Archive for the 'meta-blag' category

The death of pseudonyms? Not so fast...

Aug 19 2011 Published by under meta-blag

As old as the internet itself is the use of pseudonyms, names that identify individual users but happen to be different from their "real" names.  This practice differs from anonymity in that a unique identity follows the user from blog to board to email.  I blog under a pseudonym, not because I wish to remain anonymous (I am trivially google-able) but because the 'nym has been my internet handle for years.  To change now would confuse me and the people I converse with. There are myriad reasons for pseudonymity and anonymity online, something discussed at great length in many other venues.  There has also been a recent push (putsch?) to rid the internet of these 'nyms.  But I don't see a crisis here.

Google + has made it clear that they prefer "real names" which I'll admit is confusing to me, since I don't know my internet buddies' real names.   Now, one of the first large-scale science blog networks, ScienceBlogs, has announced the end of pseudonymous blogging.  Given that several of there most popular bloggers use 'nyms, this is clearly not an act against the practice itself but some larger business decision (I suspect, as do others, that National Geographic simply bought the network for it's domain name and plans to trash the old ScienceBlogs and replace it with something else, something which will not necessarily be worse.

The blogosphere, especially the science blogosphere, has undergone a lot of change in the last year or two, with network fracturing and new ones forming.  From the perspective of the "back end" of these networks, they aren't simple to run, unlike opening a WordPress or Blogger site, but they offer other benefits.

I'll leave re-hashing the history of structure of blog networks to someone else---my point is that pseudonymity will survive Google+, ScienceBlogs, and whomever else prefers the name on your passport.  Netizens want it, and they will have it, through commercial outlets such as Twitter or on their own via dozens of free infrastructure sites.  Those of us who value choice in naming conventions will simply slip away from Google+, ScienceBlogs, and any other site that fails to offer us what we want.  Our creativity will continue to drive the future of the internet.

9 responses so far

Rethinking blog networks and ethics

Jul 06 2010 Published by under meta-blag

One of the wonderful things about blogs is their independence. Most are hosted by wordpress or blogger and there isn't much advertising or sponsorship. Notable exceptions are blog collectives, such as ScienceBlogs and the Discover Magazine blog network. These networks have significant advantages, including technical support, increased reach, and collegiality (your results may vary).

One of the potential disadvantages is advertising and sponsorship. Here at Sb, we've been very fortunate in that our content is completely independent. We control anything in the center column. The top and right however belong to Sb, and they use this space to keep the place running. There have been several times when the advertising has been less-than-appropriate, and SEED has responded by altering it, but in this economy, it pays to be flexible. Ad content can serve as blog fodder. There's nothing preventing those of us who blog here from critiquing the ad content as vigorously as we wish to.

While the various bloggers under the ScienceBlogs banner are independent of Sb and of each other, there is certainly a penumbra of association. We all may benefit from good publicity, and we may be harmed by bad publicity, even if it comes from other blogs in the network. Given that we may benefit from good publicity generated by the network, it could be argued that we bear some responsibility when we don't speak out against bad practices on the network.

All that is my way of justifying what I am about to write: ScienceBlogs is launching a new blog, and in doing so they are making a spectacularly foolish decision. Today they announced a new blog called Food Frontiers, and I think a few simple quotes will allow you to see why I'm concerned.

On behalf of the team here at ScienceBlogs, I'd like to welcome you to Food Frontiers, a new project presented by PepsiCo.
As part of this partnership, we'll hear from a wide range of experts on how the company is developing products rooted in rigorous, science-based nutrition standards to offer consumers more wholesome and enjoyable foods and beverages. The focus will be on innovations in science, nutrition and health policy. In addition to learning more about the transformation of PepsiCo's product portfolio, we'll be seeing some of the innovative ways it is planning to reduce its use of energy, water and packaging.

So PepsiCo's PR flacks basically own a the center column content on one of our blogs.  This is not only a fundamental conflict of interest, it's also deceptive.  If PepsiCo is providing the content, it should, in my opinion, be clearly labelled as advertising.  It could be argued that since it is clearly announced that the content is PepsiCo's, that transparency is maintained, but it's not.  Readers of the other 70-odd blogs at Sb expect independent content in the center column.  What's more, Sb is indexed by Google News.  As a news outlet, we should be held to a high standard.  If the SEED management can't see what's wrong with this, this may be an insoluble problem.

