The Future of Science Will Be Decided By Robots

By Staff

Electing the top science blog of 2007 should have interested only the nerdiest sector of humankind–who else would care about the wonky overlap between blogs and science? But no, throw in global-warming denialists, zombie vote robots, and a lot of name-calling, and what seemed like an average everyday blog contest became the bloody front line in a battle between the conservative and liberal blogospheres.

The players are Steve McIntyre, creator of Climate Audit, a site that fact-checks scientific claims that global warming is caused by humans; Phil Plait, an astronomer who writes about science and amateurish astronomy at the blog Bad Astronomy; and the 2007 Weblog Awards, the “world’s largest blog competition” that garners more than 500,000 votes each year.

Buoyed by strong support from the conservative blogosphere, Climate Audit surged forward early on (votes were tracked by a running tally on the Weblog Awards site). This was at least in part because Climate Audit, with its distinct anti-global warming slant, was being trumpeted by conservative blogs like NewsBusters. So, the only rational response was to have bastions of opposing blogs–like BoingBoing, Think Progress, and a host of scienceblogs–to urge their readers to vote for Bad Astronomy, which was running second. Voters on both sides used computer programs called “bots” to mechanically and repeatedly vote for the blog of their choice. (Whenever you have votes, it seems, you’ve gotta have hanging chads.)

The votes ballooned to unprecedented levels, and for a long while, Bad Astronomy and Climate Audit ran neck-and-neck. But no matter who emerged the winner, the contest was compromised: The Best Science Blog wouldn’t really be the best, or even the most popular, but rather the blog whose side had mustered up the most efficient robot voting program.

Two people managed to stay somewhat above the fray. McIntyre and Plait–the actual blog writers–took the brouhaha in good stride, and decided to share the award between the two of them. Which is a nice ending to an acrimonious process.

Brendan Mackie

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.