Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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Migration #2 (1995)

Fine art quilt by Caryl Bryer Fallert.
[Hand dyed, machine pieced, appliqued, and quilted 100% cotton fabric, 80/20 cotton/poly batting]
Collection of The National Quilt Museum of the United States.

I have been trying to write this blog entry for several days now. I’ve actually written it a couple dozen times but I have deleted every one so far. But even though it’s difficult to write, this is something I need to tell you, dear readers, even if my attempt at an explanation is clumsy.

For the past year, I have been very unhappy with what I see as mismanagement of ScienceBlogs, angered by Adam Bly’s steadfast refusal to communicate with Sb or to respond to our concerns individually, and astonished at Sb’s lack of IT support, but I stuck around anyway because I thought things would improve. Things certainly couldn’t get any worse, I thought. But as Adam Bly’s PepsiCo blog circus so nicely demonstrates, I was wrong. In the aftermath of that mess, I was packing my blog up and preparing to leave for .. well, I dunno where, actually.

During that shitstormfirestorm, I was approached by a fair number of people who have worked with or for Adam Bly or Seed Media Group (SMG) in a variety of capacities. They confirmed my long-held but silent suspicions about Adam Bly’s character and told me more about his ethics and SMG’s general business practices — all in less than glowing terms. I was sworn to secrecy by these people, so I cannot and will not repeat what I learned. But their stories are quite similar to The Guardian‘s recent editorial by journalist Gaia Vince, which reveal two disturbing patterns: first, SMG has a shockingly casual attitude about paying their talent for services rendered and second, SMG demonstrates a willingness to blur the boundaries between journalistic integrity and advertising dollars. (The comments on that piece are illuminating, especially those by Christopher Mims).

It’s rather damning.

But leaving SMG was much more technically challenging than I thought it would be. In fact, I found that going on a writing hiatus wasn’t easy either while this fiasco was in progress. Then add in the long, long trail of Adam Bly’s broken promises, backed up with his astonishingly stupid “explanations” as to why he broke those promises, along his typical lack of communication with us — all of which only made the situation worse. Meanwhile, ScienceBlogs was hemorrhaging blogs and writers (my friends and colleagues).

Due to Adam’s continuing habit of stubborn, self-righteous silence and my own outspoken criticism of him, followed by the accidental (temporary) disappearance of my blog by Tim (ScienceBlogs’ IT consultant), I decided I had no choice: I had to move my blog, even if only to a mirror site, before it permanently disappeared. Thus began a long string of technical difficulties that are sufficient to make me scream.

I am still working on overcoming these difficulties.

But that said, Adam did live up to the ScienceBlogs’ community demand that he remove the PepsiCo advertorial blog. As a result of that, I am going to stay — for now.

Currently, my “sciblings” and I are discussing our futures and our perception of SMG/ScienceBlogs’ future, what ScienceBlogs should look like in the future to meet the public’s need for information and our need for readers, and how we can achieve those goals. We’ve decided that a collective action model — a sort of “science blogger’s union” without the union dues — is the best way to accomplish our goals while we are here. This development is heartening. At this point, I cannot provide too much detail as to what we’re doing because we are still discussing it, but when I can tell you more, I will. (But I can tell you that I am already on several committees.)

Even though I am staying at Sb (for now), I am shopping around to see what options are out there for my blog. I have already decided that I am not willing to return to Blogspot or start my own independent blog site (a “wildcat blog” as one of my colleagues refers to it) due to credibility and traffic issues that accompany such a move. I am negotiating a potential move to several other science blog sites, but my contacts at those places are disorganized and not very responsive — a situation that doesn’t bode well. The way I see things, the most promising option is developing a cooperative non-profit blog site that is set up and run by a group of scientists who wish to write blogs for the public. To that end, I am talking with several people behind the scenes about a business model and plan that I am developing for such an independent site. It’s possible this will never be implemented, but it’s an interesting exercise to think about because it gives me a clearer idea of what a science blog writer and her readers need and want from any group science blog site.

