Thinking of Starting an Anonymous Science Blog? Five Reasons to Think Again

August 17, 2007

You can find them in nearly every scientific discipline: the anonymous science blog. For a variety of reasons, their authors have decided not to reveal their identities, as is their right. Styles range from the absolutely analytical to the cynically sarcastic.

I have nothing against anonymous science blogs. Some of the most interesting writing I've seen has been posted to them. But I do have some reasons why you might want to think twice before starting one.

  1. If you're writing about anything remotely interesting, you will be identified sooner or later. Have you ever attended a scientific meeting and noticed how many perfect strangers you meet who know someone you know? Scientific disciplines are very small worlds. Not only that, but Google is a frighteningly powerful tool to find obscure information. If one of your colleagues stumbles onto your blog, chances are excellent they will be able to identify you if they're determined.
  2. Owning your content keeps you sane. Have you ever noticed how otherwise considerate people can be very inconsiderate drivers? There's something about anonymity that brings out the worst in people. Connecting your name with what you write forces you to carefully consider what you're doing. And that's a good thing. You're going to be identified anyway (see above), so you might as well write like it from the start.
  3. Consider your motive. What's the real reason you're writing under a pseudonym? Is it to be able to vent without consequence? To avoid upsetting your boss? Wanting to avoid colleague reactions or embarrassment? Uncertainty as to whether you're "allowed?" Do you worry about writing something that a future employer might not like, thus endangering you chances of getting a job? Going back to Point 1 above, you will be identified eventually. When that happens, will you be prepared to face the music?
  4. Your current employer has rights. If you're working in industry, you've signed an agreement that gives your employer rights to your ideas and inventions. If you're in academics, your advisor probably doesn't want you disclosing the details of cutting-edge research. The immediacy and reach of blogging will turn scientific publication on its head; these are merely previews of the issues that lie ahead. When in doubt, ask before blogging.
  5. It's a new form of scientific publication. Would you want to be an anonymous author on your scientific publications? Of course not. Every scientist is a businessperson, whether they like the idea or not. The business model is simple: trade your scientific reputation for money in the form of grants, salaries, bonuses, and job opportunities. Publication is the currency of scientific business. Blog-like scientific writing is simply its newest incarnation.

Own your content. The career you help (or save) may be your own.

image credit: flyzipper