about him except his name is Adam something and he’s from Canada. Seed is a corporation that does all that corporation stuff. They are presumably in it for the money, or at least, have to break even.

As a sideline, Seed Media Group maintains Scienceblogs.com. They give us a part time techie who is barely holding things together with the servers and stuff …. you will note that sb.com normally works, and that’s pretty impressive. They give us one editor, who is very busy. And there is normally an intern hanging around as well.

There are rules, pretty much as expected. Because of our passwords, we have access to secret stuff sometimes. We can sort of see new bloggers before you can, so we have to have rules about not linking to them until they are “on line.” We have rules about what parts of the movable type software to not touch, because if we touch it, we break the whole site, and so on.

We have a back channel place where we can talk. The rule is strict: Whatever is said there stays there. Every once in a while, a blogger makes mention of something from the back channel, and the other bloggers descend on him or her and rip the flesh form the bones like piranha. The editors hate this because then they have to go and get a new blogger.

I will take the risk though. I’ll tell you a little about what the back channel is like.

Did you ever see a discussion list? Where someone posts something that might or might not be an important statement or question? Then, the other members start to comment on that question, but quickly, the conversation shifts to irrelevancies or sidetracks? Then the usual people who happen to be active on the list start to chime in with their favorite highly stylized commentary, oft profane, edgy, sometimes aggressively insulting but in a friendly way? As if? (And why do people talk in question marks like this?)

By the time the initial question is a few hours old, the thread of the conversation is lost, and if the question is not handled right way, then it is pretty much hopeless.

That is what the back channel is like. Fun, but not momentous. Useful, but not very interesting to the outsider.

The most fun we had today, for instance, was when a blogger asked how to make a particular symbol on a blog post using HTML code. So we spent an hour showing off with HTML code. This, dear reader, was instead of either a) blogging or b) working on the plot to Take Over the World, which Bayblab seems to think we are working on.

We also discuss another major topic on a regular basis: Ethics. If someone has a question about the right thing to do, we can run it by each other. Perhaps a lot of mistakes are NOT made because of our conversations.

Hardly ever does anyone ever discuss what they are going to blog. We just blog, then maybe we talk about what we did blog. But mostly we talk about stuff that has nothing to do with blogging. Like how to get a train from San Fran to San Jose.

The most important thing that happens in the back channel is that this is where the editors can organize what they do. They organize the ask the science blogger question there, for instance. We complain about technical glitches like when an ad misbehaves. Slow moving, general and blog-wide not very interesting yet important stuff.

The most important thing I want you to know is this: As I said above, scienceblogs.com is not evil, but it could be. Think Microsoft vs Google (evil vs. benevolent). One could become the other so easily. Hey, these days, IBM is the bunny-fuzzy linux-loving blue thingie company. Many of you are too young to remember, but there was a time when IBM WAS the military industrial complex.

Here’s the thing: The moment scienceblogs.com, or Seed Media Group, goes evil (should that happen) I’m outta here, and so are a number of others, of this I’m sure. I trust the editorial staff (Katherine then, Ginny now) and I even like them. Beyond that, I know nothing about Seed more than I really know what happens here at the U at the President’s office. I’m reasonably comfortable. I am developing some good relationships with some of my fellow bloggers, but I also have good relationships developed mainly through blogging with non-Sb bloggers, and I worked with Sb bloggers back before I came here and would continue if I moved on. In other words, Sb is good for me, I’m comfortable, and they don’t pay me enough to say much more than that!

So if I seem a little defensive when responding to Bayblab, is it because I’m overreacting because Sb and we Sb bloggers have something to hide? Because they’ve struck a nerve? Because they’ve revealed an uncomfortable truth? No. It is because the Bayblab bloggers are being bad neighbors in the blogosphere. They are insinuating and ingenuously implying innuendo. Alliteratively, their aggressive allegations are annoying. (somebody stop me…)

…. OK, sorry ….

My point is that they have been jerks before, they are being jerks now, and I would expect them to be jerks in the future. Why do they do this?

PS: Further discussions of the nature of life here at Sb can be found here:

What is a Science Blog?

Am I a gorilla or an elephant?

If this teapot’s a-rockin…


Link love and long tails.

OMG! ScienceBorg(TM) is like totally killing science blogging!

The State of Science Blogging

What should science blogging be?

Comments

  1. #1 Propter Doc
    February 27, 2008

    The only think I can do is sigh (and I’ve read their ‘retraction’ post regarding their attempt at a flame war). Pretty juvenile really, waste of bandwidth, and they certainly wont make my blogroll as a result. It does just strike me as a case of jealously, science blogs collectively are a decently big fish in the science blogging pond. These guys are wannabes.

