Blogging Without Tenure

By Sean Carroll | February 20, 2008 8:50 pm

Alice Pawley at On Being a Scientist and a Woman writes about her decision to blog under her own name as an untenured professor.

In the end, I decided I couldn’t just sit in fear. Blogging under a pseudonym wasn’t going to save me from a particularly investigative P&T [promotion and tenure] committee anyway – googling two key words brings up my old blog. But, on the more positive side, I decided when I started my current job that my goal was to be the best professor I could be, the one I wanted to see when I was a graduate student, and that I would. not. be. threatened into submission by colleagues wielding the tenure stick. I am committed to student learning, to faculty learning, to developing useful and inclusive learning environments, to the sifting and winnowing of ideas, to making engineering education better both in how I engage in it and what I study. None of that is something I as a faculty member should be scared of saying, and if doing so results in me only getting to do my job for 3 years or 6 years, then there is something undeniably and seriously wrong with our academic system and what we want professors to be/do. Plus having job security for 3 years or 6 years is something that most people don’t get anyway.

Blogging didn’t have anything to do with my own case, but it’s a perfectly legitimate concern for untenured faculty. Many assistant professors, especially women (and including Alice’s coblogger, “ScienceWoman”), are completely justified in blogging under a pseudonym or not at all. We might not like the fact that there exist narrow-minded senior professors who look down on blogging or any sort of public outreach — but our dislike doesn’t will them out of existence. But what a shame. Of all the professions in the world, shouldn’t academics be the most encouraged and rewarded for reaching out to a wider audience?

Thus ends your Sermon to the Converted for the day.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Internet
  • http://kea-monad.blogspot.com Kea

    Sermon to the converted? Have you been reading the comments sections lately?

  • http://khanmuhammad.blogsavy.com Khan Muhammad

    “Of all the professions in the world, shouldn’t academics be the most encouraged and rewarded for reaching out to a wider audience?”

    Ofcourse, the acdemics should join hands to spread the laws of nature.

  • String Theorist

    Courage is a price that life extracts for freedom.

    It is unfortunate that heriarchies and political correctness are almost religiously respected even in theoretical physics.

    The irony: 1. Brian Greene is a condescension target for even people who publish LESS than him. 2. My string theory professor in grad school hated Hawking so fervently, it was not even funny. It was as if the fact that Hawking wrote a popular book[1] was enough to prove that he was an idiot. There was also the fact that he was not a string theorist. When I had a chance to read some of Hawking’ scientific work later on, I was surprised and impressed. The guy was clearly a genius. By the way, I am a string theorist, so please do not take this as an argument against string theory – this is at most an argument against certain string theorists, who have the twisted perspective that all work that was done before string theory, is by default, trivial.

    [1] Which incidentally, was a GREAT book. I am more neutral about Greene’s book.

    Anyway, Sean, I am glad that you are doing what you enjoy. It is the ones who do NOT have the gift for talking to the public, the nerdy ones (wink!), who like to condescend public outreach. Its just an attack of sour grapes. The greatest ones usually have a profound non-robotic side too. Einstein, Feynman, Hawking, Weinberg…

    Yep, Witten is not in that list. His public lectures are perhaps some of the most uninspiring I have ever heard. I will even hazard a guess that all the people in the above list are LESS brilliant than him. But some might have been more profound, who knows?

    That reminds me, one of the few string thorists I know who actually is not in too much hurry to say “yes” to Ed Witten is Steve Shenker. If he does not understand it, he does not accept it. There are some others, but the vast majority are *scared* of Witten.

    As a community, we string theorists need to grow some balls. Of course, I don’t pretend to have the balls, at least at this stage of my career, so this will be an anonymous comment…_shrug_
    Think of this more as a public service message.

    I have a hard time believing that it was always like this. Because I have seen Weinberg and ‘t Hooft ask what could be construed as stupid questions during talks. Weinberg in particular pretty much ONLY asks stupid questions during talks – unless he is also working on the same exact subject. His culture is one of asking questions so HE will understand, not one where you are worried that there is Professor X (a blogger you might know) in the audience who is going to call you stupid. I kid you not. I was once at a talk at Austin, when X said something like “It would be stupid to…” to Weinberg when he asked a question. I was appalled, not because it was “wrong” to say something like that to the great Weinberg, but because I felt X’s posturing scared the shit out of a grad student who was sitting next to me. I cannot imagine that he will ever dare to ask a question again at a talk when X was in the audience.

