There is a great irony here. Just prior to the creation of Scientific American Blogs, was Pepsigate. Pepsigate happened at Scienceblogs.com. Scienceblogs administration decided to create a blog run by the research unit at Pepsi. This made sense to some people because this was a group of scientists working on food and stuff, so why not have them blog at a science blogging network? The problem was that this would be a corporate blog sitting like a wolf in sheep’s clothing among regular science blogs that were written mainly by individuals scientists with mainly academic, not corporate, affiliations.
Bloggers were enraged. Within a short time Scienceblogs.com announced that they had been stupid, apologized, nixed the Pepsi blog, and set up an internal system to help avoid being so boneheaded in the future. But, many bloggers including Bora and a handful of others who are now at Scientific American quite scienceblogs.com anyway. Some even said that bloggers who did not quit scienceblogs.com were doing it wrong. At the time I felt that the exodus was overly dramatic, that scienceblogs.com had handled the problem (eventually) as well as we might expect any institution or company to handle it, and I felt no desire to mess around with moving my blog. There were a few weeks there when I felt compelled to privately contact friends and colleagues after they publicly implied that the hangers-on at Scienceblogs.com were bad, asking them if this is really what they felt and if they were really prepared to defend that position. In all cases, I think, people realized that they were being overly judgmental. The irony is, of course, that Scientific American Blogs was built in part on the basis of a kind of restructuring of the science blogosphere that came out of Pepsigate, and the PepsiExodus was fully (and skillfully) exploited to create an excellent stable of bloggers at Scientific American. But the culture of Trial by Tweet, in part embolded by things like Pepsigate and in part shaped, one way or another, by movers and shakers such as Bora (who has written eloquently many times about the increasing power of the social networks over old fashioned blogging and commenting, etc.) is now looking a lot like a huge flock of chickens. Coming home. To roost.
While I’m still less sanguine about Pepsigate, as science journalists were put in a difficult position, I always liked ScienceBlogs during the Adam Bly regime (for those who don’t know, I used to blog at ScienceBlogs, and left, on good terms, after National Geographic took over). Unlike Scientific American, to the best of my recollection, Seed (the parent company) never pulled a post. While I had almost no personal contact with Bly, in retrospect, he was ahead of his time–which is probably why the first incarnation of ScienceBlogs didn’t do so well as a business. The idea that you would invite scientists, with our often-different ways of approaching things (different, not better), to write about anything with no censorship was pretty gutsy–there was no attempt to conform to an existing model. It tied into Seed’s motto of “science is culture.” Back in the day, that sounded weird (most of us had no idea what the hell that meant). But when you consider that so many mainstream publications today, at least in their online incarnations, now have considerable science coverage, it’s safe to say that, in 2013, science is culture.
For anyone interested in print graphic design, Seed Magazine was a thing of beauty (and I always suspected that was Bly’s first love, not the blogs). Science magazines and science graphics didn’t look like that circa 2005–not so consistently and from front to back. If you’re able to dig up a copy at a library, you’ll see what I mean.
I don’t mean to pollyanish–there were definitely problems. A lot of behind-the-scenes drama, some of it deserved, some of it not. But, looking back, it was a very interesting time and place to blog.
Anyway, enough ramblings about my (no doubt skewed) perspective on a wee bit of the history of the science bloggysphere.