So at this point, I am going to finish writing those blog essays I’ve been working on, be an active participant in this new Sb community project, and continue working on my book proposal. As always, I am very interested to read your thoughts about the state of things.

Comments

  1. #1 Luna_the_cat
    July 15, 2010

    the most promising option is developing a cooperative non-profit blog site that is set up and run by a group of scientists who wish to write blogs for the public.

    Marvellous idea.

  2. #2 Russell
    July 15, 2010

    The most promising option is developing a cooperative non-profit blog site that is set up and run by a group of scientists who wish to write blogs for the public.

    Let me suggest that less sometimes is better than more. There are a lot of blogging sites and software. It would be a large duplication of effort to try to replicate that functionality.

    The added value Sb brings is: 1) the editorial selection of included blogs and articles to highlight on the “front page”, 2) easy navigation amongst these, 3) the “last 24 hours” compilation, which is how I typically find posts, and similar “glue” that makes Sb a site rather than just a list of blogs. What’s needed technically is that glue. (The individual bloggers should be able to work on any blogging site.) What’s needed procedurally is that editorial component. Which is more work, I suspect, than most people realize, and likely the barrier to a non-profit alternative.

  3. #3 bardiac
    July 15, 2010

    I’m sorry to hear all the problems. Please make sure we learn where you go if/when you go, so we can follow.

    I love your mystery birds, especially.

  4. #4 ecologist
    July 15, 2010

    I am glad you are staying, and glad that the scibloggers are continuing to address issues with SB. The thing is, I LIKE SB. It’s handy. I can go there, look at what’s been posted, and be assured of finding something interesting and/or useful and/or inspiring and/or funny. That is handy. I would never find these blogs if they were out there all alone and lonely.

    So, I would say, please keep that in mind. A diverse group of high quality bloggers writing about science (in the broad sense of the word “about”), all collected in one place, is a good thing. I hope that it keeps on in one form or another, and becomes an even better thing.

    Oh, and that is an awesome quilt you put up there.

  5. #5 Mary Canady
    July 15, 2010

    Hi GrrlScientist,

    Great, brave piece. I was approached by SMG to participate in a blog targeted to life science marketers, and I was less than impressed. It appeared as though they didn’t ‘get’ social media in so many ways, from the bad design of the site to the pyramid scheme-ish strategy of asking me to blog for free on their new site (they indicated they ‘never pay’ bloggers which I’ve found to not be true).

    The idea of a ‘scientist blogger union’ would serve many purposes, Bora Zivcovik and I have discussed that it would help bloggers gain credibility at conferences, etc. I think it would do a lot for science communication as a whole to have standards and guidelines for bloggers. Let me know if I can help!

    I would also encourage you to consider having your own hosted blog. Many ISPs make it very easy to install WordPress, and there are myriad developers who could likely import your blog inexpensively. If you need some names, let me know. It’s not a complete cakewalk, but the flexibility and ability to make some money from Ads would be worth it, IMHO.

    Mary Canady

  6. #6 Pierce R. Butler
    July 15, 2010

    Anne Feeney has a thrash polka suggestion.

  7. #7 Pete Moulton
    July 15, 2010

    Please, GrrlScientist, make sure you let us know where you’re going whenever you do decide to leave Sb. Like bardiac, I love the mystery birds, and learn something new with each one.

  8. #8 arby
    July 15, 2010

    Hey, I’ll follow you anywhere. I long ago broke you out of the SB pack as a separate feed in Google Reader, as I have a few other SciBloggers. Way back when I read, or looked at, every post in the combined feed, but that got too large and I was unable to keep up. And Google makes it too easy to add feeds, and SciBlogs got lost in the crowd. But not you. Anyway, best wishes, I hope you find a comfortable home, rb

  9. #9 Edward
    July 15, 2010

    The way I see things, the most promising option is developing a cooperative non-profit blog site that is set up and run by a group of scientists who wish to write blogs for the public…

    Just so you know, this already exists.

    http://labs.fieldofscience.com/2009/02/if-you-build-it.html

  10. #10 D. C. Sessions
    July 15, 2010

    Some of your “sciblings” are already familiar with running a very good collaborative site: sciencebasedmedicine.org

    I would suggest that you get in touch with their managing editor (David H. Gorski, PhD, MD) for advice.

