The word started to spread over the weekend at a science writing conference in Washington, D.C.: The popular and sometimes controversial Web site ScienceBlogs.com would soon be taken over by National Geographic.
Appropriately enough, a blog, Retraction Watch, soon took the news public Monday, and followed up with more details today. It turns out that National Geographic isn't actually buying the online site, which consists of around 80 blogs written by scientists, science educators, and science aficionados. But in June it will assume operating control of the site from Seed Media Group, which launched the community in 2006. TheColumbia Journalism Review's science blog, the Observatory, has more on the tale, including a tweet-by-tweet history of ScienceBlogs from one of its creators.
Once a must-read for any science blogger, ScienceBlogs.com now has serious competition from other media organizations, such as Wired and Discover, that have launched their own blogging communities, often with writers from ScienceBlogs.com. In 2009, some of them abandoned the site to protest plans by Seed to host a nutrition blog sponsored by PepsiCo. Despite those defections, and the fact that the idea was dropped, ScienceBlogs.com still retains some of the most read scientist bloggers, including biologist PZ Myers of Pharyngula, a blog probably better known for its attacks on religion than for its scientific discussions. Myers has already shared his mixed feelings about the new direction for ScienceBlogs.com and whether he will stay put:
The worrisome bit: there are standards and practices to follow, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but I do not want my peculiar voice to be compromised. That's why I'm in this thing in the first place, to be able to express myself as I want when I want. So we're in the delicate negotiation phase, trying to find agreements on form that don't infringe on content, that will allow me to say any damn thing I want but maybe will require me to take an extra moment to review my articles with more cool deliberation before clicking that 'submit' button. It is entirely possible that we won't be able to find that position that is acceptable to both sides of our discussion, in which case I'll cheerfully move on to an independent server and keep on keeping on right there. I'll be thinking about the pluses and cons for a while.
National Geographic today confirmed the takeover of ScienceBlogs.com. But a spokesperson declined to answer any other questions, including whether its roster would be restricted to scientists or if it could reassure bloggers such as Myers about their freedom of expression. The spokesperson said the company hoped to provide more information in the weeks to come.