    This post is great, thank you so much for writing about the behind the scenes at scienceblogs.com. I was always curious about some things, so thanks for the clarification.

  2. #2 THE EDITORS
    February 27, 2008

    THE BLOG YOU ARE NOW READING HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED. THE BLOGGER HAS BEEN EATEN BY PIRANHA.

  3. #3 the real Baywatchcmf'er
    February 27, 2008

    What yer really saying is that you fell for it, and you feel ripped off kind of?

    I think its kind of hilarious: they noticed a trend amongst some bloggers to be sort of –as noted in that series–incestuous, which fosters group think, and limits expression. Cognitive biases can cloud the dialogue a bit, and maybe they are addressing a representativeness heuristic? Fresh ideas are not heuristics.

    Is group think always good for science? Is it ever good?

    I was happy to notice that your posts were in the category that did not “resort to ad hominem”, and also that you might well be in that small % who are “introspective” of your motives. I think that is good science, don’t you?

    Perhaps you possess that sort of objectivity that is sorely lacking in some of these other sciblogs, and sets you apart amongst some of your 800 lb friends? After all, you are perhaps one of a diminishing few who takes all comers at their level, rather than resorting to cliquish censorship, labelism, etc.

  4. #4 Lab Lemming
    February 27, 2008

    “We have a back channel place where we can talk. The rule is strict: Whatever is said there stays there.”

    Ahh, but those of us who blog on the outside can see the incoming CameFrom every time you folks link to our blogs from inside the closed forum.

    We may not know what you are saying, but we can see the point and infer the whispers…

  5. #5 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2008

    Greg left something out. We aren’t monolithic at all, and some of us dislike others of us with varying degrees of intensity, and sometimes we break out the shanks and start shiving each other in the privacy of the backchannel.

    I have to laugh when people accuse Sb of being inbred and cliquish — there’s a lot of diversity here that’s masked by the superficial fact that we all have the same ads on our pages.

  6. #6 IanR
    February 27, 2008

    We have a back channel place where we can talk. The rule is strict: Whatever is said there stays there.

    Yeah, I deduced that a while ago, through the magic of SiteMeter. Then there’s the fun part of trying to figure out which IP is who (hmm, let’s see: Minnesota, that’s either Greg or PZ. North Carolina could be one of many, but I assume it’s Bora, since he’s the one most likely to care about this. And New Jersey – I’m going to guess that’s Brian.)

    Good thing it’s secret though – otherwise I would be tempted to ask: Why are people talking about me behind my back? No fair! Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me!

  7. #7 Lab Lemming
    February 28, 2008

    Maybe we could put together an IP cheat sheet…

  8. #8 IanR
    February 28, 2008

    Oops – missed your post there Lab Lemming. Good idea.

  9. #9 Matt Penfold
    February 28, 2008

    “Greg left something out. We aren’t monolithic at all, and some of us dislike others of us with varying degrees of intensity, and sometimes we break out the shanks and start shiving each other in the privacy of the backchannel.”

    I recall a few times when you even abandoned the privacy of the backchannel. Any organisation than contain PZ and Ed Brayton is hardly that monolithic.

  10. #10 Matt Penfold
    February 28, 2008

    “I think its kind of hilarious: they noticed a trend amongst some bloggers to be sort of –as noted in that series–incestuous, which fosters group think, and limits expression. Cognitive biases can cloud the dialogue a bit, and maybe they are addressing a representativeness heuristic? Fresh ideas are not heuristics.”

    Only they noticed nothing of the sort. They failed to provide a shred of evidence to support that assertion and then got all miffy when people pointed that out.

    The participants at BaBlab are behaving like a bunch of sixth form students. That would be fine if they were indeed sixth form students but given they state they are graduate students one is entitled to expect a little more professionalism and integrity. I also hope they learn what constitutes actual evidence before they get loose in doing real research.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    February 28, 2008

    Lab Lemming: Ahh, but those of us who blog on the outside can see the incoming CameFrom every time you folks link to our blogs from inside the closed forum.

    I doubt that very much. Of the seventy bloggers on Sb, only a very small number check the forum on a regular basis. We’re not that coordinated as a group. But if you give me some specific examples that might be interesting.

    The way I track what others are doing is by looking at my RSS reader and the Sb 24 hour page, so Sb blogs get noticed by me twice (the RSS feed is populated with hundreds of sources) Only rarely do I go to a site references by Sblings because I only read at a given time a half dozen (max) threads on the back channel.

