Throughout the day, panelists touched on topics including blogging as a business, the perks and pitfalls of the Web as a medium to distribute scientific information, what makes responsible blogging, how to handle false information spread through the blogosphere, and the norms and expectations of the science blogging community. The final panel explored the issue of “what needs fixing” in the blogosphere during which panelists discussed the responsibility and mechanisms by which the science journalism and law communities have to address these problems.
“It was interesting to see that speakers with law backgrounds were generally extremely reluctant to impose any controls on speech in the blogosphere, whereas some science writers felt that there was a need for stricter standards, and maybe even a system of independent ratings of the reliability of science blogs,” said Jasanoff. “Another interesting insight was that blogging under an assumed identity — ‘pseudonymous’ blogging — may allow socially valuable information to be conveyed that a blogger with a known identity might not risk communicating. This runs contrary to the normal idea that democratic deliberation requires face-to-face communication with known allies and adversaries.”
So what comes next? This was an “exploratory conversation,” says Jasanoff. “I expect we will fold considerations of the nature and impacts of the blogosphere into future grant applications and teaching approaches.” In other words, look to this space for more down the line.
I think I can safely say that our event on Friday at the Harvard Kennedy School, entitled “Unruly Democracy: Science Blogs and the Public Sphere,” was a success, and perhaps even exceeded expectations. The room was full; the presentations were great; we had a historic first panel bringing together representatives of Seed, Discover, and The Boston Globe to talk about three different approaches to science blogging; we had a real debate about whether blogs are “good” or “bad” for science–and we had a move towards some constructive suggestions for finding better norms in the blogosphere.
If you want proof that the event has caused some very important thought and reflection, you need go no further than this lengthy post from Jessica Palmer of Bioephemera, who attended and gave a rockin’ talk on my panel. Jessica is, broadly speaking, in my camp–or what on Friday was called the “Sunsteinian” camp–when it comes to the negatives of blogging. Why? Some excerpts from her post: Read More
On Friday at our Harvard Kennedy School event, I’m going to be giving my rather pessimistic take–already laid out in Unscientific America, and only amplified by “ClimateGate” and other events since then–on the science blogosphere.
I’ll talk about how in comparison with the old media, the Internet fragments and narrows the audience for science information, even as there aren’t really any norms for responsible conduct–and thus, misinformation, innuendo, and general nastiness abound.
I’m sure, however, that others will have a different view. Perhaps Joe Romm will; he has just joined our roster for the event. Certainly, his blog has been a major success and demonstrates many of the upsides of science blogging.
Such debate is all to the good; it’s why we’re having the event in the first place. Indeed, I myself will point out some clear positives when it comes to blogging about science (I’m sure you can guess many of them).
But taken as a whole, are blogs broadening the conversation about science by reaching new audiences, replacing what has been lost in terms of science coverage in the old media, or elevating our general science discourse?
I have to say, I’m skeptical. There is no going back from this new world, but it is important to ponder how it is currently developing.
However, the purpose of the event is far broader than my particular argument. Frankly, I’m most excited about the first panel, which bring together representatives of the two big science blogging outlets and the science editor of the Boston Globe to discuss the economic end of things; to my knowledge nothing like it has happened before:
10:00-11:00 Panel 1: Blogging as Business
Henry Donahue (Discover), Gideon Gil (Boston Globe), Joy Moore (Seed)
Not to be missed.
So if you haven’t yet, and are in the Boston area, register for “Unruly Democracy” here!
Joe Romm is now coming to our Harvard Kennedy School event. And Joy Moore of Seed/ScienceBlogs will be there to represent one key powerhouse of the science blogosphere.
It’s all on the website, which has been newly updated. And so has the poster. Check it all out.
So I’ve given you the website of the Kennedy School science blogging event–cosponsored by the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships program–but not yet the speakers list. Here goes:
Sheila Jasanoff, STS Program, Harvard Kennedy School
10:00-11:00 Panel 1: Blogging as Business
Henry Donahue (CEO, Discover), Gideon Gil (Science Editor, Boston Globe), Representative of Seed Magazine [not confirmed]
11:15-12:15 Panel 2: Science on the Web
Francesca Grifo (Union of Concerned Scientists), Chris Mooney (MIT and Discover), Jessica Palmer (Bioephemera)
1:15-2:30 Panel 3: Rules and Responsibility
Amanda Gefter (New Scientist), Kimberly Isbell (Citizens Media Law Project), “Dr. Isis” (ScienceBlogs.com), Thomas Levenson (MIT)
2:30-3:30 Panel 4: Norms and Law
Sam Bayard (Citizen Media Law Project), Phil Hilts (Knight Program, MIT), Cristine Russell (Harvard Kennedy School)
3:30-4:00 Open Discussion and Wrap-Up
Incidentally, I also want to credit the poster artist whose work is helping so much to publicize this event: Alex Wellerstein. Amazing work.
Meanwhile, here’s the abstract of what we’re going to be considering–which, I might add, is not being considered nearly enough:
The blogosphere represents a new kind of deliberative space that is both enlarging and constraining public discourse in unprecedented ways. The key factor about this space, the issue this workshop seeks to explore, is its lack of norms. It is an unruly space in the sense that there are no rules of entry, access, or conduct, except for extreme forms of behavior that are positively illegal. The consequences of this unruliness have been specially severe for scientific communication, which depends on common standards of truth-telling and civility for its progress. In turn, the erosion of scientific standards destabilizes the foundations of democratic deliberation. Can norms of discourse be inserted into the blogosphere that would advance science and democracy? Can blogs induce deliberation or must they encourage extremism and rage to the detriment of public reason? Is science helped or hurt by the new media? What particular distorting factors enter the picture as blogging becomes a business?
My thanks to Sheila Jasanoff for articulating the questions in such a compelling way.
Stand by for my next post, in which I announce the conference speakers roster….and meanwhile, here’s the awesome poster again:
So, I’ve been working very hard over the past month to organize an event with Sheila Jasanoff of the Harvard Kennedy School about the state of science blogging. The event is cosponsored by Jasanoff’s Science, Technology, and Society Program and the MIT Knight Fellowship in Science Journalism. I’ll be putting up much more information about it very soon, but for now, just a teaser….the truly rockin’ poster:
C’mon, you know you want to attend….