Yesterday regular contributor “miko” announced two things. First, he’s signed up as one of the 1,000 for the Personal Genome Project. And, he’s fired up a weblog to chronicle his journey. I know at least one other reader, my friend Paul, is also among the 1,000. Combined with the recent reveal of Genomes Unzipped, we’re in interesting territory. You also have Genomeboy, who’s been around longer…at least by the standards of personal genomics. How many other similar blogs are there like this? Judging from 23andMe’s post on Genomes Unzipped the industry leaders are going to have be careful, balancing the demands and pressures from the bottom, as well as the fiat power of our legal high priesthood. Good luck on that.
A new Farhad Manjoo piece in Slate, This Is Not a Blog Post, will be getting a lot of attention from bloggers because it is about blogging. This is a weblog. My posts consists of links, short commentaries on links, paper and book reviews, as well as essays. My prose is altered by the fact that it is written with the prior understanding that I’ll have links embedded into technical terms. A review of a paper will always have a link to that paper, and I will include the abstract as a matter of course so that the authors can “speak for themselves” at least to some minimal level. Some of my posts are inspired and strongly influenced by “personal communication.” But I never do reporting. By reporting, I mean specifically going out to get a quotation from someone, and putting that quotation into the body of the prose (though I will use quotations which others have retrieved). Rather, my posts are shaped by people I talk to, as well as informed commenters.
Speaking of which, that’s another reason why this is a blog. When Andrew Brown solicits a contribution from me to Comment is Free there are comments, but I only glance at them cursorily and don’t get involved, no matter how much they insult my honor. I obviously don’t follow all the comment threads here in too much detail, but I’m very active. The main reason is that I learn a lot from commenters, though fostering fruitful discussion means that I have to invest some labor input. Blogging with comments has an interactivity and dynamic component to the content generation which I do not perceive in articles, at least in such a free-form and helter-skelter manner.
In regards to my philosophy of commenting, I’ve already fleshed out some of the specifics earlier. But I thought I would explicitly acknowledge something: I treat people differently based on how much value I believe they add to my own understanding of a topic. When it came to Alan Templeton vs. the Bayesians I naturally deferred to the statistical geneticists in the audience. I don’t require detailed elaborate explanations from them, authority accrued through expertise and the wisdom of the community will suffice. This does not mean that a commenter whose authority I defer to will be found to be correct in the end, simply that I don’t have the expertise or labor hours to make a better assessment myself. Their spare opinion nevertheless adds value because of the source. Some of the commenters use real names, others use handles with email addresses tied in to Facebook profiles, while others have IP addresses which I can trace to the Broad Institute and such. I try and get a sense as to the nature of the commenter.
Now let’s move to another topic. What was the historical significance of the Battle of Tours? Unless you are a scholar of this time and place I am not interested in your unadorned opinion, because I almost certainly am in a better place to make an assessment than you are because I know more about the battle and its historical context than you do. In the spring of 2003 I developed an interest in Charles Martel and read a series of monographs and articles on his life and times, and I have also taken a long-term interest in the late Merovingian and early Carolingian phases of the Frankish polity for reasons not having to do with the Battle of Tours (a curiosity as to the early ethnogenesis of the proto-French and proto-German national identities). Obviously when it comes to macrohistorical questions I’m no scholar, and my lack of other languages means that I’ll always be hobbled by a reliance on secondary sources. But I do know quite a bit, and am in no mood to be swayed by the opinions of other lay persons. That’s why I demand elaboration, even if I know more on a given topic than than someone else, I can still learn quite a bit from their train of thought and the data which they enter into the record.
Because this is my weblog I’m framing the issue here in a dyadic manner, but obviously commenters interact with each other, and are bystanders. In cases where I defer to someone quite often I’ll be privy to some detail of their identity which make the deference intelligible. I can’t simply go around telling everyone that a pseudonymous commenter is “professor/post-doc/grad student X”, but hopefully commenters will understand that when I give deference I usually have a reason (if a commenter asserts an affiliation or identity, but doesn’t provide self-evident proof, I can confirm with an IP trace, or contradict if I find something amiss). In contrast, in cases where I demand commenters elaborate and give their reason in a clear fashion there’s an obvious positive externality: I’m not the only one who benefits from the explanation!
I’ve been blogging for over eight years now. That means I’ve given some thought to commenting, and how best to extract value from interactions with readers, as well as fostering fruitful interactions between readers. I don’t think you do the same when you write an article.