51 responses so far


May 31 2010 Published by under meta-blag

I'm off to watch my daughter march in some sort of neo-fascist parade (Daisy scouts) and then off to the hospital, but first some quick housekeeping issues:

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A little help, please

Apr 27 2010 Published by under Medicine, meta-blag

Next week I'm going to be giving a talk at the 2010 Great Lakes Homeland Security Training Conference & Expo. The title of the talk will be "Medical Blogs: An Under-Recognized Resource for Public Health Awareness and Communication", but I'll probably speak more broadly about web 2.0. In preparation for the talk, I'd like you to help me with an exercise.
One possible ways to enlist blogs and social media in disaster response is to direct people to a specific link where official information can be found. As an experiment, I'd like use this post to see how disaster information might be propagated from a site like mine. I am going to tweet this post, and I'd like others to retweet it and/or post it to your social media of choice. I'll be using a link so that I can gather some crude data about the post's propagation. Please feel free to use the comment section to give feedback about the process, and if you're not a regular reader, to let me know how you came here.
This may seem a little spam-y, but it's for the greater good.

63 responses so far

Coming up at WCU

Mar 07 2010 Published by under meta-blag

For some reason I'm really excited about tomorrow's post. I don't usually write very far ahead of time, but this one took a little bit of extra research. You see, I got this letter from a PR firm hyping some altmed doc, and it was much more interesting than the usual similar things I get. It highlights some of the subtleties at the intersection of science-based medicine and the other stuff.
The post is going up here tomorrow morning, and at Science-Based Medicine in the afternoon.
One thing I've found about blogging, though, is a piece I really work hard on and like a lot may go over like a real dud, and a post I crank out in five minutes may end up with more hits than I've seen in months. Go figure.

8 responses so far

You should be reading...

Jan 06 2010 Published by under meta-blag

One of the best blogs out there, Terra Sigillata, seemed to have gone on a bit of a hiatus for a while, but Abel Pharmboy is back and better than ever.
His posts over the last 8 weeks or so are all must-reads. Go, read, discuss.

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Happy Blogiversary to Orac!

Dec 11 2009 Published by under meta-blag

One of the blogosphere's best known skeptics hit a milestone today. Orac at Respectful Insolence has now been fighting ignorance for five years. That's like, oh, about 30 in blog years. Why don't you go over there and wish him a happy blogiversary. He deserves it. Folks like Orac who publicly call out quacks get a lot of online and real-life harassment. It's nice to get well-wishers coming by once in a while.

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Housekeeping: DonorsChoose, Comment registration

Nov 25 2009 Published by under Donors Choose, meta-blag

Those of you who gave to DonorsChoose will find an email in your inbox with a gift card. This is free money for you to donate to any project you wish. It represents matching funds from Hewlett-Packard, so don't let it go to waste.
Next, commenting. I keep a very open comment policy, since dialog is really the whole point of a blog, but moderating comments can be rather cumbersome, and the spam and hate-comments have been sneaking through. I am considering a trial run with comment registration. The ScienceBlogs overlords assure me that most of the bugs have been swept out of it. What this would allow is automatic trashing of comments from spammers and the few commenters who spew hate speech. It would not take away the ability to comment anonymously, as pseudonym accounts can be set up, but if you enjoy a little sockpuppetry, it would limit this a bit, which is a shame. I'm open to your opinions on this one.

10 responses so far

Skeptics' Circle #124 is up

Nov 21 2009 Published by under meta-blag

The latest Skeptics' Circle is up at Beyond the Short Coat.  

The Giants' Shoulders #17 is also up at scibling Eric Michael Johnson's place.  Go and read!

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Are you convinced? Do I care? Do you?

Nov 09 2009 Published by under Medicine, meta-blag

I had a nice dinner last night with a group of medical bloggers and journalists (I don't recommend the scallops). One journalist, a veteran of many years, asked me, "is your goal to convince people, or are you preaching to the choir?"
It's a simple question, one that I probably should ask myself daily but don't. Rather than extracting an answer from my behind, I decided to think about it for a while.
The answer, I think, is both and neither. It's hard to judge given that the percentage of readers who comment is low, but the question wasn't "are your readers convinced", but "do you intend to convince them?"
Blogs are an odd beast existing in an in-between world of "not journalism", "not editorial", and other "not" phrases. It's whatever the blogger wants it to be, although it's becoming clearer to me that if I'm going to stay serious about writing, I'd better understand what these other things are that I'm "not". Not being a professional journalist, I can't devote myself to a story in the same way as someone who gets payed to research and write stories. Instead I write about what I already know, or what my narrow expertise allows me to learn quickly. And because I write what I know, I often allow my own passions to come through in the writing, especially my reverence for patient care and my abhorrence of snake oil and other "alternative" flimflam. When I write with a passion about how little I respect CAM and its boosters, am I really going to convince anyone? Or am I just another random guy with a strong opinion?
I like to think the answer is both and neither. I do come at this with a unique perspective as a writer. Most medical journalism is not done by medical professionals (and most medical writing is not done by people who can write). Sometimes I take a strident tone which is probably going to rally the troops, but is less likely to win me any converts. But I also try to tell real stories of real people looking for answers. Sometimes medicine has these answers but fails to communicate them. Sometimes we don't. And this is a group I hope to reach more an more.

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