White Coat Underground

Ethics and goals: always a challenge

My formal ethical training began in medical school with an introduction to the basic concepts of medical ethics. This training continued as I encountered difficult cases and thought through them, often with the help of the hospital ethics committee. While I haven’t continued my formal education in ethics, I’ve continued my own reading, and I enjoy writing on ethical conundrums.

I’ve been blogging now for over three years, which, in internet time, is quite a while. During that time, I’ve begun to take the writing itself more and more seriously. I’ve begun to recognize the implications of the medium itself, especially in conversations with mainstream journalists. We bloggers are, for better or worse, part of “the media”.  So I’ve had to learn something about journalism ethics as well.  

This has changed the way I write. When I look back at some of my earliest posts, I cringe. In many ways that’s a good thing; as it turns out, I have the ability to learn and improve. My commenters and my colleagues help keep me honest, and without them, I’d write just as poorly as I did five years ago. I’ve also expanded the type of writing I do. In addition to my always well-reasoned rantings and my discussions of science-based medicine, I’ve done some more investigative pieces, interviewing sources, and consulting other journalists about ethics and approaches.  

Given that much of my writing is very critical of unethical medical practices, I don’t have a lot of wiggle room in my own public behavior.  This isn’t to say that to be ethical is to be perfect; far from it.  But behaving ethically is hard work that involves hard decisions, and frequent mistakes. 

ScienceBlogs has not made such a mistake. With the mishandling of the launch of a commercial ad-blog, Seed Media Group showed incompetence and mismanagement.  They also showed that they do not consider themselves (or we bloggers) to be “media” or journalists.  Whether we like it or not, we are the media, and while we may enjoy a great deal more freedom in style and content than most mainstream media, we cannot claim immunity from their ethics.

It is for these reasons (and others, most of which have been eloquently and completely laid out by Bora Zivkovic) that I’m leaving ScienceBlogs, something I do with great regret.  I have gained immeasurably from my association with Sb and with the people here.  It has given me incredible opportunities.  But despite the advantages in exposure, the fit just isn’t good anymore.  

This is a personal decision, not one that can be generalized to include anyone writing here.  The bloggers here are some of my favorite science writers, and always will be, whether they remain at Sb or go elsewhere.  I have nothing but respect and admiration for them.

As the science blogosphere has evolved, and as my own writing has, I feel that the risk of leaving is not what it might have been once.  I will continue to write White Coat Underground at my old wordpress site for now, and will announce further plans there.   And I will continue my occasional pieces at Forbes.com and Science-Based Medicine.

Comments

  1. #1 Isis the Scientist
    July 19, 2010

    Dammit.

  2. #2 claudia.sawyer
    July 19, 2010

    Well shit. Do continue notifications to twitter & FB.

  3. #3 Coturnix
    July 19, 2010

    Wow!

  4. #4 David Dobbs
    July 19, 2010

    Tough move, I know. Keep up the good work.

  5. #5 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 19, 2010

    grr

  6. #6 bsci
    July 19, 2010

    I’ll be following you there, just like I was reading you before you joined scienceblogs. Of course, it will be easier for people to follow you if you added an RSS feed button to your wordpress site (or made it more prominent if I’m missing it)

    The changes to scienceblogs are both depressing and appropriate. I do hope some really cool emerges from the ashes. I still think there’s a benefit to networks of writers with a common theme and I hope they don’t become fragmented by scientific focus.

  7. #7 Cuttlefish
    July 19, 2010

    Well, dang.

  8. #8 Jennifer Ouellette
    July 19, 2010

    Wish you the best, and will of course update my RSS feeds accordingly. :)

  9. #9 Dianne
    July 19, 2010

    What everyone else said. I’m sorry you had to leave Sb but I’ll continue to follow you at WCU. I must say your old blog is nicely ad free. Can you continue that or will you have to (excuse the phrase) add ads to cover costs?

  10. #10 beebeeo
    July 19, 2010

    Haven’t updated RSS for any of the other blogs that left till now but I’ll update for your blog. I’ve read almost all of your posts in the past few months and I’ll continue reading. Keep up the good work.

  11. #11 codemenkey
    July 19, 2010

    Lurker here. It’s too bad you’re leaving SB. I’ll be following your WordPress site now; thanks for all that you do.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    July 19, 2010

    My goat supply just dried up. What am I gonna do!!!

  13. #13 Ed Yong
    July 19, 2010

    Congratulations Pal. You were the first to spell out the ethical issues over Pepsigate and I’m looking forward to seeing your writing go from strength to strength wherever you decide to pitch your tent.

  14. #14 CanadianChick
    July 19, 2010

    i too will follow you, just as I’ll be following all my regulars as they leave

    Until I read Boras post this afternoon I truly didn’t understand the underlying frustrations, but having read his excellent post, I can better understand

    (to clarify – I always understood the pepsi issue, it was things like seed treating sciblogs like a second class tool I didn’t realize )

  15. #15 gnuma
    July 19, 2010

    Aw, darn. I’ve really enjoyed your blog tho, will read elsewhere.

  16. #16 Epinephrine
    July 19, 2010

    It’s admirable to stand for what you believe in.
    I’ll be resetting my bookmarks to point to your new (old) home.

  17. #17 G
    July 19, 2010

    It’s easy enough to change an RSS subscription (and I have), but I still feel sad for all the scienceblogs writers who’ve pulled up roots. I’m glad you’ll still be writing elsewhere.

    (By the way, the link to Forbes is a little borked–but obvious enough to work it out, and I’m going to see if I can add an RSS for that one too.)

