What’s your online reputation?

When I fly off to give talks, I’ve got three basic categories that I choose from: there’s the “science is godless, and here’s why” talk for atheist audiences, there’s the “development and evolution go together like peanut butter and chocolate” talk for atheists or scientists, and finally, there’s the “you better pay attention to the online world, and here’s why” talk for scientists, who often don’t have a clue about blogs and twitter and facebook. Now Nature gets in on the latter act, with a feature on managing your online reputation. It turns out that most scientists, especially younger scientists, are already fully aware of how important it is to have an identity on the web.


I was interviewed for the article and podcast, but one thing I didn’t really pick up on was one focus of the article, on professional companies that manage online reputations. They give the example of a cancer researcher who has been purportedly lying about his background, is currently under investigation for research misconduct, and who commissioned a company to patch up his reputation (or more likely, bury the ugly rumors under a mountain of inanities).

Online Reputation Manager, headquartered near Rochester, New York, is a company that uses search-engine optimization strategies to repair the online image of clients who have been besieged with unfavourable press. These include flooding the Internet with positive messages to drown out the negative. A company representative confirmed ownership of the e-mail address, but could not say whether Potti is a client.

Ugh. This doesn’t work. Anyone searching for information on Dr Anil Potti who discovers blithering press releases like “Dr. Anil Potti Likes Spending Quality Time With His Wife And Three Daughters” is going to sniff out the scent of a stinker. Not to mention that Dr Anil Potti, his misconduct investigation, and his pathetic attempts to cover it up, have now achieved prominent mention in both Nature and Pharyngula.

You want a good online reputation as a scientist? First rule: be honest and forthright.