  11. #11 David Dobbs
    July 15, 2010

    Nice post, GrrlSci. I wish you every and all luck as you and others wrestle with what to do here. One thing I’ve seen clearly since leaving is that there is substantial interest both among the bloggers here (and to some extent among recently departed) and among readers in an SB-like collaborative/group site. My best wishes for finding the right fit.

    Yours,

    David Dobbs

  12. #12 Grant
    July 15, 2010

    A slightly different tweak on the collective arrangement is to have a central site that brings together otherwise independent blogs via syndication.

    Many of the bloggers who are presented at sciblogs.co.nz (where my blog, Code for life, is hosted) are independent blogs that are brought under one roof this way.

    I can see some advantages in that for those that wish to stand one-step-removed. All the content is under your control, although you’ll have the downside of maintaining the stand-alone site.

  13. #13 Art
    July 15, 2010

    The operative question is; could you do better somewhere else? In the short term likely not. In the long term, possibly. As it is Sb gets your name and blog out there where people can find your material. They also provide a nominal income.

    You have a fine enough blog. It gets traffic from quite a few people visiting SB and you have a small but consistent following. If your blog stood on its own traffic would go down and the small income disappear. It would be step down on all counts.

    On the other hand you could get into a new collective. An iffy proposition that would involve a lot of work. By any means I doubt that it could, even after several years building an audience, bring in as many people as Sb draws in.

    You could try to get on board an existing and established collective, like Discover, but yours is a fairly narrowly focused blog and they might not see the need.

    You could simply count your blessings and direct the efforts you would apply to helping establish a new collective to trying to reform Sb.

  14. #14 Grant
    July 15, 2010

    Just to be clear, I’m not trying to subtly suggest Grrl head our way! I’m just pointing out a twist on the blog collectives that doesn’t involve direct hosting by way of an indirect contribution to the discussion she refers to towards the end of the penultimate paragraph of her post. [Now that's a terribly-written sentence! :-) ] (If I weren’t so busy I wouldn’t entirely might being part of that discussion myself. It is interesting poking at the ins and outs of issues like that.)

    Mary, I can imagine a straight-forward way to build on a union of science bloggers to create a central focal point for visitors that would act as a community hub, etc. Bit out of time to lay it out here (work to do…) and anyway it’d end up the length of a blog post! :-) (FWIW, your business looks interesting: I’m an independent computational biology consultant.)

  15. #15 "GrrlScientist"
    July 16, 2010

    grant: if your site (or any others out there) are seeking someone as an advisor or “brainstormer”, i am certainly interested to work with one or more social media sites as an unpaid consultant to help them develop a science blog collective. i already have enough people helping me (who wish to remain anonymous) that it seems a terrible shame to let go of their knowledge and enthusiasm, and i’ve already started working on something, so i’d like that effort to go somewhere to benefit someone. (i think of this as a social media experiment). and, if Sb’s typically self-destructive nature once again rears its ugly head (and unfortunately, it will), i would like to have a place where i move my blog.

  16. #16 SimonG
    July 16, 2010

    This was one of the first science blogs I started reading regularly, and it was my introduction to scienceblogs.com. (Damned if I can remember how I came to find you, though.)
    I quite like having a bunch of blogs in one place. I tend to stick to a handful of favourites but sometimes I’ll scan through the others, confident that the other blogs here are of some worth.
    But I also look at plenty of blogs in other places; some of them at sites like Discovery, some completely standalone. It’s not a big deal for me as a reader.
    I can’t speak for the technical and administrative problems you’ve encountered, of course. Only you can decide whether they’re intollerable.
    A new blog collective, or whatever could be interesting but that’s a bit unpredictable. I don’t think that the world needs it, but I’m sure there’s room for it. I wouldn’t presume to advise you about how to go about it, should you choose to do so.

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