Academics blogging anonymously? Are we being academics, then?

UPDATE: Thanks to Nathan Rein (see comments) for making me realize that my title is misleading. The discussion started with blogging under anonymity, but my thinking went beyond that into how academics blog. So please, read the following post less as a discussion about anonymity and more a discussion about rigor, reflection, and thoughtfulness in posting.

My brother has extended the ongoing discussion about anonymous and pseudonymous blogging yet again in his recent blog entry.

His conclusion got me thinking that perhaps there is more here than simply academics hiding behind anonymity or pseudonimity.  He wrote:

This is leading me to the growing conviction that academics should not blog anonymously. If we truly believe in the dissemination and  examination of ideas then we should also be willing to own up to our ideas. There is some risk, but we are living in an age and country2 with tremendous protections. To you believe what you are saying? Then say it clearly and be willing to defend your views in the light of day.

As Chris mentions, as academics we are about the dissemination and examination of ideas.  This brings me back to the notion of the “double blind peer review.” The double blind process is in place to ensure that our ideas aren’t accepted, or rejected, out of hand simply by the history of the author, but rather measured by our adherence to rigorous methodologies and that our conclusions are supported by the literature, the data and the proper analysis. Through this “blind review” process we attempt to avoid both the Halo and the Horns effect. (see the great repository of knowledge, Wikipedia) Of course, once accepted for publication, the anonymity is removed, and we are allowed to heap praise, or criticism, on the person(s) who wrote the brilliance/drivel.

Perhaps a greater criticism of academics blogging is that, in addition to the anonymity, we tend to also stop writing as academics. Blogging seems to be a place where writers go to bloviate (to borrow from Bill O’Reilly) but not to provide much in the way of supporting documentation.

When academics blog, we tend to stop conducting and reporting on the review of extant literature. We stop providing supporting citations. (despite the ease with which we can do that in html.) We don’t discuss and defend our methodologies. And worst of all, we get defensive when our (often unsupported) ideas are challenged.

In short–we stop being academics.

Your thoughts?


4 thoughts on “Academics blogging anonymously? Are we being academics, then?

  1. This is a very interesting point. I’m sympathetic, in general, and I mostly agree, but only up to a point. Personally, I pretty much never post anything online that I wouldn’t attach my real name to. But then again, I’m not really a blogger, and I have the security of tenure. It seems to me it all comes down to defining what you jean by “being an academic.” You may be defining it so narrowly as to make it irrelevant. Am I “being an academic” if I complain about grading, grumble about academic politics, express anxiety about tenure, or admit insecurity about teaching? Because to me, those are all parts of an academic’s life, and thus those discussions all have a place in the “academic blogosphere.” But it’s easy to see why someone would want to post them anonymously. I don’t think you stop being an academic the minute you start saying something that doesn’t belong in a peer-reviewed publication. Of course, there are plenty of anonymous academic blogs out there. Are you saying they’re all valueless? or are you saying (which I think is more likely) that they’re not “really academic” in nature? If it’s the latter, well, then, okay, maybe you’re right, but so what? I don’t see how it follows that academics should never blog anonymously. Maybe I’m not understanding your point. Maybe a few citations or examples would help.

  2. Thanks for your comment–I really appreciate your taking the time to leave one.

    I am not as focused in my post here on the anonymity than I am the content of our blogs. I am (perhaps not very clearly saying that it seems that academics stop being academic in the way we think, and thus in the way write, in many of our blogs.

    As academics we hopefully cultivate a sense of rigor in our approach to our thoughts and our conclusions. We don’t rush to judgement without an analysis of the data/facts/other opinions, and we are careful to identify where our thoughts depart from those of others. We also, as academics, provide support for our position.

    I personally believe that it is this discipline, this rigor, that makes our contributions (whether in peer reviewed journals our in blogs) valuable. If you go back to some of my earliest posts, while I have my share of “commentary” applying more rhetoric than research, I also have several posts where I tried to either analyze the data others (mis)use, or present my own arguments with support. One of my personal favorites is my defense of Republicans against the charge of hatred and prejudice.

    My criticism then is that when academics start to blog on (potentially controversial) issues such as tenure, academic politics, climate change, or “regular” politics, often we leave this rigor behind and begin to shoot from the hip. We join the crowd of emotional response rather than reasoned, critical thinking. (Okay, and now here I am being lazy academically–I can remember several posts from others where this was done, but honestly, I don’t want to dig back through them right now…)

    That said, I will now appeal to my post where I talk about my having different blogs to serve different purposes. Academics who blog don’t have to behave as academics in all we do. If one chooses to speak as an academic, then I believe one should bring some of that rigor to the table. On the other hand if, as in my “Father Son Chats” blog, the purpose is something else, then, well… the blog can reflect that “something else.”

  3. Hm. Well, there are several points where I disagree with your logic, although, as I said, overall I agree with your conclusion. Looking back over Targuman’s links, I guess I think Dean Dad was acting unethically period, quite apart from his anonymity or his status as an academic. (I’m assuming that Targuman’s description of Dean Dad’s posts is accurate; I didn’t check.) His anonymity just made it easier for him to get away with it, but anonymity an sich isn’t the problem, if that makes sense. Similarly, a post like that would have been just as unethical in any field of work, although to academics — we who perceive ourselves (correctly or not) as particularly dedicated to the values of openness, fairness, and transparency — it might seem like an especially serious sin. In other words, measured against the standards of academe, anonymous, unsupported bad-mouthing of one’s colleagues (or anyone else) is especially bad. But I guess my objection to that is this: it’s the bad-mouthing that’s the problem, not the academic context or even the anonymity, both of which seem to me to be factors that exacerbate the original offense.

    Beyond this, I think there’s another point. You say “If one chooses to speak as an academic,” but it seems to me one could just as easily argue that, being an academic, one can’t really choose not to speak as an academic. Certainly my academic training, ways of thinking, and modes of employment affect everything I do and say (as is probably obvious from the pompousness and verbosity of this comment). I’ll never be able to blog in such a way as to hold my academic identity at a distance. It seems to me that what you’re really talking about has more to do with the authority attached to an academic status. What I take your point to be is more or less this: if you’re going to claim the authority, meager though it may be, that our society attaches to an academic position, then you really ought to follow the rest of the rules associated with academic discourse. Again, this is true, but it’s not quite the same as saying that an academic shouldn’t ever blog anonymously.

    For one counter-example, I’ll point you <a href=""here — it’s not a blog, but rather Thomas Hart Benton’s pseudonymous column for the Chronicle of Higher Education. You probably know it, but if you don’t, check it out. It’s a brilliant column. It helped keep me sane when I was an advanced grad student about to go on the job market. And for me at least, it’s impossible to imagine Benton writing any of the stuff he did under his real name, at least not as a beginning assistant professor (I think he’s since revealed his real identity, but I’m not sure).

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