Thoughts about Scientific American Blog Changes

Today, I've been mulling over some of the changes going on within Scientific American's blog network (for a summary of these changes, see Matt Shipman's post here at I have many thoughts on the network's new guidelines for bloggers, which I'll probably flesh out in a later post. The public publishing of science blogging guidelines (which until now have been largely unspoken for most blog networks) is relevant to my dissertation research on science blogging practices and content decisions. Shutterstock:

Without talking to the editors at Scientific American, it is perhaps inappropriate for me to guess at the rationale for why specific blogs are being cut from the network. But I still went ahead and created a breakdown of all the blogs/bloggers that were cut (or that are leaving voluntarily) as well as the blogs/bloggers that are being kept on. I've taken note of posting regularity and author characteristics for each blog, out of curiosity. I was wondering if there were any similarities in the blogs that are being kept on (are they more likely to be written by career science writers as opposed to career scientists?) and whether the blogs that are being cut say anything about the future directions of this media blog network.

Blogs Cut or Voluntarily Leaving SciAm

So for all of the blogs above, it (unfortunately) makes sense that they be cut from the SciAm network according to the SciAm blog editor's rationale of frequency of posts and traffic. Until recently, Scientific American bloggers have been contracted for 2-4 posts per month (I've interviewed several SciAm bloggers who cited the 4 posts a month requirement), at a pay rate of around $250/month.

But for the rest of the blogs being cut from the network, frequency of posts at least doesn't seem to fully explain the decision to cut them.

  • White Noise (fairly regular blogging until October 2014) – a blog on culture, addiction and mental illness; Female blogger; Teacher
  • Absolutely Maybe (regular blogging) – a blog on uncertainties about medicine and life; Visual-based; Female blogger; NIH Scientist
  • Doing Good Science (regular blogging) – a blog about training new scientists, ethics, inside science/academia; Female blogger; Professor of Philosophy
  • History Of Geology (regular blogging in past months) – a blog about geology; Male blogger; Freelance geologist, researcher
  • Information Culture (regular blogging since Sept.; some months without blogging) – thoughts and analysis related to science communication/information; Group blog; Librarian; Grad student/researcher
  • Molecules to Medicine (regular blogging) – a blog about drug development; Female blogger; Infectious disease specialist
  • Oscillator (some months without blogging) – a blog about synthetic biology; Female blogger; Biological designer, biologist and writer, Professor of media design
  • *Octopus Chronicles (regular blogging) – Female blogger; Journalist and author *Update: Will be archived at the end of December
  • PsiVid (regular blogging) – Science and video; Female bloggers; 1. Biologist/Writer/Film-maker with PhD in population ecology; 2. University biology lecturer and science communicator; No idea why this blog would have been cut, given the unique multimedia focus. No other blogs being kept on the network have a video focus, to my knowledge.

It's interesting that of these blogs being cut, several deal with 'inside science/academia' topics, science communication and culture of science and journalism. I don't see such topics represented much in the blogs staying on the network, other than Danielle Lee's superb blog, which often deals with women in science and diversity in science issues. Perhaps this is a matter of cutting more of the blogs that counted other scientists, graduate students and science writers among their primary audience, as opposed to broader and more explanatory science communication? Several of these blogs, particularly Doing Good Science and Absolutely Maybe, are among the blogs I personally paid most attention to on the network.

Most of the blogs being cut for it would seem reasons other than posting frequency, are written by women.

