Dave Appell: remember the messenger

By Razib Khan | July 22, 2010 9:58 am

David Dobbs has a long measured response up to David Appell’s strange argument that Pepsi’s “free speech” rights were violated during the recent ScienceBlogs kerfuffle, by way of which he casts some aspersions on the character and agenda of specific bloggers. Here’s the thing about Appell, he has a long history of confused and surly criticisms and interrogations of others and himself. I know that history because I first became familiar with Dave Appell in May of 2002. In between pointers and commentary on physical science, his primary beat as a science journalist, he would offer some personal reflections, frustrations, and worries. I’m not big into bloggers who “overshare,” especially science bloggers, so I tried to ignore that as I focused on the substance of Appell’s posts.

But he popped up again in subsequent years with what I felt to be peculiar and emotionally driven behavior. First, in early 2007 I heard Rod Dreher offer a long explanation and apology on NPR for his support and subsequent opposition to the Iraq War. Dreher was heartfelt from what I recall, and didn’t soft pedal his faults which led him to his initial opinions. Well, that wasn’t enough for Dave Appell, he sent Dreher a nasty note where he stated that hoped that Dreher would burn in hell for the suffering that he caused. For someone who believes in free speech Appell certainly does not incentivize public candor about error. If you do something stupid, and perhaps even foul, keep your mouth shut! Then in 2008 he had a relatively widely linked post up criticizing the whole enterprise of blogging and the blogosphere. He concludes:

So more and more I am focusing on real writing, detailed reporting for magazines where you can do some real investigation and reporting and your audience isn’t just people reading over their calzone at lunch. I don’t want to end up some vapid blogger who tries to say everything and so who says nothing whatsoever. Life is too short. I’m really not sure what the solution is.

Two years on he’s obviously still reading blogs, still blogging (posting YouTube clips and updates on his kittens even!), and commenting on the situation of the blogosphere. He even wants to broaden the discussion and let a thousand flowers bloom.

Sometimes when the message seems a bit muddy, it’s not because you lack powers of perception. If you see the byline “Dave Appell,” and it doesn’t have to do with atmospheric physics or such, update your priors! (or better yet, click away)

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  • JohnV

    The first comment on Appell’s post contains an anti-science rant. Further down someone plays the “corporate shill” gambit. It was really frustrating for some of us who comment at the science-based blogs on Scienceblogs seeing people resort to behaviors typically shown by anti-vaccine crowd. Especially when they were basically given a free pass to do so.

    That said, I’m fairly confused how PepsiCo has a right to free speech on another corporation’s blog hub.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i can imagine. i didn’t follow the comments. mostly i know what’s going on through twitter, some emails with science bloggers, and a general understanding of the big picture of their frustrations. obviously there are ideological filters at work, but for many (not all, especially professional journalists) the pepsi blog was just the straw.

    there’s a lot of stuff on other scienceblogs that i wasn’t enthused with. and i regularly got profiled as a left-wing new atheist because of my residence there. but, the whole issue with pepsi buying a position like that would have pissed me off too if i was there. i really hate slick advertorials in magazines too, mostly because of confusion as to whether it is an advertorial or not. most journalism has bias, and i go in with a sense of what that bias is. i don’t want to keep updating my perception article by article, and the advertorials do that for me.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    also, please note that from what i know there’s not ideological difference between those who left, and those who stayed, on scienceblogs. the big gap right now seems to be 1) the blogs which get A LOT of traffic (who stayed) vs. those who don’t (many of whom left), 2) the blogs which were around for a while (who tend to leave) and those who haven’t been (who tend to stay). at least that’s my impression. #2 might be wrong insofar as some newbies have left too.

  • JohnV

    Yeah I can say from the outside looking in that it’s a pretty interesting issue because of the complexity. (If I was a blogger there, “interesting” would not be the first thing I’d describe it as)

    People had various reasons for being unhappy about the pepsi deal, and various reasons for leaving and if Venn diagrams were made for each blogger there’d be different levels of overlap. It’s definitely been enlightening to see how people who’s blogs I’d been reading for a while reacted differently.

    Of course, a day or 2 ago it was mentioned that pay checks had been late or nonexistent. Regardless of anything else, I can totally understand people getting the hell out of Dodge once that starts happening.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Dave Appell: remember the messenger | Gene Expression | Discover Magazine -- Topsy.com()

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    Ah, yet another fascinatingly idiosyncratic definition of ‘free speech’ that I wasn’t previously aware of.

    People who redefine terms to mean what they use them to mean generally aren’t worth paying attention to; they’re certainly not worth arguing with.


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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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