Still more #sbFAIL fallout: Bora bails

Photo by Roadsidepictures.

It seemed as though the dust had finally settled over the ScienceBlogs/Pepsi fiasco—until yesterday, when another shoe dropped, and it was a big one. In a typically thorough, nuanced post, Bora Zivkovic announced his decision to leave ScienceBlogs, relocating to WordPress.

If you’ll pardon the use of a horrible business buzzword, Bora is a super-connector, spending more effort than anyone else in my blogroll to pass on links, making the ScienceOnline conference a network-y blast, and offering nods to junior members of the online science writing community. In his departure essay, he makes it clear that this kind of connectivity is the point of blogs in general, and the power of ScienceBlogs in particular:

That is huge power. I keep mentioning this power every now and then (see this, this, this and this for good examples) because it is real. Sustained and relentless blogging by many SciBlings (and then many other bloggers who followed our lead) played a large role in the eventual release of ‘Tripoli Six’, the Bulgarian medical team imprisoned in Libya. Sustained blogging by SciBlings (and others who first saw it here) played a large part in educating the U.S.Senate about the importance of passing the NIH open access bill with its language intact. Blogging by SciBlings uncovered a number of different wrongdoings in ways that forced the powers-that-be to rectify them. Blogging by SciBlings brings in a lot of money every October to the DonorsChoose action. Sustained blogging by SciBlings forced SEED to remove the offending Pepsi blog within 36 hours. And if a bunch of SciBlings attack a person who did something very wrong, that person will have to spend years trying to get Google to show something a little bit more positive in top 100 hits when one googles their name (which is why I try to bite my tongue and sleep over it when I feel the temptation to go after a person). The power of the networks of individuals affects many aspects of the society, including the media. [Hyperlinks sic.]

Losing someone who believed so deeply in the social power of the blog network, and who worked so hard to boost that power and channel it to good ends, is a huge blow to ScienceBlogs. It seems to have contributed to PalMD’s decision to quit SB, and decisions by PZ Myers and Greg Laden to go on blog-strike. And now that Bora has joined the ScienceBlogs diaspora, it’ll be interesting to see how his super-connecting shapes the emerging community of independent blogs.

Science online, not so pristine anymore edition

I’ll start with the online science meta-news: The ScienceBlogs PepsiCo saga achieved a preliminary resolution yesterday, when Science Blogs pulled the PepsiCo blog. Many SBers who left in protest, however, are apparently not returning, including Brian Switek (of Laelaps) and Rebecca Skloot. Skullsinthestars has taken on the public service of tracking departing SBers, which include some of the biggest names on the site. Carl Zimmer compiles his own list, and adds some scathing remarks. David Dobbs gave his reasons for not returning, Martin Robbins of the Lay Scientist neatly summed up the issues of reader trust and respect for individual writers underlying the fracas, and Curtis Brainard weighed in at the Columbia Journalism Review. No word yet on coverage by On the Media, but I’m still hoping.

Say it ain’t so, Glacier National Park. Photo by jby.

Meanwhile, in actual science news:

  • Still gushing. As of today (Friday), it’s been 81 days since BP broke the Gulf. Yet another projection of long-term surface dispersal of the oil suggests the U.S. east coast is in trouble. At Deep Sea News, Dr. M rounds up the latest news and Allie Wilkinson flies over the slick with the Coast Guard. Meanwhile ProPublica digs into BP’s horrendous safety record and foot-dragging on compensation and cooperation with scientists.
  • Missed this earlier. BlagHag reports on Portland and Evolution 2010.
  • I’m confused. What about spinach? A new study of bone structure suggests Neanderthals were totally pumped, with “Popeye-like forearms,” possibly because of a highly carnivorous diet. (Discovery News)
  • Well, it doesn’t look its age. New fossils reveal that multicellular life is at least 2.1 billion years old, more than three times as old as previously thought. (ScienceDaily)
  • This just makes me sad. Environmental pollutants, including pesticides, are extensive at national parks—with particularly bad levels at Glacier and Sequoia. (Conservation Maven)
  • It works for cpDNA, anyway. A new method for extraction and amplification of DNA from plant tissue may make life simpler for lab rats like me. (Uncommon Ground)
  • Cichlids do it wherever they can. Since colonizing a volcanic crater lake in Nicaragua—as little as a century ago—a population of Midas cichlid fish has evolved into two distinct forms, with marked dietary differences. (NeuroDojo)
  • Dudes should not wear corsets. Because they may cause you to grow a bone in your penis. Really. (scicurious)

And, as a video-based closing thought, here’s footage of a cuckoo chick evicting the other eggs—and chicks!—in its adoptive nest. The initial, um, cuckholding is captured here

Science Blogs in refreshing, sugary ethics kerfuffle

ScienceBlogs, the mothership of online nerdery, just made a big, bad-publicity splash, launching a nutrition-themed blog sponsored—and written—by PepsiCo.

Photo by Roadsidepictures.

Readers have been irked, and many ScienceBloggers, for whom this apparently came as a surprise, are expressing feelings ranging from barn-burning outrage to nuanced concern to biting dismissal—and also resigning in protest (or exhaustion). It isn’t the first time ScienceBlogs has run a corporate-sponsored column, but those previous ones had writers who were independent of the sponsor. The affiliations of the new blog, Food Frontiers, are indicated in the header bar and the masthead, but not especially loudly—and the blog’s content will apparently be aggregated to Google News alongside the work of non-corporate ScienceBloggers. As Knight Science Journalism points out, ScienceBlogs’ treatment of Food Frontiers pretty clearly violates old media journalistic ethics.

In an e-mail to ScienceBloggers leaked to The Guardian, SEED editor Adam Bly wrote

We think the conversation should include scientists from academia and government; we also think it should include scientists from industry. Because industry is increasingly the interface between science and society. It is our hope that the Xeroxes and Bell Labs of the future will have a real presence on SB – that they will learn from our readers and we will learn from them.

That’s a pretty poor equivalency Bly is making, frankly. As far as I can tell, the academic scientists who write for ScienceBlogs do so without an explicit mandate from their universities or even funding agencies. Pepsico food scientists writing on behalf of Pepsico are not doing the same kind of science communication.

With more visible caveats, and maybe some sort of special treatment in the ScienceBlogs RSS feeds, Food Frontiers doesn’t have to be the end of all credibility for ScienceBlogs. But, boy, it doesn’t look good right now—and, if I’d spent a substantial portion of my blogging career helping to build ScienceBlogs into the hub of respectable online science writing it’s become, I’d be pretty upset. It looks like ScienceBlogs is losing some really strong writers over this, and that seems like a poor trade-off.

The only possible upside? The possibility we’ll get to hear PZ Meyers and Rebecca Skloot interviewed by Bob Garfield.