Hey, I quit ScienceBlogs too! (Once upon a time.)
I had been reading this whole tempest-in-a-teacup about ScienceBlogs and Pepsi with varying degrees of amusement and irritation at both sides. I haven’t regularly visited SB in years; peripherally, I’ve watched some of their best writers slowly migrate away, their biggest name devolve into a one-note atheist crazy cat lady, and the remainder sort of just become a big echo chamber. So when the big faux-pas happened, I mostly just snickered at all the little ants freaking out as the neighborhood boy took a leak on their hill. As a former employee of SEED magazine, I’ve got no love for Adam Bly, but watching the SBers try to out-outrage each other over something that seemed obtuse rather than evil didn’t make them look good either.
Then this came to light, and I also read this. And it just reawakened all the strong feelings I used to have about how the sooner that poncey little twit was publicly discredited and the SEED Media Group permanently shuttered, the better off science journalism/communication would be. But it also reminded me of way back when I too was a ScienceBlogger, and I too found reason to quit in a huff. (Spoiler alert: this doesn’t have any great relevance to journalistic ethics, but it is a fun story to tell.)
Five-ish years ago (when I was jerkier and unmarried-er), I and a few rookie science-writer friends decided that there needed to be a science blog that took the piss — that was more Gawker than The Loom, more Maxim than Discover. So over beers and pizza in the East Village, FrinkTank was born. (It’s long gone now, but The Wayback Machine still has some posts archived. Beware: they are as immature and NSFW as you would expect from four twentysomething single guys. We called our blogroll The Reacharound, for god’s sake.)
We used pseudonyms because we wanted to protect our bylines and straight jobs, and also because we were inexperienced pussies who didn’t want to get yelled at by anyone we cracked wise about. We wrote some funny stuff, pulled a prank or two, and became something of an under-the-table guilty pleasure for other science journalists. (Their number probably wouldn’t fill my apartment, but they were definitely out there.) Good times.
Then one day ScienceBlogs offered us a slot. We couldn’t believe it. While other bloggers were explaining how the polymerase chain reaction works, we were using it as a springboard for dick jokes. We didn’t really see how FrinkTank fit the SB mold, but we a) relished the opportunity to get more exposure and b) to fling spitballs at Adam Bly from within his own house. (Hey, I said we were immature.)
We did get (slightly) more exposure, and some of the SBers actually enjoyed having a black sheep in the herd. We also made some wicked burns on SEED and its founder/publisher, whom we once described as a cross between Dr. Evil and Pee Wee Herman. But we didn’t do it gratuitously — only once in a while, just to show our readers that we hadn’t been housebroken. Mostly we just got a kick out of doing our thing as usual, and occasionally hearing (from moles we knew “on the inside”) about how someone freaked out in an editorial meeting because we used the word “twat” in a post (what will the advertisers think!?!?), or how Adam angrily asked one of his cronies to “do something” about us because we said that Chris Mooney (his star blogger and a SEED contributing editor at the time) looked like a midget on TV.
But there’s something about ScienceBlogs (or maybe just blogging) that inflates one’s own sense of importance. We weren’t immune. We started writing more outre content, and taking more vicious jabs at our corporate parent. When one of us (I honestly can’t remember who) called Adam Bly “the Sun King of science-media vaporware” in a post, we just thought, “Eh, what’s he gonna do?” Apparently that was the last straw, because we soon heard he was calling for our heads.
Actually he was only doing what any despotic media owner would in this situation, which was demand that we drop our pseudonyms. Not a terribly unreasonable request, given what assholes we were being. (But entertaining assholes, you see! Like John Stewart, or Lewis Black!) Anyway, given that at least one of us had worked at SEED before starting FrinkTank, we knew that just he’d throw us all out on our asses from pure spite as soon as we unmasked. So we dug in our heels and claimed persecution and moved FrinkTank off of ScienceBlogs in a big belch of digital hot air. By the time it was all over, even PZ Myers was saying that Bly shot himself in the foot by driving us away.
But he didn’t, not really. The truth is, it didn’t matter, we weren’t important, and no one really gave a crap after a week. And a few months later we all got bored with FrinkTank and shuttered it. If I took anything away from the whole silly experience, it’s just that old saw about not taking things personally and getting all worked up because odds are it barely matters anyway. It was a helluva lot of fun, though.
As for what this has to do with the current flap… well, not much, other than that SBers could probably have stood to take the Pepsi blog less personally while voicing their (understandable) dismay about it, as if Bly did it to fuck them each over individually by tarnishing their beautiful little reputations. Even if that were true, it’s small potatoes. Which is why I’m glad that this dirty laundry about his corrupt editorial policies has come to light, because it reminds me that there are legitimate reasons to loathe him and his presence in science journalism besides the rather mundane fact that he’s a pretentious, vindictive, thin-skinned twerp who stiffs his freelancers, couldn’t edit his way out of a paper bag, and sics lawyers on talented ex-employees out of spite when they escape his diseased little company.
Wait a minute, those are perfectly fine reasons. Oh well, bonus!
Filed under: Thoughts | 27 Comments