Ethics and goals: always a challenge

My formal ethical training began in medical school with an introduction to the basic concepts of medical ethics. This training continued as I encountered difficult cases and thought through them, often with the help of the hospital ethics committee. While I haven’t continued my formal education in ethics, I’ve continued my own reading, and I enjoy writing on ethical conundrums.

I’ve been blogging now for over three years, which, in internet time, is quite a while. During that time, I’ve begun to take the writing itself more and more seriously. I’ve begun to recognize the implications of the medium itself, especially in conversations with mainstream journalists. We bloggers are, for better or worse, part of “the media”.  So I’ve had to learn something about journalism ethics as well.

This has changed the way I write. When I look back at some of my earliest posts, I cringe. In many ways that’s a good thing; as it turns out, I have the ability to learn and improve. My commenters and my colleagues help keep me honest, and without them, I’d write just as poorly as I did five years ago. I’ve also expanded the type of writing I do. In addition to my always well-reasoned rantings and my discussions of science-based medicine, I’ve done some more investigative pieces, interviewing sources, and consulting other journalists about ethics and approaches.

Given that much of my writing is very critical of unethical medical practices, I don’t have a lot of wiggle room in my own public behavior.  This isn’t to say that to be ethical is to be perfect; far from it.  But behaving ethically is hard work that involves hard decisions, and frequent mistakes.

ScienceBlogs has not made such a mistake. With the mishandling of the launch of a commercial ad-blog, Seed Media Group showed incompetence and mismanagement.  They also showed that they do not consider themselves (or we bloggers) to be “media” or journalists.  Whether we like it or not, we are the media, and while we may enjoy a great deal more freedom in style and content than most mainstream media, we cannot claim immunity from their ethics.

It is for these reasons (and others, most of which have been eloquently and completely laid out by Bora Zivkovic) that I’m leaving ScienceBlogs, something I do with great regret.  I have gained immeasurably from my association with Sb and with the people here.  It has given me incredible opportunities.  But despite the advantages in exposure, the fit just isn’t good anymore.

This is a personal decision, not one that can be generalized to include anyone writing here.  The bloggers here are some of my favorite science writers, and always will be, whether they remain at Sb or go elsewhere.  I have nothing but respect and admiration for them.

As the science blogosphere has evolved, and as my own writing has, I feel that the risk of leaving is not what it might have been once.  I will continue to write White Coat Underground at my old wordpress site for now, and will announce further plans there.   And I will continue my occasional pieces at Forbes.com and Science-Based Medicine.

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