Effect Measure

Blog matters: who is “revere”?

The person who taps the keys here over the signature “revere” (or sometimes “Revere”; it’s at most one at a time) is not Paul Revere. The real Paul Revere died in 1818. If you want to know the name or names of any of the key tappers here I’m going to disappoint you right away. This post doesn’t reveal how many people do the tapping or who they are. If you are a regular reader you already know quite a bit about us — in fact much more than about many people whose names you know (or think you know; if you read a news by-line do you really know who wrote the article?). While sometimes there is a bit of misdirection, we have never been untruthful about anything we’ve said about ourselves or one or another Mrs. R. or the revere daughter or grandchildren. You know what we think, how we react, a lot about our life histories, how old some of us are, what we do for a living, our political and religious views, our areas of expertise, numerous opinions about a large variety of things, what makes us mad, what motivates us, etc., etc. How many people do you know all those things about? Knowing our names wouldn’t tell you much more and might even be misleading. Our self-description in the masthead is exactly correct. No embellishment or false information.

The “problem” of the identity of “revere” is a curiously substantive issue that interests us. One of the things at issue here is the question of “authorship,” i.e., what does it mean to be an author. Revere is different than most reporters or journalists as we are our own publishers and our own editors. No one stands between the words we draft and the words you read. Newspapers have editors and publishers who to some extent interpose themselves in that space. Even great authors have editors whom they thank effusively in the acknowledgements of their books (if the author is honest and generous). Talented editors don’t just copy edit. They make suggestions about what to put in, what to take out, what order to put things in and whether the book or article should go to press at all. And having been interviewed more times than I can count by journalists and reporters both both good and bad and complained on more than one occasion about significant omissions that changed the meaning of what I said, at least half the time the blame is deflected onto the reporter’s “editor.” About half of those times I actually believe it. But there is no editor here. The reveres or revere writes what he/she/it/they want to write. No permissions needed and it all goes up as soon as we push the “Publish” button.

If you want evidence of our expertise, there is quite a lot of it available. On the old site over at Blogger there are 1170 blog posts going back to the end of November, 2004. We moved here to Scienceblogs.com on June 9, 2006 and here you can find an additional 2381 posts (not counting this one). Among the comments here (we lost the comments on the Blogger site) you can find us weighing in on many among the 36,985 published so far (more by the time you read this). Are we accurate reporters of the science we talk about? You can judge for yourself, but I can tell you honestly we have had many nice emails from fellow scientists whose work we have taken the time to explain. I don’t think we have ever had one tell us we got it all wrong, although on occasion we have had additions or clarifications and once or twice we’ve made mistakes which we promptly corrected in the post, including indicating it is a correction. It’s true good science reporters do things we don’t. For example, they will get in touch with the authors for additional explanations. We don’t do that because we don’t have to. We report on things we understand and that don’t need to be explained to us. And we give alternative views when we think we should, again because we understand the context. What we don’t do is go hunting for someone with a different view for the sake of “balance.” How are you as a reader to know if the alternative views are well founded, prevalent or are serving special interests? You don’t, to put it bluntly. At least in our case you know whom you are trusting or not. Us. And as noted, you have a lot of evidence to help you form that judgment.

Then there’s the issue of “authority.” If you don’t know our name, how can you hold us accountable? Another question might be, if I gave myself a name, how would that make me accountable? At least you know “revere” is a pseudonym. I could instead have made up multiple plausible sounding names and under the same posts. Would that change anything? I suppose you could say that would enable you to look up my education, publications and experience. But I’ve already told you those things, except for the publications (in my case there are about a hundred and a bit), but you aren’t going to read them anyway, are you? Let’s be honest. Most aren’t at all relevant unless you have some very specialized interests and education and most don’t bear on things we discuss here. They are written for my scientific colleagues. The blog is written for you.