    Of course, the next time I saw Weinberg at a talk, he was *still* asking stupid questions. People might say that Weinberg can afford it, but I doubt he was any different when he was younger. With genuine confidence, comes the ability to NOT be intimidated.

    Maybe the culture is changing because Witten is sooooooo gooddamned smart that *nobody* feels confident around him to follow their own thoughts with more confidence than following his. This is a situation unprecedented in history. Couple it to a situation where we are entering an era where it is inherently hard to do experiments, and a couple of opportunists who paint the situation as a flaw of the theory itself, and we have the “string controversy”.

    Sorry this post is kinda all over the place, I am writing it as a stream of consciousness rant and don’t have time to edit it, but you might get something out of it if you read it right.

    Anyways, blog on!!

  • fINE

    Sean,
    How about writing a book? You wrote an excellent book on GR which I have used as a student. Did it haveany bearing in the tenure?
    Fine

  • http://www.theory.caltech.edu/~preskill John Preskill

    Sean is such a good writer and clear thinker that his posts on almost any topic are interesting. I would like to emphasize, though, the potential value of scientific blogs not just for public outreach but also as a tool for communication among scientific peers. I read blogs largely because of a compulsive need to waste time (as I am doing right now), but by reading this blog and others I sometimes pick up valuable scientific insights and pointers to useful recent papers. As the impact of refereed journals continues to decline, blogs and other kinds of peer-to-peer electronic communication can be increasingly important for identifying the pearls in the scientific literature, and for clarifying the content of these papers.

    As for asking dumb questions during seminars, it’s an important thing to do, but I have not detected a big cultural shift in my 30+ years of attending talks. Naturally one will always feel inhibitions out of fear of embarrassment. There is a lot of inertia involved — the longer one remains silent the stronger the feeling that when the silence finally breaks the question better be appropriately brilliant. Once you have asked your first few stupid questions it becomes a lot easier to ask more.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    I am still not clear, on all that this blogger was afraid of happening. I already see re resistance to public outreach in principle, which I find appalling (her “superiors” should express the opposite attitude IMHO.) Was she also worried about specific gaffes or positions, etc? BTW forgive me for not having time to peruse her discussions about it.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Social hierarchies are a factor of human existence. I was watching a “Nature” program a while back about baboons. As I watched these guys chase each other and fight for dominance I found it interesting how we humans do much the same thing, we just are more sophisticated and subtle about it.

    I do not subscribe completely to any of these “camps” such as string theory or LQG and so forth. I think these are all certain keyhole views into an area that remains largely unknown. Yet to raise an issue of LQG with some string theorists often brings about hostile or dismissive remarks, and Smolin and other in the LQG camp have of late taken on a bit of a haughty air as well.

    There is one reason to popularize these things to the public. The public ultimately pays for these things, whether it is support for universities or laboratories. If things remain in an ivory tower that isolates itself from the public we might expect that in time the public will lose interest in giving support. There is already quite a counter-science movement out there with creationism — which is taking greater aim at cosmology. For biologists reaching out to the public is a practical matter, for otherwise the central unifying element of biology, evolution, may be removed from science education.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    “It is the ones who do NOT have the gift for talking to the public, the nerdy ones (wink!), who like to condescend public outreach.”

    Name calling is all well and good, but it doesn’t help devise a protocol whereby we can prevent these people from torpedoing good, well adjusted scientists’ careers.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    String Theorist,

    I’m guessing I’m one of the “couple of opportunists” you had in mind, and normally would react by complaining about your use of anonymity, but jeez, in this case, go right ahead. I’m interested to hear what you have to say, but you’d be completely out of your mind to put your name to it…

    Lee Smolin got a lot of flack for his comments about the arrogance of some string theorists, but yours are even more damning.

    I do disagree with some of what you have to say about Witten, and wanted to respond to that. It’s a topic that’s on my mind, since I just spent today down at the IAS, where I went to hear him and Sergei Gukov give talks aimed at mathematicians.

    I’ve attended a pretty large number of talks by Witten over the years, found that I learned something at almost all of them, and a few were among the most exciting intellectual experiences I’ve ever had. He’s a perfectly creditable speaker, but no performer, so it’s his material that makes his talks more or less worthwhile, not the delivery. If you want a speaker who can make some well-known piece of physics exciting to the general public, he’s not your guy, but what he can do is tell you something new about mathematics and theoretical physics at the absolutely highest level.

