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Scientific American Culls Its Blog Network, Announces New Editorial Guidelines

at-scientific-american[1]Aiming to "create an improved balance of topic areas and bring in some new voices", editors at Scientific American announced last week that they had shuttered a number of blogs hosted on the site.

KSJ Tracker reports that:

The move will cut the number of blogs and bloggers roughly in half, said Curtis Brainard, Scientific American’s blogs editor.

That means that some familiar names will no longer be part of the network. I haven’t been able to get a list of the dropped bloggers, but the blogs page now lists farewells from several current bloggers, including S.E. Gould, Janet D. Stemwedel,Hannah Waters, and Shara Yurkiewicz. Others, presumably, will follow. No new voices will be added until some time next year, Brainard said.

He told me in an email that the editors "looked at a variety of factors, including traffic and frequency of posting," in deciding which blogs to drop. And indeed, some of the departing bloggers acknowledge in their farewells that they’ve been too busy elsewhere to tend to their blogs. "I’m not much of a blogger anymore (four posts a year doesn’t quite cut it)," wrote Psi Wavefunction, author of The Ocelloid blog. "Over the last year I’ve had less and less time to spend on writing and researching blog posts," wrote Gould, the author of Lab Rat. (For more on who’s going, see this post byMatt Shipman. Brainard listed the blogs that are staying in a comment attached to the announcement.)

Scientific American also released new guidelines for its blog network which give SA greater editorial control over the blogs on its network. Bloggers will have to stick to their scientific specialties, and if they venture outside of their areas of expertise the new guidelines say that "they should consult with the blogs editor and seek editorial feedback and support as needed".


I can’t help but see this as a response to the dust up last year when one scientist and guest blogger posted an email exchange in which she was called a foul name when she declined to write for free:

It wasn’t just that he called me a whore – he juxtaposed it against my professional being: Are you urban scientist or an urban whore? Completely dismissing me as a scientist, a science communicator (whom he sought for my particular expertise), and someone who could offer something meaningful to his brand.What? Now, I’m so immoral and wrong to inquire about compensation? Plus, it was obvious me that I was supposed to be honored by the request

Scientific American caught a lot of flack for taking down that blog post by Dr Danielle Lee, an urban anthropologist, but in retrospect I can’t say that they made the wrong choice.

SA didn’t handle the situation too well (the post was deleted without notice), but that doesn’t change the fact that the post represented a serious liability issue for the magazine. The post was potentially libelous, and while it did turn out to be fundamentally true (the unnamed editor was fired, and Lee’s post was reposted) that doesn’t change the point that Scientific American would rather have protected themselves from a lawsuit by checking the facts of the post first.

Under the new guidelines, bloggers will need to run a controversial story idea by the SA editorial staff before publishing that type of post.

What’s more, the guidelines say that:

In cases where a post that does not adhere to guidelines must be removed either temporarily or permanently, Scientific American will make every attempt to notify the author before removing the post, and it will replace the text of the post with an editor’s note explaining the reason(s) for removal. Scientific American also reserves the right to add an editor’s note or statement of concern to any post that it feels does not meet its editorial standards.

Clearly Scientific American has learned from its misstep.

image by Vicki’s Pics

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Mike December 21, 2014 um 4:54 pm

From one extreme to another.
This story adds some intellectual spice to GamerGate.
I couldn’t figure out that drama. I was totally lost about the horses bit.
At least I can follow this tale of woe.

Nate Hoffelder December 21, 2014 um 5:58 pm

I wouldn’t call this an extreme. It looks like a sensible policy to me. Okay, they might decide to use the policy to enact an extreme editorial policy but that doesn’t men the stated policy is bad.

Or did I miss something?

Mike December 21, 2014 um 6:01 pm

I just meant that the policy shift went from freedom to control. True there are loopholes but I wonder if in practice they will remain.

Nate Hoffelder December 21, 2014 um 6:09 pm

I think anarchy would be a better word, but I mostly agree with you.

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