    (Nuts, looks like I can either do all or nothing.)

  18. #18 PalMD
    July 19, 2010

    I just tested my blogroll link to forbes and no prob…

  19. #19 Joel
    July 19, 2010

    Fair call. I’ve updated my feed reader.

  20. #20 G
    July 19, 2010

    Noo, the Forbes link in the post above, last paragraph.

  21. #21 Isis the Scientist
    July 19, 2010

    go from strength to strength wherever you decide to pitch your tent.

    Ew.

  22. #22 PalMD
    July 19, 2010

    Isis, you made me feel better. I was thinking the same thing.

  23. #23 Rincewind'smuse
    July 20, 2010

    More of a lurker than poster on this site but I’ve appreciated your posts in the past will follow up on wordpress….

  24. #24 Dawn
    July 20, 2010

    Damn. I usually only lurk at your site, but now I won’t be able to read you at all at lunchtime because my employer blocks almost all wordpress sites (I can get onto NeuroLogica) and almost all blogspot sites. The Sciblogs I read are getting fewer and fewer.

  25. #25 David Gerard
    July 20, 2010

    Well, you can stop by and add notes to the RationalWiki article now ;-) http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/ScienceBlogs

  26. #26 suzanne
    July 20, 2010

    I’m sad to see you leave SB but I understand your stance. You are exactly right, bloggers are members of the journalist community. Believe me, it isn’t just bloggers who are struggling with these issues. I worked for a newspaper and the decline of that medium forced editors and publishers into some very sketchy places where they were called upon to abandon some of their journalist ethics…… with disastrous results.

    Suzanne

  27. #27 Margaret
    July 20, 2010

    You don’t know how much I have enjoyed your posts and have benefited from them. I am a hospice nurse in the Metro Detroit area and so many of the ethical issues have been of interest to me. I abhor the commercialism of some of the non-science based products out there, just as you do, and when WJR local radio started running some of those ads, I wrote a strongly worded letter to the marketing manager. It seems that $$$ outranks ethics. For this reason, I honor and respect your decision and understand completely your reasoning. I am not as computer savvy as some of the above posters, but I will try to find you somewhere.

  28. #28 PalMD
    July 20, 2010

    Thanks, Margaret. I’ll be right here: http://whitecoatunderground.wordpress.com/

  29. #29 Yoyomar
    July 20, 2010

    From the journalists’ corner, I’m heartened that you consider yourself a journalist and that you subscribe to journalism ethics. There is hope for us all. On to WordPress!

  30. #30 Perky Skeptic
    July 20, 2010

    Oh well. I was reading you back when you were White Coat Underground before joining Denialism blog, and I will continue to read you at the old website. :)

    I am sad, because I really enjoyed the ScienceBlogs community. But the friends you’ve made will continue with you.

  31. #31 Adam_Y
    July 20, 2010

    Thanks, Margaret. I’ll be right here: http://whitecoatunderground.wordpress.com/

    Why are you blogging on WordPress after the Andreas Moritz incident?

  32. #32 OleanderTea
    July 20, 2010

    I can completely understand your decision. Time to update my bookmarks!

  33. #33 Bing
    July 20, 2010

    Last one out turn off the lights. Or better yet, set the sucker on fire so you can collect the insurance money. I’ll continue to follow, like the creepy guy in the Sting song that everyone seems to think is about love.

    HJ

  34. #34 OMGWTFBBQ
    July 20, 2010

    Whether we like it or not, we are the media, and while we may enjoy a great deal more freedom in style and content than most mainstream media, we cannot claim immunity from their ethics.

    Oh FFS. Get over yourself already. If you are “the media” (as if there is only one), who is your “editor”? You’re a guy who posts his own opinions to a web site with a readership of perhaps a few thousand. That’s all. Your average small-town newspaper exceeds that by at least an order of magnitude. Your self-righteous continuing tantrum over the Pepsi incident is impressing no one other than your dedicated band of sycophants. Good riddance, as far as I am concerned.

  35. #35 Adam_Y
    July 20, 2010

    Oh FFS. Get over yourself already. If you are “the media” (as if there is only one), who is your “editor”?

    Heheheh… Orac.

  36. #36 PalMD
    July 20, 2010

    Hey, you can come by here and drop your flame turds or not. I’m not your mother and i don’t make you read my stuff.

  37. #37 Rob Monkey
    July 20, 2010

    Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to wordpress we go!
    I’ll continue following as long as you promise to keep using terms like “pitch your tent” and “flame turd.” Not all the time, just sprinkled delicately like paprika on deviled eggs.

  38. #38 OMGWTFBBQ
    July 20, 2010

    Hey, you can come by here and drop your flame turds or not. I’m not your mother and i don’t make you read my stuff.

    And the hissy fit continues. Is this representative of your bedside manner? Way to avoid the issue completely!

    Oh, and tell us (since you have so far avoided the question) all about the ethics of going to a hosting site that removed a science blog at the request of a cancer quack? We are all just dying to hear your opinion.

  39. #39 Adam_Y
    July 20, 2010

    Oh, and tell us (since you have so far avoided the question) all about the ethics of going to a hosting site that removed a science blog at the request of a cancer quack? We are all just dying to hear your opinion.

    There are no ethics involved you dumbass. Its a straight up censorship issue which at the time was not even known to Pal. I only mentioned it since it might be a decent idea to do what Science Based Medicine does and use the engine itself on his own website.

  40. #40 Set Oculus
    July 20, 2010

    I have no idea wtf you guys are talking about.

  41. #41 PalMD
    July 20, 2010

    Neither do I, and it’s my fucking (former) blog!