Inviting Refugees from infighting at Science Blogs

I promise not to keep posting about PZ Myers, who went from a little bit snooty when bashing Science Blog to downright nasty in bashing his fellow Science Blogs-ers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum.

But if you are a Science Blogs reader who has gotten tired of the infighting over there, I have a much more civil alternative to suggest.

We bloggers here at Science Blog are a varied lot, largely because anyone can open a blog here. Now of course, that means some of us are known for grinding axes or having crackpot ideas.

But quite a few of us offer enlightenment. I’ll let you decide whether my Reflections on a “crackpot” post was enlightening, but it captures the difference between the two different sites.

For a long time, I was a regular reader/commenter of Chris Mooney’s blog, “The Intersection,” which I discovered after reviewing his best-selling The Republican War on Science. The discussions of the politics surrounding climate change and stem cell research, to name two hot topics, were occasionally “loud” and could get personal, but were, on the whole interesting.

When Chris added co-blogger Sheril Kirshenbaum, I wasn’t sure what to expect. She had a lively voice and interesting background in science, policy, and deejaying. I enjoyed her style, but the blog moved toward a heavier emphasis on science communication. That was fine, but I lost interest as more and more of the posts emphasized style (“framing” for example) over substance.

The blog was no longer of much interest to me, though I still liked and respected the co-bloggers. Gradually I paid more attention to Science Blog, without the “s.” The news releases that Ben Sullivan, the blog owner, chooses to post are varied and interesting. He allows those of us who choose to blog to speak our minds or grind our axes as long as we don’t go beyond what is legal.

True, there’s the occasional goofy idea to shoot down or the posts aimed at self-promotion. (I admit to a few of those amidst my informational ones). But it’s a very nice, varied, open neighborhood, and we can choose the characters we want to hang out with.

Once in a while things get hot, as in the vanished “crackpot” post discussed above. But in trying to discover more about that poster, I found that PZ Myers had been following that thread and chose to discuss it with some gratuitous dismissals of us “s”-less Science Bloggers.

i decided to see what PZ was posting about today, and I found him on another tirade, this time against Mooney and Kirshenbaum. If you read my comment there, you’ll find that I shared his misgivings about Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s new book, Unscientific America. Because it addressed what I saw as an important topic, I had successfully pitched a review of that title in a major newspaper.

But when I read the book and found it disappointing and even misguided in its expectations for scientists, I pulled back my offer to review it. Unfortunately, Mooney and Kirshenbaum had the temerity to criticize militant atheists in general, and PZ in particular, in one of their chapters. His review began by stating some of the same dislikes I had, but then he went off on a personal tirade that continued with today’s post. His readers joined in with an escalating personal attack on M&K, forgetting that the authors were addressing an important issue and offering their own suggestions of how to address it.

There is so much to discuss, and yet it became a personal piling-on fest rather than an exploration of an important theme.

So the bottom line for Science Blogs readers is that it may be worth your while to spend a little more time at Science Blog, without the hissing that the “s” on Blogs seems to have been brought to Pharyngula.

I figure that “turn-about is fair play.” If PZ Myers wants to demean Science Blog, it’s time to say what’s wrong with his style and invite his readers to a less contentious and equally informative venue.

Fred Bortz
Science Books for Young Readers
Science Book Reviews