SciReligious American

Does anyone else remember the 1977 National Lampoon parody, Scienterrific American?

I ran across two of Scientific American’s bloggers after I wrote a post comparing Richard Feynman’s roguish pickup stories to the Neg technique recommended by self-described Pickup Artists.

One was Ashutosh Jogalekar, who wrote what I thought was a very balanced argument that Feynman should be appreciated more for his genius than his antics. His post, however, was controversial enough that SA removed then reinstated it. Another SA blogger, Janet Stemwedel, didn’t see Feynman as any sort of hero. Other, independent, bloggers were even harsher, but many commenters claimed Feynman was just a normal, red-blooded guy and decried criticisms as misplaced political correctness.

Others have noted that the scientific bureaucracy sometimes behaves like another religion. Attacking a minor deity like Feynman is not without risks. Neither Stemwedel nor Jogalekar are part of, A New Vision for Scientific American’s Blog Network, as the venerable magazine carefully announces:

 … there needs to be a higher degree of coordination and organization within the network. So over the coming months we will be implementing a number of changes. First, we are publishing a new set of Blog Network Guidelines so that everyone, bloggers and readers alike, is fully aware of our basic operational ground rules and protocols.

On ScienceBlog’s Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel, an independent voice himself, defends the decision of Scientific American to rein in some bloggers and eliminate others.

I’m very much an outsider to this, but my quick take would be that this was pretty much inevitable given the high-profile PR catastrophes they’ve suffered in recent years– the D.N. Lee episode where a post was hastily deleted and then slowly restored, and then the Feynman kerfuffle earlier this year that led to the ejection of Ashutosh Jogalekar.

At his own blog, Jogalekar dissents:

So I hear that SciAmBlogs is undergoing a radical overhaul and shedding no less than half of its bloggers, many of whom have been with the network since its inception. This includes many whose thought-provoking writings I respect – even though I don’t always agree with them – like Janet Stemwedel and Eric Michael Johnson.
It’s a shame really, because I think the network had really distinguished itself as one of the few blogging networks in the world whose bloggers had vibrant, independent voices and who were not afraid to write provocative posts. That being said, I don’t have a problem seeing the logic of this move at all: after what happened during the last one year, it is clear that the network wants to repair what it sees as a broken image, wants to avoid dealing with even ten clamorous voices on Twitter, wants to stay away even from interesting controversy and – the importance of this aspect of any issue can never be underestimated – wants to please the lawyers.

It seems part of a pattern that the sort of free expression touted as a hallmark of the internet is no longer welcome on established sites.

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