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9 November, 2007

No winners

Wishing to avoid contributing to the whole mess, I've avoided mentioning the hijacking of this year's 'Best Science Blog' Weblog Awards poll.

In short, a number of US right-wing political blogs urged their readers to vote for an AGW-denialist website, itself a conduit for a politicised point-of-view rather than anything one could realistically describe as genuine science. Irrespective of one's personal opinions on human-induced climate change, the simple fact was that the subject of an organised votestuffing campaign simply didn't meet the basic criterion: it's not a science blog – it could even be interpreted as anti-science.

Those who care about science, plus those wishing to discredit the denialist agenda responded in, in my opinion, the wrong way: by organising a rival votestuffing campaign. One site on the 'Best Science Blog' shortlist was selected, and people urged to vote for it, irrespective of whether they'd visited the site or had the vaguest interest in its content (astronomy, as it happens).

Skewing the results of a poll in order to protect real science may be tempting, but "they started it" is no excuse, and the effect is no less shabby.
Unfortunately, the organisers of the Awards seemed to love the publicity, actively promoting it as a 'right-wing vs. left-wing' battle and not seeming to care about organised contrived voting, so took no action against it. In my view, that invalidates the whole Awards exercise and devalues the Awards themselves. So, congratulations to Neil Gaiman and Randall Munroe for winning the 'Best Literature Blog' and 'Best Comic Strip' popularity contests, but they're kind of meaningless now.

Voting closed last night, so it's safe to mention, but the 'Best Science Blog' category has yet to be declared, pending investigation of voting irregularities (no; really?). The provisional results merely demonstrate that the rival factions are able to contrive comparible support: the pro-science lobby's chosen candidate received 20,683 votes to the anti-scientists' 20,638. That's of 54,995 votes, in a contest where other categories tended to receive less than 20,000 votes in total.

Whichever side ultimately 'wins', the other will complain about how that 'victory' was achieved, rendering the whole Award meaningless. No-one comes out of this well.
If there's any practical benefit, perhaps it's that the organisers might consider tightening their eligibility criteria – this whole situation could have been avoided if the pseudo-science blog had been disqualified from this category (it may have merits in a politics or philosophy category) in the first place.


Disclosure: two of those votes for Neil G. and xkcd (one each!) were mine, but I voted because I genuinely read and enjoy their work, not to prove a point. I did not vote in the 'Best Science Blog' category.


[Update 04/02/08: Belatedly, I checked back to see that the category was declared a draw.]

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