    PZ: I have to laugh when people accuse Sb of being inbred and cliquish

    PZ is totally right about what he says here. Why, just the other day, PZ went after one of the bloggers who was trying to steal his banana, but two or three of us stepped in and kind of held him back while the other blogger ran away. The other blogger’s still out in the jungle somewhere.

    Matt: And most importantly, I hope that they realize that everyone sees this second round (“oh, we were just doing an experiment”) as a joke … i.e., we all know it was NOT an experiment.

    If BlaBlaBlaBlog represented a normal well adjusted person, we would all see this second round as a face saving joke. If BlaBlaBlaBlog was a narcissistic mildly paranoic psychotic person, we would see it as delusional. If the former, it has to be a joke, if the latter, it could be something BlaBlaBlaBlog actually believes it could possibly get away with.

    So to give the young whippersnappers the benefit of the doubt, I’m assuming that they know it is a joke, we know it is a joke, and they know we know that it is a joke.

    In the mean time, if BlaBlaBlaBlog does not get this, they should get some help. Seriously.

  12. #12 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    February 28, 2008

    I’m suspicious that there was some collaboration, a conspiracy for traffic and that the SB collective was in league with Babylab. I am sure that the thing has induced many readers to add them to their feed reader, some of those who have never heard of the blog before.

    Mission accomplished, SB.

  13. #13 Michael Clarkson
    February 28, 2008

    Back in the dark ages of the internet (i.e. about 4 years ago) I was a moderator on a relatively popular web forum. I saw this “it was an experiment” excuse all the time from posters facing a ban for trolling.

    Interesting thing, Mike, I was going to add them to my reader until I saw that second post. But you know, I don’t have enough time in my day to spend any of it figuring out whether their next post is the genuine article or another troll.

  14. #14 thalarctos
    February 28, 2008

    We have a confession. You have all been part of an experiment in social engineering. This has been in the planning for a while now. But let me step back and explain the purpose of our experiment before we analyze the results.

    If they’re going to insist that this was a pre-planned “experiment”, perhaps someone ought to explain the concept of “informed consent” to them. Personally, if I had written a post like their first one, I’d rather explain it away as a fit of jealous pique than to publicly declare that I don’t care any more about the ethics of informed consent than they apparently do.

  15. #15 Matt Penfold
    February 28, 2008

    “If they’re going to insist that this was a pre-planned “experiment”, perhaps someone ought to explain the concept of “informed consent” to them. Personally, if I had written a post like their first one, I’d rather explain it away as a fit of jealous pique than to publicly declare that I don’t care any more about the ethics of informed consent than they apparently do.”

    I imagine they missed the classes when they would have learnt about ethics. Probably skiving off to buy fake dog poo and whoopee cushions from the local joke shop if their level of maturity is anything to go by.

  16. #16 Blake Stacey
    February 28, 2008

    I got a whole slew of hits from the SB back channel when I wrote about ScienceBlogs: The Movie, but I haven’t noticed much since then.

  17. #17 bayman
    February 28, 2008

    Interesting post Greg. You’re proving why the post (at least the first one) was a worthy exercise in provoking a new line of discussion.

    I certainly believe you when you say that most Sb backchannel talk is boring and innocuous. One comment was interesting however:
    We also discuss another major topic on a regular basis: Ethics. If someone has a question about the right thing to do, we can run it by each other.

    It’s always a bit divisive when subgroups of a population develop a private dialogue and develop a sense of ethics that is likely to eventually diverge from those who aren’t in the club. Eventually values tend to diverge and people have trouble interacting. I think we’ve seen that bit in this discussion, especially voiced by Sb superfans like Matt Penfold who shows zero mental plasticity (not to mention sense of humor) in digesting outside commentary and novel viewpoints on blogging that they have not previously encountered on Sb.

    Anyway, ethics are dynamic community guidelines that evolve through interaction. Why limit these discussions to a private group of Sbloggers? Why not do it out there on the science blogosphere in public? This is the type of discussion the bayblab was trying to get rolling, but maybe since you guys have been already discussing these things in private, you would do a better job…

  18. #18 thje real Baywaytchcmf'er
    February 28, 2008

    re:”inbred and cliquish”, Petri dish level socio-political ideology propagation;-)
    Not that some good hot primate sex DOESN’T happen once in awhile–see Gregs last post;-)

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    February 28, 2008

    Bayman,

    Wow. OK, well, we’ll see which group evolves into a new ethically distinct subculture, Scienceblogs or Baywatch.

