DrugMonkey in New York Times profile of NIDA director, Nora Volkow

Hearty congratulations to my neuroscience of drug abuse colleague, DrugMonkey, on his kinda-sorta quote in The New York Times on Monday (see bottom of first online page here). The profile is on Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and one of the top scientists in the field of addiction who has the rare gift of being widely-respected by both scientists and science administrators. Her staff even engages the scientific blogosphere and I wrote up a lengthy email interview I had with her in 2009 back at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sig. Much to the dismay of researchers, NIH has a plan to establish and combined institute by merging NIDA with the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA). It's fair to say that this move has not been terribly well-received by researchers studying alcohol or other drugs of abuse. DrugMonkey addressed some of these issues in a 16 Sept 2010 blogpost, and that's where the quote was picked up for the New York Times profile of Dr. Volkow by Abigail Zuger:
The drug abuse institute and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism are on track to be merged into a joint institute on addiction still in the planning stages. National Institutes of Health watchers have already started a body count. “It will be a big loss that Nora Volkow, current N.I.D.A. director, cannot possibly be selected to head a new institute,” wrote one anonymous blogger on the Scientopia Web site. “This would be too much like N.I.D.A. ‘winning.’ ” [emphasis mine] But Dr. Volkow says she is all for the merger, calling the current structure “an artificial division with many missed opportunities,” like having an institute for every particular variety of cancer. Addictions tend to move together, she said, sharing many triggers and a great deal of biology.
I'll leave it to my research colleagues in the field to discuss the merits and pitfalls of merging the Institutes. However, I share DM's feeling that the likely loss of Nora Volkow as a director is a huge loss of NIH and for intramural and extramural researchers under her funding purview. What rubbed me the wrong way - and call me an easily-offended blogger - is that DrugMonkey was not properly cited for his important quote. First, he is referred to as an anonymous blogger. A quick look at his blog, however, will reveal that he is an NIH-funded biomedical researcher and has a long track record online of writing about substantive and scholarly issues in the field of substance dependence. Hence, DrugMonkey is pseudonymous - not anonymous. Second, while I appreciate that Ms. Zuger was kind enough to include a hyperlink to his blogpost, his comments are listed as being on the Scientopia website. That's only somewhat accurate - yes, he's part of the Scientopia network but the screenshot below should make it clear to almost any reader that the site is the Drugmonkey site. (Disclosure: I recently began editing a blog at Scientopia on behalf of my students participating in a NIGMS research and education program.)

Would you cite a quote from this blogpost as coming from Scientopia or Drugmonkey?

I hear you saying, "Yes, yes, David, but you bloggers should be happy that you even got a hyperlink in The New York Times so you shouldn't have a problem with misattribution or misidentification." But I argue otherwise. Why? DrugMonkey is a respected voice in the scientific blogosphere and is quite often the go-to source on new reports on emerging drugs of abuse. One can often find among Drugmonkey's commenters Dr. Jeremy Berg, Director of NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and other actively-funded scientists in the drug abuse and neuroscience field. I would argue that the NYT quote would carry more weight if it was attributed to DrugMonkey himself rather than a site that is a network of a diverse group of science bloggers. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs here. But one must agree that DrugMonkey makes a significant investment of time and energy in his blog and is deserving of appropriate attribution. If the quote was important enough to include, I don't think it would kill anyone to say "DrugMonkey" instead of "anonymous blogger." Moreover, I respect and admire DrugMonkey for putting his money where is mouth is: he is a scientist who takes his responsibility for science outreach very seriously (as well as the mentoring of the next generation of scientists). Give a brother his just due.

Author: David Kroll

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  1. Thanks for this. Although I find myself in the uncomfortable position of not being all that personally miffed about something I would have been irritated over had it involved some other pseudonymous blogger. They included the link, which is a big win compared to other journalistic practices (of the past?). They got the quote right and placed it in context that was not inaccurate, so that’s another (unfortunately less common than 100%) win. And hey, I get to tell my Mom I was quoted in the NYT…. 🙂

    • Indeed, Drug, I would bet that you’d do the same if it were me. But yes, the linkie is a big step forward. I’ll be interested to know if you got much referral traffic.

      Ya gotta love MomMonkey learning you were quoted The Times.

      Oh, and sorry about citing you as “Drugmonkey.” It should have been “DrugMonkey.” Surely I could tell that from your blog masthead.

      • as you know perfectly well, i have an uneasy relationship with the shift key…. 🙂

  2. This is something I haven’t paid very much attention to, to be honest with you, but I think the key here will be consistency. If NYT includes the link and uses quotes accurately and in the correct context, we can only hope all news orgs will follow the example. I guess the ultimate would be a modification to the AP Stylebook? All in all a great profile, but I still like Rebecca Skloot’s better. http://rebeccaskloot.com/why-is-it-so-damn-hard-to-change/

  3. From the near future?

    An article on Dr. Nora Volkow misattributed a quote to an anonymous blogger. The blogger is not anonymous. The writer is DrugMonkey, a blogger in the Scientopia network. The Times regrets the error.