Sunday, December 25, 2005

On credentials, blogging and high-brow appeal

Excerpting my own comments from an ongoing thread at Philosophy of Biology:

I changed my comment signature to "MT" from "Murky Thoughts" to be less instantly identifiable as "some unknown yahoo," but still my impression is academic bloggers mostly ignore my comments, even if I challenge a crucial element of some argument they've made. I think it's because I post no credentials on my blog, which I do partly to help me remain anonymous, partly on the principles a) that it's the thoughts that matter b) that anybody can claim to be anybody on the Web c) I don't want to intimidate, d) I don't want to be dismissed, e) I don't want academics and employers judging me some kind of wastrel for spending time online. I'll have to go read what Burgess-Jackson offers for reasons, but I suspect it's not so much the quality of the ideas but that the lack of deference that disappoints and discomforts him/her. A professor may happily lecture all the live long day to people without credentials and even to students he or she knows to be lucky to score better than a C, but only in a setting where everyone assumes generally what the professor says carries credence and what others say carries a burden of proof. Posted by: MT | December 24, 2005 at 02:21 PM

Here's a comment I tried to make at B-J's blog, but which wouldn't stick because I've only just applied there for the privilege to comment and haven't yet been authorized:

It's arbitrary to impose on commenters or even blog authors the demand for credentials that academic departments make in hiring. University lecturing happens under limits of space and time that don't exist in the blogosphere. Truth in self-representation seems like a perfectly fair request, but I don't think you've established misrepresentation by PoB, and certainly not willful misrepresentation. Academia doesn't own the word "philosophy." Posted by: MT | December 24, 2005 at 02:34 PM

On the other hand, if you are out surfing for a "high level of discourse" the Web does present a whopping signal to noise problem, so just as a scholar might vow to keep up with articles only in the "best" journal of his or her discipline, he or she could approach the Web with the same philosophy of optimization and time management in mind and be frustrated. There aren't as many sign posts or tried and true rules of thumb, so it's tempting to say "OK, I'm only going to read and comment on the stuff from Ivy League professors." Posted by: MT | December 24, 2005 at 02:21 PM

1 comment:

N.Pepperell said...

Personally, I'm always a little bit worried that, when I reply to every comment, I may sound as though I just always want the last word... :-)

On your more substantive point about credentials and academic blogging: I think that, because the medium is relatively new (and, for many academics, still an unknown), some academics are struggling for the right metaphor to help them "grok" what blogging is "for".

If someone thinks the right metaphor for a blog is a peer-reviewed academic journal, then they're probably going to be a bit confused why people are publishing without academic credentials, or why academics are writing outside their area of academic training.

As you already know, I don't think this is the right metaphor to use - I think blogging is more similar to the kind of discussion that goes on among students (and faculty) in a more informal seminar or workshop, where everyone is throwing out "draft" concepts, and where the process of defending (or failing to defend) concepts strengthens everyone's ability to understand and express their positions. In that context, the main "qualifications" required are a willingness to recognise the force of the better argument, and sufficient specialised knowledge to recognise the limits of one's own understanding...