Liveblogging the NC Science Blogging Conference - Science Blogging Ethics panel

Moderator: Janet Stemwedel

We know what are ethics, and we know what is blogging (well, sort of--that's a continuing conversation, partially with this conference).  Janet is speaking specifically about the slice of the blogosphere that covers science.  Some questions we should consider:

Do science bloggers see themselves differently from other bloggers?  What should we say or do that other bloggers don't, particularly those that have strictly personal blogs.  But there are differences even between different threads of professional bloggers.  What are those?

Should we not dilute the "science" brand?  If we are serious about being science bloggers, maybe we should be exposing our own biases, conflicts of interest (am I pimping a company that gave me free stuff?), etc., and should we expose these in others when we see them?

What can I say on my blog?  Propietary or embargoed information shouldn't be shared on a blog, just like you shouldn't shout that out your window or tell others by phone or U.S. mail.  And as many bloggers have experienced personally, disclosing personal information can be very bad.  Whether your own or that of others.  Should you expose the identities of people blogging under "pseudonyms"?  Some people rely on their anonymity in order to participate in the blogosphere at all.  (See last bullet below for more.)

Should I form a community on my blog?  We should consider things like how (or whether) to moderate comments, how/whether to respond to commenters, how to reach out to "lurkers," looking up and participating in the blogs of those who visit yours.   

Do bloggers need a formal code of ethics?  Janet calls the blogosphere kind of like "the Wild West" still ... some people like that and some don't.  Whose standard should we consider?  Kim argues that it actually isn't a Wild West, because self-selection does occur when a blog reader is faced with the huge plethora of information.  That's also the reason that blog carnivals occur.

That was a whirlwind 15 minutes of questions, and now we're headed to a discussion of all of these points!  Some discussion we've had, and the associated comments from participants.  Not in any particular order:

**Fact-checking: Blogs aren't newspapers, and shouldn't be subject to the same issues.  Being misquoted isn't the end of the world, because at least journalists (and bloggers) have the freedom to report as they do.  Reasonable due diligence should include contacting a person you've posted about, so they can comment and correct any inaccuracies. Blogging in that way is better than what newspapers can do!  Also, considering what source you take from is important; writing just from press releases isn't very useful, but neither is quoting only from blogs that might be second-, third-, or 3000th-hand.  

**Resources for ethical blogging: Are there resources for us?  Not that we know of at this time, and that can be problematic.  We'll certainly start this conversation, and I hope we can disseminate them to many others.

**Authority: Anyone can start a blog; consider what authority that person does or doesn't have, and an absence of that information can be problematic too.  Should we start a professional group that sets standards and best practices, as journalists have?  (Not that all or even most members of a profession know about it, Janet points out).  Janet: "A code of ethics isn't worth anything if it isn't something about which people discuss regularly."  A wiki code of ethics?  Of course, practicing ethics is rarely what a person does because a universal code of ethics is difficult to come by, so perhaps we should focus on mechanics, as Tom Hoban from NC State pointed out ( 

We also develop a common lexicon/taxonomy that might be a key to developing a common code of ethics or best practices.  After all, we know what a troll is and what a blogroll is, but at least I didn't before I became a blogger.  Pointed out by someone (I'll get his name later).

 **Hierarchies: What if a prominent person in blogging disseminates an idea that s/he discovered from someone not famous or well-known?  Proper attribution should happen, but often doesn't, and most of the audience of an "A-lister" don't know that the original source was someone else.  Also, if we blog as part of our work, our employers may not allow us to say everything that we think we should to cover the topic at hand.  What to do?  Stay quiet?  If you don't, you may be out of a job.  Maybe tip off someone "anonymous" to bring that content to your blog through a comment?

 **Blogroll and the plethora of blogs: Suzanne Franks ( asks if we need to think ethically when developing and managing a blogroll?  We can make endlessly long blogrolls, more than we can ever keep up with.  What if you end up with blogs on there that you don't always read, and they end up posting content that you're not okay linking to?  How to manage this?

**Ads: Should bloggers be repsonsible for the content of their ads?  Should we point out the unfortunate/offensive/ironic ads that appear on the blogs of others?   Sites like don't allow users to choose what ads appear on the page when I view their blog; and the site does get revenue from these advertisers that bloggers don't see. Problematic?

**Pseudonyms: A participant expressed surprise that they are used in science blogging.  Another user (I'll try to get their names later) emphasized that some people probably have to, e.g. graduate students or faculty seeking tenure who can talk about their experience without fear of retribution.  Kim mentioned that those at the "top of the food chain" may also benefit from using pseudonyms, in order to avoid issues like melding your professional identity with the more casual, less-beneficial-for-customers/patients/whoever you work for identity that your blog contains.

Time for coffee and the next session! 

Cathy Davidson

Great conference, great posts!

These are fantastic blogging issues to be discussing and writing about. We should think about a forum on blogging for HASTAC II. Thanks, Jonathan. Drive safely,