08/03/2010 03:56 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Finding a Social Compact for the Blogosphere: NYT's "The Medium" on ScienceBlogs Dust-Up

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The sterile gloves are coming off at ScienceBlogs and NYT's The Medium

Over at the New York Times' "The Medium" column, our old friend Virginia Heffernan weighs-in on the not-so-niceties going on at ScienceBlogs. Seems a good number of science bloggers began to jump ship after PepsiCo underwrote a new food blog (disclosure: my company bigcitypix has produced work for PepsiCo in the past). Virginia's analysis leads her to the conclusion that the problem does not lie in an advertorial v. journalism mishap, but rather in a fundamental indecency perpetrated at the core of the ScienceBlogs site: that the site is misleading in projecting itself as a place where scientists write about science. In her estimation, science blogging here is a de facto snark fest like so many other forums on the internet which should be seen as the bigoted polarizing undertaking it has morphed into, especially given this site's cover of intellectual rigor. Like Congressman Anthony Weiner's recent mad-as-hell-and-I'm-not-going-to-take -it-anymore YouTube outburst, Virginia's firm rebuke of this sci-blog demimonde is a stiff blast of cogency among thickets of toxic rhetoric masquerading as being above the hateful comment threads (that they are literally above). And a nostalgic return to latter 20th Century deconstructivism proves both a good read and a winning tactic in calling out the sloppy habits developed by both writers and readers in this century's first decade, the world's first truly digital decade. Those habits of writers and readers are respectively self-indulgence and self-indulgence. What is needed on the part of bloggers is a proportional degree of discernment for how claims live out in the world, how speech acts participate in constructing that stratagem of subjectivities we call objective reality, or on rare occasion how what we say actually glances at touching that form "Truth."

Those consuming a diet of digital content need also exercise judgment as well as their own voices to speak on behalf of writing which may be passionate but offers the nutrition of well-harvested information served up fusion-style amidst the mashup that is the web. Making such choices to write with accountability and to read with a sense of responsibility would form a compact between author and reader, providing a strong "formula" upon which to base our mutually constructed and shared social state. And to do that, weirdly or nauseatingly or deliciously, requires faith. Faith that we together will summon our best selves, both in mind and heart (but not one without the other), to do what is decent as we fulfill the requirements of the human condition, as it were chopping the wood and carrying the buckets of water. Daily.

Again, it's refreshing and grounding that included in this Medium post are recommendations of sound science writing found at and We would add to that list. Trending there right now are tantalizing entries like Silicon Can Be Made to Melt in Reverse, or Pathological Internet Use Among Teens May Lead to Depression and New Carbon Dioxide Emissions Model.

Which brings us to note that Virginia also advocates you visit former TV meteorologist and blogger Anthony Watts' punily titular site Watts Up With That. While we don't disagree with this guidance, we suggest you proceed with minor caution. We've covered Watt and his site before finding that his posts may at times glibly misrepresent data or lob ad hominem attacks supported in facts but which lead to illogical conclusions. In other words, a wee bit of the very sloppiness The Medium this week soundly identifies with the blogging on ScienceBlogs. What's unarguably great about Watt are his dedication and passion leading him to be quite the green talk-walker in his personal life and home as well as his community.

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