    For the record, your assumptions and characterizations are utterly incorrect, and your social theory is coming out of an orifice other than your mouth.

    I would take a comment by you seriously, maybe, if I had some idea who you were. At the moment, I’m not convinced that your blog is written by more than one person. Or maybe, one control freak and three minions. In any event, there is only one personality coming through this channel, and it shows traits that indicate certain needs. I think you should see to your needs.

    But thanks for the comment!

    G

  20. #20 Lab Lemming
    February 28, 2008

    “`Lab Lemming: Ahh, but those of us who blog on the outside can see the incoming CameFrom every time you folks link to our blogs from inside the closed forum.’

    I doubt that very much. Of the seventy bloggers on Sb, only a very small number check the forum on a regular basis. We’re not that coordinated as a group. But if you give me some specific examples that might be interesting. ”

    I didn’t say that they happened often, but they do happen. Try searching the forum for “lablemming.blogspot.com”, either in text or in a link (it it’s hypertexted). Unfortunately, I can’t give you the most recent example, as I have a 500 entry limit and I hosted a carnival on Monday.

  21. #21 bayman
    February 28, 2008

    Sorry Greg. You made some points I thought were interesting, and I asked some questions. I thought that’s what the comment feature was about. Guess I should stick to online psychoanalysis and personalized but misguided insults. Excuse while I tend to my “need” to participate in interesting dialogue. Thanks for clarifying your point of view.

  22. #22 greg laden
    February 28, 2008

    Lab Lemming: Your blog could definitely use some promotion. I like it, and now that I know it exists I’ll put it on my blog roll. You write interesting stuff.

  23. #23 Michael Clarkson
    February 28, 2008

    bayman wrote:

    It’s always a bit divisive when subgroups of a population develop a private dialogue and develop a sense of ethics that is likely to eventually diverge from those who aren’t in the club. Eventually values tend to diverge and people have trouble interacting.

    Dear Pot,

    While I am enjoying the screaming match, I feel compelled to point out that you don’t seem to ever question yourself. For instance, your blog consists of an anonymous subgroup of the population that has a private dialogue and (apparently) a sense of ethics divergent from those who aren’t in the club. Perhaps you and Kettle would have less trouble interacting if you considered how hypocritical and self-righteous you sound when you say things like this. The rest of the world does not demand your private correspondence; you are not owed its.

    Sincerely,

    The Teaspoon

  24. #24 bayman
    February 29, 2008

    Mike,

    I hope I wasn’t screaming. Let me dial down the type intensity here…still not screaming but I think my point was missed.

    Firstly I was posing a question (still unanswered) regarding the fact Greg mentioned about Scienceblog backchannel discussion specifically on the topic of blogging ethics. If there was no scienceblogs, where would the would-be sciencebloggers discuss such things? Perhaps on their public blogs? Would this dialog on blogging ethics be any different, or have a different impact if it was a universal one between thousands of science bloggers from around the world instead of 100 or so predominately blogging from the USA?

    Just a question. I made no indication at all that I had a right to anyone’s private correspondence. I have no idea where you got this idea. I was not at all comparing bayblab private ethics and scienceblog ethics. But since you brought up the idea of our own dialog on blogging, I can tell you that in our case this mostly occurs publicly on the blog. That’s why we started blogging in the first place. (Imagine that, a group of students who work in the same institute on the same blog). We put our ideas on blogging out there and invite commentary from each other and anyone else who wants to join in. In fact, even when we go to the pub to meet and discuss topics posted on the blog, we record our conversations and post them as a podcast that anyone can download from the blog site. There’s definitely no back channel relating to the blog, although we do occasionally bump into each other in the lab and tell one another to check out the latest post.

    Anyway that’s the way we roll. It’s certainly not the only way to do things. Hopefully you don’t also find this comment self-righteous, but you brought it up.

    I’m confused why asking a question directly pertaining to a post is considered self-righteous. But if you just think it’s too stupid or boring to be worth your time that’s cool.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    February 29, 2008

    Teaspoon:

    Nicely put. I want to reiterate one key item.

    My main point is that the back channel is a small part of Sb life. There are 70 bloggers, and a half dozen very active on the back channel, another half dozen less active, and everyone else is very very occasional. There are bloggers that I’ve never, ever seen back there (lots of them). If the editors want to officially communicate with us they have to use email because a post on the back channel will reach only a proportion. Also, and I don’t think I said this before because I didn’t think it was important is that to some extent, who is in the back channel over a certain period of time seems to shift. I myself have periods of greater and lesser activity. It seems that noobies spend more time at first then less and less over time as they need it less (for technical questions, like “how do I get my search box to work”)

    In other words, the BlaBlaBlaBlog characterization of Scienceblogs and Sciencebloggers is utterly incorrect at the basic, descriptive level, in this regard and in all other ways as far as I can tell. That list of bloggers on the left hand side of the main Sb page is not a list that represents or correlates to a community.

