Field of Science


It seems that most science bloggers use pseudonyms. To an extent, I do this, though it's trivial for anyone who is checking to figure out who I am (I know, since I get emails sent to my work account from people who read the blog). This was a conscious choice, and I have my reasons.

1. I suppose one would choose anonymity just in case one's blogging pissed off people who are in a position to hurt you. That would be mostly people in your own field. Honestly, I doubt it would take anyone in my field long to figure out what university I was at. Like anyone, I write most about the topics my friends and colleagues are discussing, and that's a function of who my friends and colleagues are.

(In fact, a few years ago, someone I knew was able to guess what class I was taking, based on my blog topics.)

2. I write a lot about the field, graduate school, and the job market. But within academia, every field is different. For that matter, even if you just wanted to discuss graduate student admission policy within psychology, the fact is that there is a huge amount of variation from department to department. So I can really only write about my experiences. For you to be able to use that information, you have a have a sense of what kind of school I'm at (a large, private research university) and in what field (psychology).

I read a number of bloggers who write about research as an institution, about the job market, etc., but who refuse to say what field they're in. This makes it extremely difficult to know what to make of what they say.

For instance, take my recent disagreement with Prodigal Academic. Prodigal and some other bloggers were discussing the fact that few people considering graduate school in science know how low the odds of getting a tenure-track job are. I suggested that actually they aren't misinformed about academia per se, but about the difference between a top-tier school and even a mid-tier school. I point out that at a top-tier psychology program, just about everybody who graduates goes on to get a tenure-track job. Prodigal says that in her field, at least, that's not true (and she suspects it's not true in my field, either).

The difference is that you can actually go to the websites of top psychology programs and check that I'm right. We can't do the same for Prodigal, because we have no idea what field she's in. We just have to take her word for it.

3. I suspect many people choose pseudonyms because they don't want to censor what they say. They don't want to piss anybody off. I think that to maintain my anonymity, I would have to censor a great deal of what I say. For one thing, I couldn't blog about the one thing I know best: my own work.

There is the risk of pissing people off. And trust me, I worry about it. But being careful about not pissing people off is probably a good thing, whether you're anonymous or know. Angry people rarely change their minds, and presumably we anger people precisely when we disagree with them.


So why don't I actually blog under my name? I want people who Google me by name to find my academic website and my professional work first, not the blog.


Lab Rat said...

My reason is safety. While I'm not *actually* worried about being mobbed by random internet explorers the fact is that I have a kindof rare name, and google searching for my name used too (when I was still an undergrad) bring up my college address and email and a slightly blurry picture of me.

It would just worry me to have that kind of information so freely available (I was seriously spooked when I realised it had got online from the university). I'm not worried about what other people might think so much, as they can email me from my blog. My blog is even on my CV.

I was surprised safety wasn't one of your points. I think it's a reason many people stay anonymous.

EcoPhysioMichelle said...

I'm only half-pseudonymous. Michelle is my real name, but I never mention my last name, my university, or my specific area of research inside my sub-field because I don't want people to find my blog by doing a Google search on me. I am not concerned about people who find my blog FIRST finding out my identity second. If anyone who knew me found my blog by other means, it would be obvious immediately that I'm the blog author, seeing as how I have a picture of myself on the front page.

GamesWithWords said...

Michelle -- I think that's a good point. I'd also rather my academic work show up first in a Google search, which is the way it is now (oblique reference to my blog appears at the bottom of the 4th page).

Lab Rat -- I'm curious what your safety concern is. I'm old enough that when I grew up you could still get people's addresses from a telephone book. And as an academic, I'm essentially required to have a website with my name and picture on it anyway (you suppose will be too, if you stay in academia). Oh, and I have a Facebook account, a вконтакте account, and I'm on Neurotree! So having a null web presence never seemed like an option. And I'm not sure what the potential downside is (whereas name recognition in academia of course is very valuable).

Lab Rat said...

@GamesWithWords: It's possibly more to do with the perception of safety - I know my dad would get very worried if I had my name and picture headlined up for a large number of people to see.

I have a facebook account but it's blocked for anyone except friends. I sort of have a LinkedIn account as well, but I don't really use it and even that makes me feel a little unsafe.

Might just be me being paranoid!

GamesWithWords said...

Yah, I think you're being paranoid:)

But, seriously, establishing a web presence is useful in many careers -- certainly in academia.

Bob Carpenter said...

I think everyone here agrees that academic careers are about building reputation.

The difference is that some people think a blog might hurt their reputation (don't want people finding it first, don't want to offend people, etc.) and others think it might help.

I'm "out" and in the latter category. Way more people read my blog posts than read either of my books or any of my papers. At best, I'll lead the curious from the blog into the deeper work (though my blog's often pretty technical).

It's hard to build a reputation in academia these days and remain anonymous on the web. It was even hard to do 10 years ago before Facebook or LinkedIn.

As to the other point about getting jobs, you also have to clarify what counts as getting an academic job. Does a teaching college count? A position at a non-top-10 research department? And what about industry research? I found Bell Labs just as research oriented as Carnegie Mellon. If they were CS departments, Google and Microsoft would be among the top in the world.

Liz said...

I'm very new to the world of science blogging, but I've already decided to be semi-anonymous - first name only, as I am on the rest of the internet. This is mostly because, like Lab Rat, I have a ridiculously distinctive name. I don't really want my full name available, since if you Google it the results are actually all me.

I wouldn't actually mind potential employers or whoever finding my blog (er, when it has posts). That might be better than some of the other stuff that comes up... I just don't really want people I accidentally piss off to be able to find out where I live!