The re-post of my Feynman post on SciAm and the note attached to it have led me to write this response. Several readers have asked me what happened, so I will endeavor to clear the air and provide what I consider to be a complete story from my perspective.
Folks are welcome to comment and criticize any of the actors involved in the story. One reason I am writing this is because I think it raises several issues that are at the heart of blogging in the age of social media and under the umbrella of a larger organization.
Here's the gist of the story:
- I host a guest post on women in science and later, I write a post on Wade’s controversial book (these are 2 of almost 200 posts on a variety of topics I've written for SciAm).
- In response to criticism of the two posts on social media, SciAm issues a public statement. The blog editor asks me to run “controversial” posts by him. No specific guidelines are discussed (something I now regret not doing).
- I write a post about how my perception of Feynman has changed and how we need to judge historical figures in their entirety and understand the times in which they lived. I do not think the post was "controversial" in the least and therefore do not run it by the editor.
- The post elicits both positive and negative responses on Twitter, blogs and email.
- The post is taken down because the editors find it "controversial" and think that I should have run it by them. I am told that it would be best to part ways with the network.
- SciAm resurrects the post with a note containing what I would consider an accurate, but incomplete, description of events.
This episode does, however, raise bigger questions:
- Should a network support the airing of controversial views? How does it decide what exactly is controversial, especially considering that the perception of controversial content can be quite subjective?
- How much should a brand care about opinions (particularly negative ones) on social media, especially in an age when waves of such criticism can swell and ebb rapidly and often provide a transient, biased view of content? How much and how should it let these opinions influence both its internal deliberations and its public responses?
- If a network is averse to publishing what it thinks are controversial posts, should it communicate this fact to bloggers at the time of hiring? And in this regard, since the perception of controversial content is subjective, how exactly should it word these concerns to bloggers? By explicitly declaring certain topics to be off limits? By instituting a formal process of vetting for posts that are declared to be "controversial" by majority consensus?
- Finally, if such policies are instituted, how does a blogging network foster an environment in which bloggers have the freedom to explore topics of interest?
I would love to see a serious discussion about these topics and hear people’s views. Meanwhile, I will continue writing (and occasionally covering “controversial” topics) here, so I look forward to the conversation.