on science and ethics

Many of you who read my blog or know me personally know I am a bit of a lush for science. The astrophysics of monadologie came from my residency at Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, which in itself is part of a lifelong interest in astronomy in particular and other natural sciences.

My love of physics naturally leads into astrophysics at one end and particle physics, quantum physics and so on at the other, and to a slew of scientists and philosophers from Leibniz to Michel Serres, Isabelle Stengers, others… Geology and geophysics take me into my love of climbing, mountains and so into Central Asia and China, geography, culture, history, maps and topography… anthropology… names keep recurring in different disciplines, braids between the disciplines inside and out of science–the arts, philosophy are twisted upon themselves over and over; ah and the joy is the same.

Some people might find through religion some sense of marvel in the universe. I do not. To me, looking at the stars or the earth and forcing interpretation through faith is perhaps at best an elegant metaphor or story to be studied through anthropology (I do find of course the pantheon of demons in all religions quite fascinating), but mostly craven superstition that is no different to a perverse choice in favour of the detritus littering the floor, when a banquet lies upon the table above.

Over the years of blogging and reading blogs, many of the ones in the sciences had coalesced around Discover Magazine Blogs and the Scienceblogs communities, which of course has led me to new blogs, furthering my wanderings through the sciences. Volcanology and deep sea oceanography with excellent blogs written by passionate working scientists are two of the fields I currently have a fascination for.

Yes, there is a but.

Mostly I don’t reblog. As much as I’d like to–and have tried in the past to make weekly reading lists of whatever has really grabbed my attention, the most obvious place where my love of science is displayed is in the sidebar (yes, needs updating…). But the last couple of days have brought some troubling developments.

Scienceblogs allows their writers complete freedom, in exchange for advertising in the right column and above the banner–most of which I don’t see because I use adblocking. This division allowed for an integrity in the science bloggers’ often coupled with disclosures either by naming themselves or when anonymous listing where their funding comes from.

As a non-scientist and being aware of the deluge of pseudo-science — homeopathy, new age therapies and so on under the misleading guise and banner of ‘alternative medicine’, the constant misrepresentation of climate science by the media, corporate manipulation of public perception and outright lies, or just simple things like why would a volcano cause air traffic across europe to shut down – all these things in small ways I find myself talking about.

But when a community such as Scienceblogs provides a platform to a corporate entity under the guise of a blog like others, when it is patently advertorial, massaging of public image, when it is Pepsi given space to write a blog (I use that in the very loosest of senses) on nutrition science and how they are making the world a better place through their foodstuffs research…

Yes, the science blog world is in an uproar. It is a crucial issue of ethics, impartiality and most importantly authenticity and integrity. When science is routinely denigrated, used against the wishes of scientists for political manipulation, misrepresented in the media, when vital issues for the our immediate future are at stake, it is imperative scientists are able to be seen as trustworthy and respected.

Many of the science blogs I read are in the process of leaving Scienceblogs. Funnily enough it has also introduced me to new blogs–which are also leaving. The story in itself is worth an afternoon’s reading, but summarised at The Loom, along with a list of blogs on the move, and by GrrlScientist in Sucking Corporate Dick (read the comments to enjoy scientists enraged).

Maybe this is also to say for those of you who get as much pleasure as I do in reading and in reading science, there is a wealth of extraordinarily talented writers in many fields who I’m sure you’ll greatly enjoy. And perhaps too, this diaspora is a good thing. Blogs and blog communities have progressed to the point – thanks to the code they run on – where ad hoc communities are simple to set up and there is no real need to belong to somewhere like Scienceblogs if they fail to meet the requirements of their bloggers.

I shall update my links in due course.