On science blogs this week: Inoculation

IT'S THE END OF BLOGGING. So says Christopher Mims at Tech Review, qualifying his declaration with "as a means of personal expression." He bases it on what seems to be an n of 2 — a couple of high-profile tech bloggers — although Mims snarkily conveys that they are not as high-profile as they used to be. What the 2 have done is given up their personal domains and redirected their blog posts to Google+, where they say they are getting more feedback.

You're so tech-savvy that of course you know about Google+, but for others less so: Google+ is the new social network that is anti-social — temporarily, according to Google — to the millions clamoring fruitlessly to get in. They are, obviously, not among those providing all that glorious feedback.

Mims says:

the speed with which bloggers who have spent years building a presence on the web, accumulating credibility with search engines, etc., made the switch to a platform they don't really control, shows that blogs themselves have outgrown their original purpose.

Personal blogs are dead, he says, in part because there's too much competition from publishers who think they need to host as many blogs as possible to survive. I concur that there's substantial evidence for the professionalization of blogging. Just one example, recall my post last week about SciAm's big new network, home to 55 bloggers. A population size I have greeted with some dismay. More good stuff added to the hundreds I scan already for this weekly outing, aieeeeee!

Also, Mims notes, there's just no time to visit friends' blogs. We all know he's right about that, too. From which he concludes:

Hence, the exodus to Google+, which allows us not merely to update our friends on what we're up to, but actually to blog, at length, publicly, completing the migration to a centralized platform that Facebook and Twitter began.

Technology journalist Marshall Kirkpatrick disagrees. He doesn't want to give up control of his blog's appearance, what meta-information (and self-marketing information) it provides, and how he responds to readers there. Danny Sullivan, search engine guru, also dissents:

you should no more move your blog to Google+ than you should have to Geocities. Tap into social networks, use them to build your engagement, sure. But your own domain is for life. Google+ is not. Tomorrow, Google could close it, and while you can export your content, you cannot export all that link equity with it. Your posts will 404; that's not engagement. That's annoying.

But what are we to make of the fact that he posted this on Google+?

I am one among those millions still out in the cold. So I can't describe Google+ for you. But that may change. Richard Grant has kindly sent me an invitation to Google+ — although I gather that an invitation is no guarantee that the gates will actually be opened for you, so we shall see. Richard — thanks, Richard! — is an example of both of Mims's blogger types, publisher-based and personal. He blogs at Naturally Selected, the Faculty of 1000 blog appearing on The Scientist's site, and also at his own Confessions of a (Former) Lab Rat.

Here are some links to posts from more favored folks who have blogged about Google+ for those outside the gates. See Tech Review's editor Tom Simonite on "What We've Learned in 10 Days of Google+," and Razib Khan at Gene Expression, and E.G. Austin at The Economist's Babbage, who adds a podcast.

Beginning also is some speculation about how Google+ will figure in matters professional. At the Nieman Journalism Lab, Mark Coddington muses about its possible utility in news gathering; this post also contains useful explanatory links. At Science Roll, Bertalan Meskó links to a couple of speculations about whether Google+ will appeal to the pharmaceutical industry.

At the Health Care Blog, Vince Kuraitis welcomes Google+ for its data portability. You can download your data, export and import from another social networking site, and — perhaps most important, and a big contrast with Facebook, you can easily delete your G+ account and wipe out your data. He forecasts:

I believe we will see the mindset difference begin to enter health care – where data portability and open HIT [From my complimentary Interlingual Rendition Service for Science Writers: health information technology] will become viewed as competitive advantage, rather than disadvantage.

THE CIA STICKS IT TO US. It's not yet clear whether the CIA's fake hepatitis B vaccination program succeeded in extracting DNA from folks living in the Pakistan compound where Osama bin Laden was shot. The idea was to zero in on bin Laden's hideout by implication, finding out if they were bin Laden family members by comparing their DNA with DNA taken from his sister, who died in Boston last year. If there were bin Ladens in residence, the reasoning went, then our national Great Satan was likely to be living there too.

Wikimedia Commons photo by Mark Knobil from Pittsburgh

What is clear is that public health experts are appalled. It is not just the autism folks who suspect vaccines of evil deeds. For years rumors have circulated in developing lands — Pakistan among them — that Western-sponsored polio vaccine campaigns were Potemkin programs, that the vaccines were actually loaded with drugs intended to harm — and reduce the number of — Muslims by causing sterility, or AIDS, or cancer. The result was a drop in vaccination and an increase in polio — and many years of painstaking public health efforts to re-establish trust in vaccination.

The polio vaccine rumors were false. How will people react to vaccine campaigns now that there is a real-life example of a vaccination program that really was just masking Western political ends? Public health folks fear the worst.

Several bloggers tell the tale and expand on it. Superbug Maryn McKenna adds her deep research and personal experiences with the polio vaccine backlash. Martin Robbins, The Lay Scientist at The Guardian (which broke the CIA fake vaccination story) also describes the polio backlash. At ScienceInsider, Sara Reardon also describes plans to counter any backlash.

Seth Mnookin, who wrote the book (The Panic Virus) on the anti-vaccine movement connected with autism, thinks it's possible the CIA program was not entirely fake, that kids did actually get real hep B vaccine — although perhaps not adequate doses. Countering conspiracy theories had become a minor concern for public health authorities recently, he notes, but the CIA ruse might well put it back on their radar screen.

At Humanosphere, Tom Paulson links to a number of public-health comments and asks:

we have yet to hear anything from members of Congress or the Obama Administration about the strategy of using a public health campaign as a disguise for covert intelligence. Is this an acceptable trade-off in the war against terror? Or is it too potentially destabilizing to global health?
July 15, 2011

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