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Christina's LIS Rant
Friday, February 01, 2008
  Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Many science bloggers, in particular women scientist bloggers, choose to be either anonymous or pseudonymous. Sometimes they give the reason that they want to be able to speak freely or talk truth to the man (see). Some have everything to lose if they are discovered, and for some it would be a minor inconvenience because co-workers don't "get it."

Bloggers who have made the choice to provide their real identity sometimes complain that if they were anonymous they could say whatever they wanted without repercussions. This comment from a C&EN article makes the point:
"What you say carries more weight when you put your name behind it," says Paul Bracher, who runs the rabble-rousing "ChemBark" blog. "It's unfair to talk about others without letting people know where you come from, especially if you're going to be critical about other people's work." Mitch Andre Garcia, of "Chemical Forums", says, "Using my real name keeps me more honest, reflective, and judicious with what I write."

In practice, though (and this would be an excellent topic for a qualitative study, but I won't call dibs as long as you tell me what you discover), anonymous bloggers do not really have any more freedom and may even have less freedom for several reasons.

First, because they don't want to be a jerk. Or, well, they might be a jerk whether or not they reveal their names, but I don't think it correlates. (this point I got from Dr. Free Ride)

Second, the more they say -- and everything they say -- can be used to try to discover their real identity. If you are the only woman associate professor of physics researching x then talking about your work will out you. What can you say about your work place? Maybe what coast it's on? That it's big or small? Luckily you can still talk about poor treatment because that happens everywhere (being sarcastic).
mrswhatsit states this very clearly:
When I started this blog, I decided to blog under a pseudonym so I could be free to talk about whatever I wanted. I soon learned that this was not really true. If I really want to stay anonymous, if I really don’t want people to figure out who I am, then I can’t talk about anything that will identify me. That includes specifics about my research (since we’re one of the few labs working on this question in this system). So, from the start, anonymity wasn’t nearly as freeing as I thought it would be.
It takes a lot of work to stay anonymous -- carefully selecting words and re-reading posts to make sure nothing slips, and if you are discovered, that the repercussions won't be too bad.

PropterDoc thinks that you can either post as a scientist or about being a scientist... but her commenters disagree (do read the comments, too). She thinks that if you're just talking science that there's no need to be anonymous -- but that doesn't seem to be the case when you talk to women scientists who reveal their identities online.


Third, women on the internet are victims of very personal attacks. I don't think that being anonymous does anything for this (may even attract some), but it may be easier to distance yourself and it's harder for a stalker to find you. (Lou mentions this, as does Veo Claramente)

So, in conclusion there are some darn good reasons to blog anonymously and this unsystematic look indicates that it does not provide more freedom, rather it chains you a life of walking on your toes. For young women scientists, the freedom of using their real identity is a luxury they can't afford.

Bloggers build trust with their audience over time - isn't it refreshing to judge someone on what she posts rather than her institution, her h-factor, or her recent paper in a big name journal?
Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin' don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no
And feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee
(by Kris Kristofferson and copied from this Google cached page)

Updated 2/02 to correct 3 typos, on caught by Walt (thanks!), and another 2 I caught.
 
Comments:
I've had threats from commenters to 'reveal' my identity, one from someone who had figured it out, one from someone who was a moron. I've had semistalking behaviour from another blogger who started sending me long and personal emails about his life and how I just seemed to understand. I've had harsh, harsh comments that were unjustified and involved taking my writing in the worst possible sense. I know of female scientist bloggers that get hate email.
I couldn't write some of what I used write if I used my real name, I'd be too scared. These days I write everything as if it was in my own name to 'keep me honest' but like the protection of the pseud.

Anonymous bloggers don't have more freedom, you're right, and they probably have more to loose than those who use their name. I think they forget that it is ultimately a public forum, and one with a long, long memory.
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

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