    The idea that he is somehow keeping string theorists from coming up with new ideas about string theory is kind of ridiculous. Yes, he’s an incredibly intimidating person to talk to, but I’ve found him to be unfailingly polite, and not guilty of the kind of arrogant and insulting behavior that you have noticed is not unknown among other string theorists. I hear that he’s no fan of the anthropic landscape, but if so, he doesn’t seem to have intimidated the sizable number of string theorists pursuing that avenue (which is kind of a shame…).

    The past couple years Witten seems to me to have a renewed enthusiasm for what he is doing, and appears to be enjoying himself, while mostly working on topics that are of more mathematical than physical interest. It’s just not true that string theorists are being beaten into submission to follow him in his interests, quite the opposite. Very few are following him these days in what they decide to work on (check out the citation counts of his recent papers).

    If string theory is in trouble, it’s not because string theorists are slavishly following Witten now, or the fault of a couple opportunists, or due to the lack of new data from experimenters. Maybe it is because some ideas are just not working out…

  • Required

    John Preskill said: “blogs and other kinds of peer-to-peer electronic communication can be increasingly important for identifying the pearls in the scientific literature, and for clarifying the content of these papers.”

    That was my original hope when physics blogging started, but it has in fact been a bitter disappointment. Most of it consists of comments of the form “Look at this idiot who put some science fiction on the arxiv, hur hur hur” or superficially more sophisticated versions of the same thing. The *only* blog I have found that regularly raises interesting physics issues and discusses them in a *serious* way [ie not at the level of stale Popperianism etc etc etc] is this one.

  • fINE

    String Theorist says:

    “The greatest ones usually have a profound non-robotic side too. Einstein, Feynman, Hawking, Weinberg…”

    I say not true. The best example that comes to mind is Dirac. Also I dont think Schwinger was any less “greater” than Feynman. I think your statement is a generalization and I dont see any correlation between the “greatest ones” and their “non-robotic side”

  • String Theorist

    Hmmm….I can see how these blog things can be so addictive.

    John,

    Thanks for that post.

    Lab Lemming,

    It sounds like you agree with the crux of my statement. Except you don’t like the fact that I used the word “nerd”. Also, about offering a solution, well, I have to say that you got me. I have no answer. Maybe a case can be made that recognizing and crystallizing the problem is the first step towards solving it?

    fINE,

    The comment about the “greatest” was not meant to dissolve into a discussion about who your personal hero in physics is. It was just my half-assed way of saying that great reseacrhers can also be great expositors.

    Peter,

    You misinterpret me.

    1. I was talking about public outreach. I *know* that Witten’s scientific talks are excellent. Well, at least when I have been able to understand them.

    In any event, the first part of my original post was just vanilla.

    2. You praise Ed Witten at great length. I say you are preaching to the choir. My point was not that Witten is a jerk, it was about sociology: the FEAR, that many active string theorists have of Witten. That *he* is keeping stringsters from doing big things is, as you admirably noticed, ridiculous. I was talking about a PERSONAL strategy for individuals, not some call for revolution to “overthrow” Witten. Physics is not about democracy, its about who has good ideas.

    I also realize that by pouring out what might get interpreted as a vitriolic attack, both on the stringsters *and* your kind, I am left with no friends on this blog. I would like to say though, that even though my stance against your views is without compromise (your views are essentially a call for theoretical inaction when faced with an era of experimental inaccessibility), I am really sympathetic towards the stringsters. I just think that sometimes their respect for their clan-leader goes overboard.

    In any event, talking with you (I am beginning to realize) can be a frustrating experience because I can already see a moving-target aspect to your words. Since you complain that I called you an opportunist….. can I also add subject-changer and propaganda-pusher to the list? _grin_

    Sheesh, I am beginning to enjoy my anonymity. I should stop before I go all the way over to the dark side. Thanks guys for the comments, now I have to go back to lurking and write up a paper. Its been a while since I slept.

  • Haelfix

    Historical aside: Einstein was notorious for asking rather simpleminded questions at talks. Of course, he was learning as he probed the question at hand. The questions would become sharper and sharper and the next day he would appear at the workshop with the full solution at hand.

    During his war against the Copenhagen interpretation of QMs, quite a number of people were swayed by his opinions and realizing they couldn’t best him intellectually thought it prudent to be silent. Ultimately, Einsteins efforts had the net effect of being but a ripple against the tsunami that was QM.