    I feel very much a member of a couple/few different vaguely defined emergent communities. I could say that “Scienceblogs” is one of those communities, but that term in this application does not equal, even closely, the actual list of sites on Sb. My Sb community is very small and fairly fluid.

    For example, there is a bird related community, and there are two blogs that I know of on Sb that do birds. I have much more interaction with three or four outside-Sb bird bloggers than with either of them. There is a paleontology community. There is only one other paleontology blog on Sb and that blogger and I interacted as much before he joined Sb as we do now.

    It is STILL true, after four months of blogging with Sb, that I run into a post on my RSS feed that look really interesting, go to the blog, and discover that it is a Scienceblog.com blogger, and I go “Hmmm, Never saw this blog before, seems interesting.”

    The Blodiblabog authors (assuming that there is in fact more than one of them) are floating around somewhere between inaccuracy and delusion, I hope the former but I suspect the latter, and they seem unaware of the concept of backing out with a little face saving. For reasons that are not clear, they seem to have an interest in driving a wedge between themselves and other areas of the blogosphere.

    One would assume that anonymity is chosen as a strategy because of concern about nefarious institutional demons or some such thing. In this case it seems like (but I don’t know this, of course), a different strategy: “If nobody knows who I actually am, I can be an asshole all I want, and get a new identity later”

    I interact with plenty of assholes on this blog and theirs (not to name any names, of course). But I know who they are and a sense of mutual respect can develop. But I can’t take the Blabbers seriously.

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    February 29, 2008

    Bay (whoever you are):

    You are reading too much into this. I mentioned the discussion of ethics as an afterthought because it is way down on the list of what is discussed. I’m sure there is a lot more discussion of ethics in open space than on the back channel by everyone involved in scienceblogs. There is no group think here, there is barely a group. And the day I see three sciencebloggers agree on the same thing, I’ll eat my old cowboy hat.

    Your concern here is similar to your other statements: Derived from a fairly detailed construction (to use a kind word) of the “facts” based in turn on a rather twisted view of inadequate information.

    But do keep an eye on us, and the next time you feel that we are straying from your own personal (and unattributed) version of how the world should work, let us know.

  27. #27 Michael Clarkson
    February 29, 2008

    Bayman,

    Neither you nor your group have yet said anything intelligible about blogging ethics (though arguably you have demonstrated disbelief in the concept). The initial bayblab post included no sensible points and likely would not have been noticed without its ad hominem indictment of ScienceBloggers. Your point here is also not intelligible, because nothing about the “ethics” paragraph suggested that Greg meant “blogging ethics”. In fact, because Greg specifically said they almost never discuss what they are going to post it would be odd to read it in that way. Furthermore, it would be foolish of you to demand that the Science Bloggers do more to share their ethical principles and outlook–they already do this on a regular basis. Thus, the most forgiving interpretation of your comment is that you would like to see correspondence relating to particular personal applications of those principles. This is something to which you are categorically not entitled. So I’m trying to interpret your comments using the principle that you are intelligent and in earnest, and from that view I come to the conclusion that you are making misguided demands.

  28. #28 bayman
    February 29, 2008

    Greg,
    Your comments are fair and informative (at least to me).

    Mike,
    nothing about the “ethics” paragraph suggested that Greg meant “blogging ethics”
    Right. Maybe they were discussing the ethics of chess?

    it would be foolish of you to demand

    Demand? What? Huh? Yes it would be foolish to demand anything. Agreed.

    Anyway, I agree with Greg that the idea of public vs. private discourse is perhaps a rather trivial issue that does not warrant this discussion, at least in this context. All we’re talking about now is the fact that it was viewed as an attack or criticism, which was not my intention. But in light of the recent discussion on the bayblab, I can certainly understand why it was taken this way.

    Hopefully this effect will wear off and in the future my comments will be taken at face value.

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    February 29, 2008

    Actually, Mike is right. The most recent discussion close to ethics was about office ethics. The previous one of which I’m aware was about the ethics of using falsehoods as metaphors. Earlier examples involved science ethics.

  30. #30 bayman
    February 29, 2008

    Point taken then. I certainly wouldn’t be interested in reading about your office ethics. Although the other two topics sound like interesting blogging fodder.

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