As mentioned in a previous post, I attended the IMPI Microwave Short Course held November 9-10. During the course, Bob Schiffmann gave a talk entitled "Myths Vs. Reality: Blogs Vs. Science." The talk centered on information and misinformation in the blogosphere, especially regarding microwave cooking of food. I asked Bob if he would answer questions by email, and he agreed. The exchange was checked via email for accuracy.
RW: What's your background and your current job?
BS: I have a Bachelors degree in Pharmacy from Columbia University, and a Masters degree in Analytical and Physical chemistry from Purdue University. I entered the food industry in 1959 as a research scientist, where I did all kinds of product and process development. It was in 1961 that I accidentally discovered a microwave oven, and about 10 or 15 minutes later I did and experiment that resulted in my first patent and many large industrial installations of microwave heating systems. I left industry along with a partner in 1971 to become an independent consultant, and in 1978 formed my second consulting company (R.F.Schiffmann Associates, Inc.). The company is focused on product and process development and, since 1982, all of our work has been microwave heating related. We also do a great deal of product testing for various companies. I also teach a lot of microwave technology courses.
RW: Your talk discussed myths related to microwave preparation of food. First, haven't these myths been around since the advent of ovens in the home, and second, how are things worse with blogs?
BS: You are correct that these myths have been around for many years, for example the concept that you can't use metal in a microwave oven, which is totally erroneous. What makes it worse today is the advent of the blogosphere. Before this, news traveled rather slowly and the influence was limited. But today, everyone thinks that he or she has brilliant things to say and therefore has a blog. Now, if it only a few people read the blog, but many blogs have the same misinformation, the cumulative effect is very large. Also, people tend to read things that agree with their own thoughts. So, people tend to read the same sorts of misinformation and myths over and over. Also, very few bloggers are really original: most simply copy and paste from others so that this misinformation travels like a virus.
RW: What do you do when you encounter postings that you know are wrong or inaccurate?
BS: I sometimes respond in the “comments” section on the blog page. I don't do that as much now as I did when I started receiving Google Alerts, because I found that there was so much misinformation, and repeated so often, that I could literally spend hours each day writing responses to the various bloggers. Further, in something like two or three years I've only got one response from a blogger who apologized for the misinformation and promised never to do it again. When I do comment, I very often include the science, or scientific facts that refute the kinds of comments that are made in the blog.
RW: Have you thought about starting your own blog?
BS: Yes I have, but right now my time is so limited because of my work with IMPI, as well as my consulting business, that I simply can't find free time to write a blog. However, I probably will, hopefully not too far in the future.
RW: Having run a science blog for a year, I've found that I have a small audience (on the order of dozens of readers). Don't these blogs operate on a similar scale, and therefore, their impact is limited?
BS: As I indicated above, these blogs may be small, however, there are so many of them, I virtually see 5 or more a day that say exactly the same thing because of the cut and pasting, so, in the aggregate, the readers must amount to several thousand or more. Just looking at the number of comments some of these blogs get I am astounded by the number of people who spout the same misinformation, and are so poorly informed. After all, we now live in an era in which ignorance is exalted.