    All that to say, one man, no matter how powerful an intellect and persuasive an arguer, ultimately can not singlehandedly change how the community as a whole moves. Only ideas can.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    String Theorist,

    I’m still honestly curious about why you see “fear” of Witten as influencing string theorists in how they decide what to work on. My own perception is that there is a huge problem of fear among particle theorists, fear that working on anything other than string theory, cosmology, or LHC phenomenology will cause one’s colleagues to think of one as just not bright enough to handle cutting-edge research. For more than twenty years now, there has been a strong culture in particle theory at the highest level of looking down on anyone working on QFT problems not related to string theory as just too dumb to have understood the QFT textbook and not up to learning string theory. Witten may very well be part of that problem, but it’s a more general problem with the culture of the field, not specific to him.

    Getting back to the topic of the posting, I think it would be great for the subject if more particle physicists took up blogging and wonder what can be done to encourage this. Quite a few good young mathematicians have started blogging recently, but there seem to be far fewer particle theorists willing to try their hand. If it’s because they’re afraid of harming their careers, that’s a shame. I hope they’ll reconsider, keeping in mind that a life spent not doing worthwhile things because they might hurt one’s career often leads to a career not worth having.

    Of course one reason people don’t blog is that doing so makes one the target of vicious anonymous accusations of things like “stale Popperianism” here in the comment section of CV…

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Peter (and anyone) do you think the more pungent and personally argumentative style associated with blogs is one reason the “stiff establishment types” don’t like them, not just intellectually aristocratic disdain of outreach? I am thinking of your final remark, thinking also of the way certain bloggers write about other thinkers and views (such as e.g. extreme hostility to critique of string theory, to AGW, liberal politics etc.), some sprinkling of 4LWs in even some high-end science blogs (I don’t mean just commenters either), etc.

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  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Peter Woit on Feb 21st, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    If string theory is in trouble, it’s not because string theorists are slavishly following Witten now, or the fault of a couple opportunists, or due to the lack of new data from experimenters. Maybe it is because some ideas are just not working out…
    ———————-

    I has to be pointed out that string theory suffers from the same problem that any quantum gravity theory suffers from. It is not easy to obtain experimental data about the world at

    $latex
    L_p~=~sqrt{frac{Ghbar}{c^3}}
    $

    This Planck scale at ~ 10^{-33}cm is hard to probe, independent of what ever theory we might have about physics there.

    The main theoretical problem with string theory is that it fails to be constrained properly, with some 10^{500} possible vacua. This might still be telling us something, such as quantum gravity probably involves inequivalent vacuum states in a way similar to what happens with the Unruh-Hawking effects and black hole radiance.

    Loop quantum gravity is a bit more honest with general relativity in some ways, whereas string theory tends to impose a graviton field on scales longer than the string length. This gives rise to bimetric theory of gravity with various abuses of general covariance in relativity. Yet LQG has its troubles with particle physics and I find the “slice and dice” approach to spacetime somewhat questionable.

    I think that both these theories, and I will lump twistor theory in as well for I am finding some “twistor-like” stuff in what I am doing, amount to looking at a general problem through various keyholes, but where the doors are not yet opened into the “big room.”

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Bert Kostant of MIT gave a talk at UC Riverside entitled On Some Mathematics in Garrett Lisi’s ‘E8 Theory of Everything’, and as part of the festivities John Baez gave an elementary introduction to E8. There’s some discussion of this at his blog. It seems that the initial reaction from some string theorists that this material is so easy that undergraduates shouldn’t have too much trouble with it may have changed a bit. For a comment on the attitudes involved, see here.

    I am up to my keester in this matter. Dister does not like the theory because it frames bosons and fermions with clifford basis elements instead of with Grassmannians that @ which act with the supergenerators Q in the superalgebra

    $latex
    [theta Q,~{bartheta}{bar Q}]~=~2thetasigma^mu{bartheta}P_mu
    $

    I have been working to extend Lisi’s theory so that it functions on E_8(C) ~ E_8xE_8 and is “SUSY.”

    It is all an interesting business. I think Lisi’s model is a good first start to this effort.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Aaron Bergman

    I’m sure nobody wants another rehash of the Lisi stuff, but if you’re interested in E8 and model-building, you might be interested in Adler’s review which I pass along without comment as I am far from an expert in these areas.

  • Required

    PW spluttered: “Of course one reason people don’t blog is that doing so makes one the target of vicious anonymous accusations of things like “stale Popperianism” here in the comment section of CV…”

    How did you guess that I was referring to you? And “stale Popperianism” is “vicious”? Not by your “standards”.

