Field of Science

Words and non-words

"...the modern non-word 'blogger'..." -- Dr. Royce Murray, editor of the journal Analytic Chemistry.

"209,000,000 results (0.21 seconds)" -- Google search for the "non-word" blogger.

There has been a lot of discussion about Royce Murray's bizzarre attack on blogging in the latest JAC editorial (the key sentence: I believe that the current phenomenon of "bloggers" should be of serious concern to scientists).

Dr. Isis has posted a nice take-down of the piece focusing on the age old testy relationship between scientists and journalists. My bigger concern with the editorial is that it is clear that Murray has no idea what a blog is, yet feels justified in writing an article about blogging. Here's a telling sentence:
Bloggers are entrepreneurs who sell “news” (more properly, opinion) to mass media: internet, radio, TV, and to some extent print news. In former days, these individuals would be referred to as “freelance writers”, which they still are; the creation of the modern non-word “blogger” does not change the purveyor.
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! A freelance writer does sell articles to established media entities. Bloggers mostly write for their own blog (hence the "non-word" blog-ger). There are of course those who are hired to blog for major media outlets like Scientific American or Wired, but then they are essentially columnists (in fact, many of the columnists at The New York Times have NYTimes blogs at the request of the newspaper).
This magnifies, for the lay reader, the dual problems in assessing credibility: a) not having a single stable employer (like a newspaper, which can insist on credentials and/or education background) frees the blogger from the requirement of consistent information reliability ... Who are the fact-checkers now?
Wait, newspapers don't insist on credentials and don't fact-check the stories they get from freelancers? Why is Murray complaining about bloggers, then? In any case, it's not like journals like Analytic Chemistry do a good job of fact-checking what they publish or that they stop publishing papers by people whose results never replicate. Journal editors living in glass houses...

This focus on credentials is a bit odd -- I thought truth was the only credential a scientist needed -- and in any case seriously misplaced. I challenge Murray to find a popular science blog written by someone who is neither a fully-credentialed scientist writing about his/her area of expertise, nor a well-established science journalist working for a major media outlet.

Are there crack-pot bloggers out there? Sure. But most don't have much of an audience (certainly, their audience is smaller than the fact-checked, establishment media-approved Glenn Beck). Instead, we have a network of scientists and science enthusiasts discussing, analyzing and presenting science. What's to hate about that?


Bob Carpenter said...

"I thought truth was the only credential a scientist needed."

Well said!

I wonder if the people complaining about scientific blogs either have not read blogs or don't understand what's useful in their own fields.

Or is it just status consciousness?

Anonymous said...

The link in "Dr. Isis has posted" is broken - goes to an XML document containing an error message and nothing more.

GamesWithWords said...

That's annoying. That was the trackback link. I switched to the normal link, which should work.