Pursuant to … pursuits … I am once again culling old posts for classic items to repost for you now and then this month. I need a breather, and that is how I’m going to get it. Sadly, or alternatively, happily, two years ago in July we were in South Africa, so I’ve got nothing substantive from that time period. But, in looking at one year ago, I found something very interesting. It turns out that July 2008 was a rather spectacular month, blogospherically.
July 2008 was a turning point in the blogosphere, and July 2009 promises to be one as well. One year ago, give or take a few weeks, several things happened. Some of those things relate to events unfolding as we speak. I’d like to review them for you and give you a warning of what might happen next.
Carl Zimmer moved from Scienceblogs.com to Discover. This was near the beginning of a series of moves (including an earlier move by Deep Sea News) from Sciencblogs.com to elsewhere, many to Discover. There was no clear indication that these many moves had a single cause or what the cause was, other than Discover setting up shop and developing a stable of bloggers. But the result of this and other shifts meant that The Loom, Deep Sea News, The Intersection, Joan Bushwell’s, John Wilkins, and others had left the Scienceblogs.com team, and that a new entity (Discover blogs) was on the scene, as well as some new (or renewed) independent blogs. Other blogs in other places were moving around as well.
About a year ago, Randy Olson’s film Sizzle came on the scene. This actually caused more trouble in the science Blogosphere itself than one might have expected, with tooth barring and heel nipping going back and forth among bloggers at the expense of forward movement on the climate change front. For the most part, many science bloggers were mad at Randy for producing a movie that a) they did not like for a number of reasons and b) that had only one graph. In my view, the scientists who did not like the film much were actually being made fun of in the film, especially with that particular graph that was chosen (one of the funniest moments in the film, in fact). But that is not why the scientists didn’t like it. They didn’t like it because it just was not their kind of film. Which I can totally appreciate. Personally, I liked the film a lot, but I can see why others did not, and I am pretty sure that Randy was the least surprised at this outcome.
What is important here with respect to the science blogosphere is this: People got mad at each other over whether or not they liked a film, and so existing schisms, in some cases, broadened, and potential ties failed to form or strengthen. Because science bloggers are not good at handling disagreement.
About a year ago, Nature (the magazine) came out with an editorial referring to a study or two indicating that OpenAccess publishing was a failure and that models like Nature were the way to go (see this for an overview and links). This started a big fight that eventually settled down but for a while people were pretty mad at each other. Again, it was bloggers doing most of the messing around, bloggers connected with Nature vs. bloggers who supported OpenAccess. I’m sure people at the time did understand that the existence of OpenAccess does not really threaten the commercial model and visa versa, or at least not necessarily. But dogmatic argument ensued and not much positive actually happened, if I recall correctly.
One year ago, plus or minus a few weeks, was Crackergate. Crackergate resulted in a widening of an existing rift between bloggers who are so called appeasers and bloggers who are so called new atheists, a rift that I fear is widening again, one year later, with the publication of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future and reactions to that book, such as PZ Myers’ review. I’ll address that issue later on when I put up my review of that new book by Mooney and Kirshenbaum.
Bloggers and their ideas.
This month is also the anniversary of the imprisonment of Gus Hall who had ideas that threatened the status quo, of the first moon landing, which required the assembly and coordination of ideas into a machine like dogma that would translate into … an actual machine. This month is also when we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday. He is a man who has suffered greatly because of the ideas of others and has led the way to a reconsideration of how societies should work and how nations should work. This month is the anniversary of the publication of Darwin and Wallace’s paper on Natural Selection. That idea has led to the some of the greatest advancements in science, and the greatest (intellectual) rifts in Western society. It is also not utterly irrelevant that this month is the birthday of the United States.
Meanwhile, the crisis on the delta continues, the rape culture of post apocalyptic failed states expands, and bloggers argue over when and how bloggers should argue.
I promised a few words on what might happen next. Well, I lied. You already know what will happen next.
People will say things. Other people will not get what was said, out of ignorance, chance, or willful mischief. There will be yelling. There will be whinging. When things get tough, people start to change their motivations from something worthwhile to something not very savory. Power games will be played.
The truth is that the science blogosphere is in exactly the same place we were one year ago. We may think we have valid and bejezuseleventyfuckyou differences, but we don’t. We are all in the same boat and the boat is full of holes and we’re all so busy showing off that nobody is patching those holes.
See you at the bottom, I guess….