    Your obsession with anonymity is just another of your old techniques for avoiding the issues. It is boring and also pointless. The real reason for anonymity is to avoid being personally attacked on blogs like yours, which basically serve no other purpose.

    Advice to aspiring physics bloggers: if you want to be taken seriously, adopt the following rules: if you are going to attack somebody’s professional ethics as a physicist, eg by suggesting [as PW regularly does] that people write papers in which they don’t believe, then you must expect to gain a reputation as a twerp. If you are going to attack somebody’s *work*, then you really had better be prepared to invest some work in really understanding it, and you should be prepared to *give technical details* showing exactly why that work is wrong. Warning: doing so will expose you to the risk of looking like an incompetent. But that is still better than getting a reputation for writing posts of the form “look at this idiot posting science fiction on the arxiv, hur hur hur!” Though of course that kind of comment is so much easier to write, it will just lead people to deduce your incompetence indirectly instead of directly. Further warning: a willingness to *give technical details* of your criticism is only a necessary condition for a good blog reputation. Explaining technically why somebody is wrong may be useful, but you will *still* look like a twerp if you do it in an obnoxious way.

    In view of all the above, maybe you would be better off avoiding criticizing other people’s work altogether, and instead work on drawing attention to *good* work, especially good work that might otherwise go unnoticed?

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Required,

    Describing a reference to “stale Popperianism” as a “vicious attack” was an attempt at humor. Guess it didn’t work for some people…

    I guess one could have predicted that mentioning the problem of unprofessional behavior by people like you here would just lead to more of it. No one knows who you are, so you can write whatever you want here, without having to take any responsibility for it at all. You know very well that if your colleagues find out that you are doing this they will think much less of you. You’re just a gutless coward, behaving in a way that you know very well is unprofessional and shameful.

    Most serious blogs actually realize this is a problem and don’t allow themselves to be used for anonymous attacks. For some reason the proprietor of this one thinks it’s all right to provide a forum for this kind of thing. I think it’s a mistake, and will keep pointing this out.

    I’ll also keep pointing out the problem of pseudoscience and hype in theoretical physics, anonymous attacks aren’t going to stop this.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Peter, even if Sean required a definite login, it still wouldn’t have to be obvious who was commenting. Also, it is hard to moderate beyond the level of filtering words etc. AFAIK. Yet perhaps it can be done well enough per your assessment of “most serious blogs.” I was just wondering, about the technical/logistical problems facing a BO who wanted to do better and your idea of how to enable that, tx.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Neil B.,

    There are a lot of difficult issues about how to deal with blog comment sections, this isn’t one of them. If Sean thinks anonymous personal attacks are unprofessional behavior and his blog should not be used to allow people to make them, he can announce such a policy and delete such comments. This would not be especially time-consuming since their number is relatively small and would decrease if such a policy was instituted.

    This blog posting notes that untenured scientists may need anonymity in order to avoid having a problem with their senior colleagues who read what they write. Few blogging junior physicists seem to be doing this, deciding instead to accept the consequences of what they write publicly. The remarkable thing is that there’s evidence that instead it is some senior people who have decided to hide themselves and refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

    The most surprising thing I learned when I first started publicly criticizing string theory back in 2001 was that there was a really ugly atmosphere of intimidation surrounding string theory, with many people telling me that while they agreed with me, they were too afraid of retribution to say so publicly. This continues to this day. Say you’re a young particle theorist who reads blogs, and notes the anonymous attacks on me and my blog in the comment section here, as well as noting that they might be coming from a senior person, but there is no way to know which one . Do you think this might have an intimidating effect on discussions with all senior people, since there is no way of knowing who might be, say “Required”?

  • well

    Peter is asking way too much.

    Things are the way they are. If you decide to post here, you are expected to follow the rules HERE. Not the rules of some utopia you wish the world followed.

    You are of course free to enforce any rule you want on YOUR blog. Not everybody is getting an advantage out of the publicity as you do. Quite the contrary, in fact.

    So, the only thing you get by enforcing non-anonymity is a lack of freedom of opinion. The posts above by “string theorist” for instance, above could not have happened if you enforced “non-anonymity”.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    well,

    I don’t enforce non-anonymity or infringe on anyone’s freedom of opinion. I also don’t provide an outlet for scientists to anonymously engage in shameful and unprofessional behavior.

