Antiscience blogs capture the Science category in annual Weblog Awards – 13 out of 17 finalists are climate denialists – ‘Science blogs would rather complain about the results than try to submit nominations themselves’Posted by Jim at Friday, March 01, 2013
In an escalation of the annual farce that plays out at the Weblog Awards (cf. Antiscience site wins another ‘Best Science or Technology Weblog’ award), this year we have 4 of 5 nominees in the Science category held by antiscience blogs. In 2010, Des tried to persuade the Weblog Awards staff to reconsider allowing antiscience blogs into the Science category, to no avail. In 2012, climate science denialists added “Best Canadian Weblog” to their trophy case.
This year, science denial sites comprised 13 of the 17 candidates on the short list for the Science category, as revealed by Weblog Awards founder, Nikolai Nolan.
By Leo Hickman
1 March 2013
Ever since 2001, blogs have had their own opportunity to have their moment in the spotlight and chance to bath in adulation. The Weblog Awards – or "Bloggies", as they're more affectionately known – start receiving nominations online each January before the organisers announce the shortlists for each category in February.
As with any online voting system, there is always scope for "gaming" the system – as well as a motivation among interest groups to do so. But, despite a glitch in 2003, the Bloggies have largely managed to avoid such controversy.
However, over the past couple of years there has been growing concern about the reliability of the "Science or Technology" category, which was first created in 2011. (Before then, it was known as "Computer and Technology".) Is it, some ask, being gamed by climate sceptics?
There's no doubt that some climate sceptic sites, such as Watts Up With That, openly tout for nominations and votes. Any blog with a taste for self-publicity can do the same, such are the awards' rules. But how could it be the case that a niche interest such as climate scepticism has come to increasingly dominate the shortlist for such a hugely broad category? Are these niche blogs really the "best" - a subjective term, if ever there was one - across the vast spectrum of topics within "science or technology"?
Given the strength, depth and range of science and technology blogs out there, how could these blogs – some of which are hardly known by participants in the online "climate debate", let alone beyond – be picked in this way?
When this year's shortlists were released earlier this week, not only was the science or technology category flooded with climate sceptics blogs, but they had also spread into other categories, too, most notably "Best Weblog about Politics". How, for example, had the Global Warming Policy Foundation come to be shortlisted? Putting aside its thematic focus for one second, all the site largely does is cross-post other people's content and re-write the headlines. It offers little in the way of original content and, most perplexingly, doesn't even allow readers to leave a comment. Again, given the huge range of vibrant political blogs out there, why would such a limited site end up on the shortlist? It all seemed rather fishy.
So I asked the Bloggies founder, Nikolai Nolan, to explain in more detail how the system works and what safeguards are in place. He began by explaining that 200 people who submitted nominations are randomly selected to then vote on which five blogs (from a longlist of 20 or so of the most nominated sites) should go through to each category's shortlist.
This much made sense, even though you could argue that you risk increasing any possible bias by using people who made the original nominations to select the shortlist. Then I asked Nolan if he was concerned that his awards were being gamed by climate sceptics. He said:
Unfortunately, I have no good solution for it, since they follow proper voting procedures and legitimate science blogs don't want to make an effort to compete.
But, I put to him, given the category's fast-growing reputation for being gamed, why would the "legitimate" science blogs, as he described them, wish to participate? Why not, say, have an invited panel of various science bloggers, scientists, etc., to choose the shortlist before it then goes out to a popular online vote? That way you might be able to restrict the opportunity for a category to be captured by an interest group? He replied:
The problem is finding a qualified, unbiased panel that would work for free. Most categories aren't the type that would have experts in their field. […]
Given all this, I asked if he is happy with the status quo? He isn't planning any changes?
I'm considering various resolutions. But it seems that science blogs would rather complain about the results than try to submit nominations themselves, so I'm not very motivated. No point in eliminating sceptic blogs from the category when there's not much down the list to replace it with. I also need to keep in mind that fixing the Best Science or Technology category might cause climate sceptic blogs to migrate to another category. [more]