The advocates for legalization of the recreational and clinical use of marijuana and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or "Ecstasy" in street parlance) are quite fond of questioning the observations published by scientists on the detrimental effects which may result from recreational use. This will come as no shock to my readers. Nor will the observation that certain legalization advocates seem to feel that drug abuse scientists funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse are willing tools and puppets of a vast right-wing prohibitionist conspiracy.
Since I have, do or likely will fall into this category of scientists, I take exception to this position.
Specifically, I have been known to bash the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) for their unending attacks on MDMA science and scientists.
Readers will also note that I've been known to launch a broadside or two (or three) at drug legalization advocates, questioning their science, so to speak, on the basis of their underlying motivations. The cannabis fans are on my list too. I am particularly bothered, one will note, by my belief that much of the effort to get cannabis or MDMA established as clinically useful therapeutic agents is motivated mostly by a cynical Trojan Horse strategy to facilitate recreational use, rather than any true belief that these specific drugs are, or ever could be, good therapeutics.
On either side, accusations of bad-faith and supposedly objective outcomes driven by a pre-existing belief or positions have elements of truth and elements of an unfair dismissal of a legitimate position. It is not easy for us to be fair when we have convinced ourselves that the other side is operating from a bias or spinning their message to comport with.....interests.
You will have noticed that the Scienceblogs organization has launched a new group blog (For a Limited Engagement! Act Now!) entitled "Next Generation Energy" which is intended to be:
a new group blog about energy problems and solutions.
For the next three months, Seed editors and a hand-picked team of guest bloggers will delve into energy policies of all kinds--from carbon capture to windmills.
Every Wednesday, we'll post a new topic or question about alternative energy on the blog. In the days following, our expert guess bloggers will post their answers to the question, and respond to questions and comments from readers.
There is another interesting new experiment being attempted with this new blog.
This blog is sponsored by Shell. Shell is working on a second generation of biofuels that don't use food, but rather sources like wood chips and even algae that can reduce carbon emissions.
Uh-oh. Readers have already been expressing skepticism over the motivations for this sponsorship association and suspicion that content might be, errr, modulated by this association with Royal Dutch/Shell. Since they are in the Olde Energy business and all, it is not completely nuts to assume they might have some interest in the way New Generation Energy policies, regulations, technologies, markets and businesses develop over the coming years. Make no mistake, for those of us with a memory for corporate history that stretches back a couple or three decades, Royal Dutch/Shell is more or less permanently on the naughty list. Exploitation of developing countries, propping up oppressive governmental systems to further same, environmental damage, corporate shenanigans of the usual type including political bribery...the list of accusations (and dead-to-rights proof in many cases) is long.
So the readers have voiced their suspicions.
Fair Trade: It'll take a moment to get over the fact that Shell are sponsoring the blog but I guess there's no problem with 'poacher turned gamekeeper'...
bsci: since this is new, a more prominent explanation would be appropriate. Who gets the money from Shell? Is it significantly more than the standard ad box? Who would lose money if Shell removes it's sponsorship and do they have any editorial control or ability to suggest topics? Will this blog or specific authors disappear if the sponsorship ends?
Martin: It seriously undermines ScienceBlogs to see a Shell icon next to articles here, and it undermines any blogger who takes part. Even if you claim to be objective, the fact is that many people will - quite rightly from past experience - simply not believe you.
Naturally, the Sb folks have considered these sentiments and feel that this sponsorship from Shell is not a problem. After all, Shell is already a sponsor of Sb with a big banner right up top much of the time.
Responses from BorgQueen:Shell's sponsorship of a specific blog is new, and part of a deeper advertising relationship they have with ScienceBlogs (Shell ads have been on the network and in the magazine for awhile). Shell pays ScienceBlogs for various advertising/sponsorship services, and then ScienceBlogs pays our bloggers.
Shell does not have any editorial control. The bloggers were all chosen by Erin Johnson and me, after we surveyed the blogosphere for alternative energy experts. Shell is not in contact with any of the guest bloggers.
and the Kirsh: Shell has no influence on content and does not communicate with us or guide topics. I joined NexGen because a forum specifically on this single topic--a very relevant subject this summer and for the foreseeable future--offers the means for bloggers involved in the science behind emerging energies to contribute thoughts in a single place and thereby promote discussion.
Still. People will remain suspicious. As well they should. I think that a rare bit of wisdom from Greg Laden just nails it:
Yes, sponsorship absolutely means that there is the possibility of bias, intentional or not. There is not intentional bias. But subconscious bias, which we DO NOT WANT TO HAPPEN, cannot be ruled out unless everyone is vigilant. We will be vigilant. Our fellow Sblings will be vigilant. So please, dear reader and commenter, also be vigilant and help us make sure that this is a productive discussion about alternative energy and saving the planet ... etc. etc.
And therein lies the solution, no? If you think I'm bashing on the drug legalization types unjustifiably, call me out. I'll continue to do the same for their science-denial positions. And if energy policy or corporate greenwashing is your game, go on over to the NGE blog and, um, vigil.