A blog by any other name..

While I’m online I thought I’d pass on the following gripe.

\begin{gripe}

Some months ago I saw a message going around on Twitter that the Guardian was looking for new science bloggers to cover a wide range of disciplines for its website. After thinking hard about it, I decided to submit an application basically so I could find out more about what was involved and see if I really wanted to do it. Anyway, I’ve already written a commissioned piece for the Guardian website, so I thought it was an idea worth pursuing.

My idea wasn’t to scrap In the Dark or move it all to the Guardian, but to post less frequent and more sciencey pieces there and keep this as a personal ego-trip blog. The advantage of that being that they pay, whereas this blog doesn’t make me any dosh at all, and also presumably generates significantly wider exposure. As well as making a pitch for the content of the proposed blog, I had to think of a new title if In the Dark was to carry on, so I came up with Across the Universe, which seemed to me to emphasize nicely the cosmological slant of the pieces I would be likely to write. It’s not a new coinage, of course. It’s based on a Beatles song I have posted about previously.

So I filed the application and waited. Then I was contacted by Alok Jha, who looks after the Science blog network at the Grauniad, who initially made encouraging noises, explained that there would be minimal editorial control and  I would keep copyright of anything I wrote for them, etc. Most of my questions having been answered I awaited further developments. Then Alok Jha contacted me again and explained that the editorial team wanted me to jump through several extra hoops if I wanted to take the idea forward. I sensed cold feet. For a number of reasons, the timing of these new phases of the process were also very inconvenient, so, after mulling it over, I contacted Alok Jha and politely withdrew my application.

I’ve no regrets about that decision, and thought no more about it, until last week when the Guardian started to roll out its new blogging team. I was delighted to see neuroscientist, comedian, and fellow Cardiff University chappie Dean Burnett among the bloggers. Their new blogger for matters astronomical is Stuart Clark, a well-known and respected science writer who I’m sure will cover a wide range of interesting topics (as he has already started to do).

What I’m peeved about, however, is that Stuart’s blog title is Across the Universe, exactly what I had suggested in my proposal! Coincidence? I asked Stuart via Twitter and he told me that the name was suggested to him by none other than Alok Jha.

Of course the title isn’t copyrighted by me, and wasn’t even original, but it was my suggestion and I do think it’s very poor form to have appropriated what was on my proposal without asking or giving acknowledgement. I’ve no complaints about Stuart Clark, of course. He didn’t know what had happened, and I wish him well with his new blog – which I shall certainly be reading. But I’m not at all chuffed about the way this was handled by the Guardian.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out Alok Jha recently contacted me to apologize and say that he had “forgotten” that Across the Universe was the title I gave on my proposal.

\end{gripe}

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I’ll be keeping In the Dark going pretty much as it is for the foreseeable future.

Health willing.

12 Responses to “A blog by any other name..”

  1. David Whitehouse Says:

    In the Dark is a fine blog and far more interesting that most of the science stuff blogged on the Guardian website.

    Across the Universe is a frequent suggestion as a name for programmes etc., on a par with Final Frontier etc. That however does not excuse the rudeness shown by the Guardian.

    May I enquire if the Guardian was willing to pay its new bloggers for their work?

    • telescoper Says:

      I believe bloggers get paid on the basis of how many page views their posts attract, so it’s related to the amount of advertising revenue generated. I’m given to understand that it’s not a huge amount of money, even for their very popular blogs.

      I still don’t really know much about blog traffic numbers. I get an average of 1600 a day, but I don’t know whether that’s a lot or a little. The Guardian blogs presumably get a lot more, but how many more I have no idea.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    What were the extra hoops that The Guardian wanted you to jump through?

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      They wanted me to make “a pitch” to their editors for four blog posts I planned to make over the next month or so. The editors would then pick one or two and I’d write them as test pieces.

      My response was to ask why the editors didn’t just read some of the science posts I’d already written, or indeed the one they’d already commissioned.

      Their answer was that the editors were “too busy” to read old blog posts of mine.

      So then I wondered, how does it take any less time to read a new post than an old one?

      Anyway, the point is that virtually everything I write about on my blog is a spur-of-the-moment thing, usually a reaction to a news item or something that’s just happened. I have no idea what I’ll be writing tomorrow, never mind in a month’s time. Also, when I first spoke to Alok Jha he assured me there would be minimal editorial interference. The idea of having to make pitches for posts in advance of writing them didn’t sound consistent with that assertion…

      Blogging is a kind of hobby of mine. I spend much of my professional academic life jumping through hoops invented by other people (to get research funding, etc), and I can do without having to run the blog that way too.

      Keeping it independent means I can write about what I want when I want, which is the way I like it.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        If they were too busty to read your old blog posts then you could safely have recycled them into the Grauniad and they wouldn’t have noticed…

        I can see the point for them of a trial month provided that they let you alone after; was it clear whether the oversight would relax after a few weeks? And was the money a decent amount?

        Anyway, you were clearly messed about and I hope you had no qualms in exercising your freedom to withdraw.

      • telescoper Says:

        I’m trying to imagine someone who is “too busty” to read a blog post!

        It wasn’t clear to me how it would operate in the long term, but I gather the existing bloggers have a great deal of freedom so I guess so. One prominent Guardian blogger described the pay as “beer money”, which is nice but, frankly, I’m quite well paid as it is and it wasn’t really that much of an issue. I’d probably have used it to support the forthcoming Open Journal of Astrophysics….

      • telescoper Says:

        ps. On your last point, I remain happy with the decision I made. Having found out what was going to be involved I decided it wasn’t for me, and that’s that.

  3. I write an occasional column for The irish Times. recently, they pulled on on the basis that it was too similar to an article on my blog. I’m quite concerned about it as I didn’t know pliagiarising oneself was a problem. More to the point, there are not many topics of nterest to me that I haven’t blogged about at some stage…

    • telescoper Says:

      The Grauniad told me I could post items on their site and on here simutaneously, but that’s rather hypothetical now!

    • Actually, self-plagiarism does exist in a legal sense, for example if one recycles part of one thesis for another thesis, at least if one does not cite the source as one would cite any other source. (Depending on the genre, the reader has an expectation of how much of the text is original and how much is derivative as long as he isn’t told via a reference that it is derivative. For an academic thesis, the expectation is that almost everything without a reference is original; for a children’s science book the expectation is almost nothing.) The crucial thing is not citing one’s sources, not whether one is oneself one’s own source. (Of course, morally, stealing from someone else is worse in some sense, since the one stolen from is affected, but as far as the reader is concerned, the two situations are comparable.)

      How many people publish similar stuff in journals with little overlap of readers, or—more important—of referees in order to increase their publication count? John Bahcall listed similar papers as xA, xB etc, where x numbers the truly original papers; this seems the honest way to do things. (Most of these are proceedings contributions where he gave similar talks at more than one conference, all based on something written up as a refereed-journal paper: http://www.sns.ias.edu/~jnb/) (Even without the duplicates, he managed 466!)

  4. I like things the way they are: one blog. Let’s all be happy you earn enough not to be tempted by beer money!

  5. “In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out Alok Jha recently contacted me to apologize and say that he had “forgotten” that Across the Universe was the title I gave on my proposal.”

    Things like this do happen, of course. It even happened, not to the authors of “Across the Universe” but rather to a fellow musician in the same modern beat combo—heard it, forgot it, stayed in the subconscious, jumped out a few years later without any attribution.

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