  • John Merryman

    It seems everyone here is generally well intentioned and responsible, but frustrated by the sense that physics seems to be spinning its wheels more than getting traction.
    As an outsider, physics reminds me of those Escher drawings of stairs and waterfalls that go around in circles. Every step is completely logical and follows from the proceeding point to the succeeding point, but the whole picture is obvious nonsense.
    Yesterday, my twelve year old daughter sent me an email that’s going around among her friends that illustrates what the problem might be. It’s a silhouette of a pirouetting dancer. Apparently, if you use your right brain she appears to rotate clockwise, while the left brain makes her appear to rotate counterclockwise. Being a rightbrained type person, she appears to me to go clockwise, but if I look to the side, she appears in my peripheral vision to go counterclockwise.
    While I suspect many people here tend to be left brained, I’m equally sure that many are mentally ambidextrous enough to see both sides of many such issues. The problem is that the methodology of science is profoundly left brained. Every detail must fit, no matter what it all adds up to.
    As individuals, we are naturally more insightful then as a group, since we must rely on the common denominator of communication. Eventually though, these fluctuations smooth out, as our cumulative insight eventually builds a better world.
    There is an old African saying; If you want to travel fast, go alone, but if you want to travel far, go with a group.

  • John Merryman

    p.s. Being left brained, western civilization tends to view reality in terms of objects and measures, rather then processes and flow.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    John Merryman on Feb 24th, 2008 at 10:17 am ….

    As an outsider, physics reminds me of those Escher drawings of stairs and waterfalls that go around in circles.

    ——————-

    That happens when you have the wrong holonomy group, on the base manifold or are projecting down from a principal fiber.

    Peter Woit on Feb 23rd, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    I first started publicly criticizing string theory back in 2001 was that there was a really ugly atmosphere of intimidation surrounding string theory, with many people telling me that while they agreed with me, they were too afraid of retribution to say so publicly. This continues to this day.

    ———————

    This is in part a problem with professionalizing something. Once an endevour becomes a matter of professional status something which was once done for fun becomes something of dreadful seriousness.

    String theory, LQG and the rest are not something anyone should ever regard as concrete. These are not really theories, but more hypotheses. They are fun to work with, to compare against each other. Yet it is silly to cling to these things like barnacles on a boat hull, as if any of this is about religious creeds.

    When it comes to anonymity on blogs, my sense is that it is best if people did not do this. I remember a Dilbert cartoon where one of the characters grinned manically as they pounded out an email. Then afterwards with a withering look pondered their regrets after hitting “send.” Hiding behind a pseudonym or a shield gives one greater license to “throw barbs.” If anyone really wants to make a point, if your point is well reasoned and you are willing to stand by it then put your real name on it.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • The Almighty Bob

    Yes, Laurence. But then you have people like me, who are just borderline paranoid.
    (I’m in computer science. Paranoia is a survival trait.)

  • Required

    To conclude:
    I think it’s clear that untenured people should blog, if at all, only anonymously. I feel that bloggers usually strongly underestimate the degree to which people draw conclusions about their personalities. Whether these conclusions are right or wrong is immaterial. One often hears, in fact, that certain notoriously obnoxious bloggers are in fact charming in person: that the blog persona is not the real one. But almost nobody believes this — in fact, it seems more logical to assume that the “real-life” persona is the phony one and that the true character is revealed on the blog.

    Either way, a senior person with whom I have discussed this declared that he would oppose hiring any of the physics bloggers whose blogs he has read, with the exception of SC. So if you are going to blog, particularly non-anonymously, better follow the example of our host…..who, on the rare occasions when he criticizes anyone’s work, [a] does it politely and [b] does it with a technical discussion, ie using physics and not just sneering.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit

    Required,

    So, your (anonymous) advice, based on recounting what an (anonymous) senior person says, is that junior people should only blog anonymously.

    Blogging anonymously in an academic field like this is not a real possibility. It’s just too small, so I don’t believe anyone in it could write about topics they were expert in or share news they learn without it quickly becoming apparent who they were.

    So, it looks like an ugly atmosphere of intimidation mostly carried out from behind internet-enabled anonymity explains why there are so few bloggers in particle physics. In mathematics on the other hand, there’s a thriving culture of good blogs written by young and not-so-young mathematicians, with the people involved behaving professionally and putting their names to what they have to say. Gee, I wonder why people think particle theory is an unhealthy subject in a bad way these days….

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Peter Woit on Feb 25th, 2008 at 8:52 am

    Gee, I wonder why people think particle theory is an unhealthy subject in a bad way these days….

    ———

    Because it’s running out of money, at least here in the US. :-)

    Lawrence B. Crowell

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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