Editor-in-Chief of Anal. Chem. Dislikes “Bloggers”October 14th, 2010
It’s only been a couple of days since we talked about the under-use of the Internet by chemists. Now, Everyday Scientist points our attention to a new editorial in Analytical Chemistry that reinforces my concern.
As I said in the previous post, I worry that poor Web sites are becoming accepted in the academic culture of chemistry because a small but influential subset of scientists views contributing to the Internet largely as a distraction and waste of time. Professor Murray is an accomplished, respected, and powerful chemist. His opinion carries a lot of weight in the world of chemistry, and his position as an editor of an ACS journal affords him a bully pulpit. Here, that is unfortunate. Professor Murray’s editorial casts science blogging in a very unfair light. I’m not doing myself any favors by rebuking the editor-in-chief of one of the best ACS journals, but I think his editorial has the potential to be destructive and requires a rebuttal. Let’s look at what Murray has to say about blogs:
I believe that the current phenomenon of “bloggers” should be of serious concern to scientists. 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. An essential change is that these new freelancers, with the megaphone of the Internet, can reach a much larger audience of potential clients than was possible in the past (and harness free “information sources”). 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, so that b) blogging “agencies” are popping up that openly advertise “no formal search for “qualifications of bloggers” revealed).
Murray’s editorial completely ignores the idea that many blogs serve purposes that traditional media either can’t or won’t. ChemBark is certainly not a science blog for the general public; it is a provincial blog written specifically for chemists. And while ChemBark is a chemistry blog with an ostensibly wide scope, the vast majority of posts are not about the nuts and bolts of chemistry. Yes, the molecules are why most of us love our jobs, but I am not concerned with using this blog to communicate or summarize chemical research. There’s too much information for me to cover and plenty of other places for readers to get it.
Rather, ChemBark is dedicated to the idea that our community does not spend enough time analyzing the many factors that profoundly impact our ability to conduct research but that don’t involve atoms and molecules. These subjects include how labs are managed, how we teach chemistry, how students are advised, how funding is allocated, and what our research priorities should be. I’d like for Murray to come here and tell me where you can find this information in the traditional scientific press. Obviously, there is a “market” for it, because people actually visit this site.
In Murray’s defense, his general negative perception of blogs might only extend to science blogs aimed at the layperson. Maybe his intention was not to impugn all science bloggers, just the generalists. And while I don’t expect him to read this post because he hates blogs so much…
Professor Murray, as a gesture to demonstrate that I harbor no animosity towards you for your editorial, I am going to send you a free pack of ChemBark magnets to encourage you to play nicely with us in the chemical blogosphere. If your fine journal ever needs someone to write a guest editorial on the many merits of science blogging and chemistry blogs in particular, I can forward you my freelance rates.