Being relatively new to the blogosphere, I was intrigued by this Jan. 17 court ruling about bloggers getting the same libel protection as traditional journalists. http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/01/17/12-35238.pdfHere's a short summary in a publication called The Verge.It's good to know, though I can't say I ever planned to libel or defame anyone.Embedded in The Verge's story is a link to a much longer 2011 article in which The New York Times kicked the tires of this particular case and found things are not always as they seem to be.The Times described this case as one of "a blogger using the Web in unaccountable ways to decimate the reputation of someone who didn't seem to have it coming."Crystal Cox, a blogger and real estate agent in Montana, is accused of making blatantly false and unproven allegations against Kevin D. Padrick.Padrick is a West Coast lawyer serving as trustee in the bankruptcy of Summit Accommodators, a cash-holding company for property exchanges.The Times suggested near the end of its story that Ms. Cox might have even been attempting to blackmail Mr. Padrick's company, Obsidian Finance Group, to the tune of $2,500 a month.Irrespective of whatever motives Ms. Cox may or may not have had, her case has raised serious questions about how far bloggers can go.See this legal analysis by Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, who claims the decision "is in sharp contrast to the view of Senator Dianne Feinstein and Obama administration officials who have fought against such protections for bloggers in a new federal shield law."Here's a link to a Facebook discussion.This passage appears to get to the heart of the ruling:"As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institution press and other speakers is unworkable: 'With the advent of the Internet and the decline of print and broadcast media. . . the line between the media and others who wish to comment on political and social issues becomes far more blurred.'"In its analysis, The Times said Ms. Cox seems to be the highly determined, perhaps obsessive, type who - before the Internet came along - would have brought in a stack of documents to the lobby of a newspaper office and not left until she had convinced a reporter to do a story."The Web has allowed Ms. Cox to cut out the middleman; various blogs give voice to her every theory, and search algorithms give her work prominence," the article said.The case has potential ramifications for all facets of journalism and communication, of course.That includes science and environmental writing done for 40 million people who co-exist with North America's largest collection of fresh surface water.The Great Lakes are unique not just because they hold six quadrillion gallons of fresh water, enough to submerge the continental United States in nearly 10 feet of water.They're unique also because of their access and their convergent uses by manufacturing, shipping, tourism, recreation, agriculture, and other sectors of the economy.They're a work in progress, a living laboratory, if you will.They're one of the most intensely studied examples of how humans interact with nature on this planet.From Detroit to Cleveland, there's no place with as many people exerting as much pressure on one of the world's top freshwater shorelines.What's written and broadcast about the Great Lakes shapes how they will be used.As I've told people, I take my role as an environmental journalist seriously.We have the ability to needless inflame people with science, health, environment and technology stories.But we also have the power to do something equally as bad by lulling them to sleep by omission or giving them a false sense of comfort by pooh-poohing an issue they truly need to know about.Great Lakes science has a lot of grey areas. It's not simple and neat.It doesn't need to be confined to an exclusive fraternity of journalists.But it needs to be accurate.It needs proper balance and perspective, regardless who acts as the messenger and attempts to bridge those gaps of scientific knowledge.