Blogs Staying at SciAm

  • Anthropology in Practice (regular blogging) – a blog about anthropology and understanding the human experience; Female blogger; Anthropologist with an M.S. degree in anthropology, current career in digital media / applying her knowledge of anthropology in the private sector
  • Beautiful Minds (regular blogging) – a blog about intelligence, creativity and the mind; Male blogger; Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute.
  • Budding Scientist (hasn’t posted since September; spotted blogging) – information about raising science-literate kids; Female blogger; Contributing Editor at Scientific American and a staff science writer at The Dallas Morning News.
  • Cocktail Party Physics (regular blogging) – a blog about physics; Female blogger; Science writer
  • Compound Eye (hasn’t posted since August) – Photography; Male Blogger; Entomologist, photographer
  • Cross-Check (regular blogging) – critical views of science in the news; Male blogger; Teacher, Author
  • Dog Spies (fairly regular blogging) – a blog about the science of dogs; Female blogger; Canine behavioral researcher and science writer
  • Extinction Countdown (regular blogging) – about endangered species; Male blogger; Journalist covering environmental issues
  • Food Matters (regular blogging); Group blog
  • Frontiers for Young Minds (regular blogging) - Scientific articles peer-reviewed by and for kids 8-15; Female blogger; Project Manager for Frontiers for Young Minds, Geoscience PhD from Cornell University
  • Illusion Chasers (regular blogging) - a blog about Illusions, Delusions, and Everyday Deceptions; Brain researchers, authors
  • Life, Unbounded (regular blogging) – planets, exoplanets, astrobiology; Male blogger; Director of astrobiology center; author
  • Not Bad Science (hasn’t posted since July); animal behavior and cognition; Female blogger; Early-career researcher with a PhD in animal cognition.
  • Plugged In (regular blogging); Group blog
  • PsySociety (irregular blogging since May due to a blogging hiatus for personal and professional reasons); female blogger; Doctoral candidate in psychology
  • Roots of Unity (regular blogging) - a blog about math; Female blogger; Postdoc
  • Rosetta Stones (regular blogging) - a blog about geology; Blogger/Writer
  • Running Ponies (semi-regular blogging) - a blog about animals/zoology; science writer/author
  • Symbiartic (regular blogging) – art of science and science of art; Group blog; Illustrators and science communicators
  • Tetrapod Zoology (regular blogging) – a blog about animals; Male blogger; University zoologist, science writer / technical editor
  • The Artful Amoeba (regular blogging) – a blog about extreme microbes and biodiversity; Female blogger; journalist
  • The Urban Scientist (regular blogging) – a blog about urban ecology, evolutionary biology; Female blogger; university researcher/biologist

Among the blogs staying at SciAm, there is still a good mixture of both male and female blog authors, career scientists and career writers/communicators. The topic areas represented seem to be quite 'popular' for lay readers of science. Interestingly, several bloggers who have recently been irregular in posting frequency are staying on the network. The new minimum posting requirement will be 4 posts/month, at a doubled pay rate of $500/month.

It's also interesting that many of the bloggers at SciAm are professional communicators and writers, not necessarily scientists with active expertise in a narrow scientific area. And yet, SciAm's new blogging guidelines emphasize bloggers needing to stay within their area of (scientific?) expertise and needing to seek editorial oversight when blogging about topics 'new' to them or potentially controversial. How exactly do these guidelines work when you are a science writer or journalist trained in covering a wide variety of scientific topics as opposed to a narrow field of science? This potentially means quite a deal of editorial oversight, depending on how strictly it is enforced. 

The new guidelines also seem to have the potential to steer active scientist bloggers on the network away from blogging about more personal (and controversial) issues that come up as they are doing their science or research - similar to the issues that Janet Stemwedel covered for SciAm: "Bloggers are encouraged to maintain a strong subject focus in support of their blog’s agreed upon scope and mission." Will the discussion of such issues be missing in SciAm's restructured blog network?

Lots of questions.

Addition: I should state for the sake of transparency that my blog is part of the SciLogs blog network. SciLogs, like Scientific American, is part of the Nature Publishing Group. Also, I am the current blog manager of, where I recruit new bloggers and support the community, but exert no real editorial oversight, as far as reviewing or editing our bloggers' content.

Update 12/16/2014: I've added some information about pay at SciAm. Also, I use the term 'spotty blogging' to describe a posting frequency that seemed sporadic and less than once a month.

Correction: Ilana Yurkiewicz's blog "Unofficial Prognosis" will be a part of the network until May 2015, when she graduates from medical school.

Correction: My post originally misrepresented the qualifications of the blog author of Anthropology in Practice. Krystal D'Costa has significant scientific training, with a Masters in the field of anthropology, and currently applies this knowledge in the private sector.