Which brings us back to the strange idea of “authorship.” Compared to book writers and reporters, most of whom have editors and publishers, we have much more claim to be the author of this blog. But even that claim is pretty weak. We use and in many cases depend upon news articles or reports or scientific publications done by others, and we, too, have to take most of the things we read on faith. Unless we know a field unusually intimately in a way that is impossible for most topics of general interest, we haven’t read all the citations in a paper and aren’t likely to go read them to check the veracity of the author’s claims about them — unless we have good reason or prior knowledge that it is wrong. Nor do we have the raw data the work is based on, and if we did, we aren’t likely to re-run the analyses. Life is short. There are things we must take on faith, which is why scientific misconduct is such a serious offense. It loosens the glue that keeps the system together. Add to this the fact that so much science today is done in teams, sometimes numbering in the many dozens or hundreds, and the idea of authorship seems to be a mirage. Even as a sole author, my words are enmeshed in a web of interlocking and connecting ideas, many depending upon faith for their coherence and force. Which are the ideas of the author and which of others. All I can claim is to have strung the words together in a way I think unique to me. Big deal. That doesn’t make me an author. At most it makes me a paraphraser. I try to set down new ideas, to add value. But I am using raw materials provided my many people unnamed but with some claim to be co-authors.

Finally, one more comment. In a private email with one of my readers I said to him that I, the person tapping the keys, was not the same as the persona, “revere.” His response was some shock that I could be different things to different people. But we are all different things to different people. I don’t talk the same way or about the same things with my students, my children, my spouse, my boss, my colleagues or close or casual friends. That’s normal. It isn’t that we are hiding things or saying one thing to one and something different to another. It is that we have multiple personae generated by our social and personal relationships and their needs.

So it is with “revere.” Revere has his own persona that doesn’t coincide with that of any actual person. He has his own voice with its own diction and subjects of interest and ways of expressing itself and all the other things that make up a personality. So even if I were inclined to reveal the names of anyone who writes under the name of “revere” (and “the reveres” have made a decision about this which I will abide by), it wouldn’t mean anything of substance.

This has been a very longwinded way to tell you nothing. But there was a lot of stuff I felt like getting off my chest along the way. Selfish of me, I know. Now you know something else about me.

Comments

  1. #1 DemFromCT
    May 15, 2010

    Over the years, the library science/information folks have had a field day over credentials vs content, and also with mistaking anonymity with pseudonyms (generally, the latter being the same person or persons who develop a persona, reputation, street cred, etc.)

    The reveres and I have run into that with the creation of Flu Wiki, and here are some golden oldie links on that (this one from 2005):

    More mistakes with authority…

    It was brought to my attention today by uber-librarian Catherine Pellegrino that there has been a bit of a dust up regarding authority in regards to the Flu Wiki. David Mattison over at The Ten Thousand Year Blog has called into issue whether or not the information in the Flu Wiki is trustworthy/true/factual/valid. David says:

    …I still question the validity, accountability and transparency of their exercise. As to their leadership, who are the editors and what expertise to this subject do they bring? The only person associated with this wiki who’s chosen to reveal anything about herself is the publisher Melanie Mattson. Why are editors DemFromCT, Revere and Cassandra still hiding behind e-mail addresses?

    And, my favorite bit:

    But would you trust your life to information on a wiki? How could you guarantee that the information you’re reading is authentic and trustworthy even if the people are identified? How do we know these people are who they say they are? This is one of the most problematic areas with information from the Internet, whether you can trust it. A wiki simply compounds this issue to the point where the information ceases to be of value unless you yourself happen to know that it’s true.

    My question would be: Do you trust your life to the information from any single doctor? If your physician told you that you had an inoperable tumor and 1 month to live, I’d be willing to bet that you’d probably get a second opinion. Why? Because, as I’ve said so many times in the past, no single source of information should be trusted.

    No single source should be trusted. That’s why bloggers do links. ;-)

    We went from that to this in a few short years:

    http://www.flu.gov/professional/panflureport5.html

    scroll down for two quotes from FW on this official HHS report. See also:

    http://www.healthcarevox.com/2007/04/the_public_health_benefits_of.html

    from 2007, mentioning a discussion held at CDC on wikis (there was one in 2009 at NLM as well.)

    Things other than viruses evolve. ;-P

    The latter links mention a real name (mine, not revere’s.) It is still true that for most people a real name carries more gravitas than a pseudonym, even when saying and doing the same thing. OTOH, there’s more freedom of expression with a pseudonym. I am still comfortable doing both. So it goes.

  2. #2 Cuttlefish, OM
    May 15, 2010

    Bravo.

    (From one who appreciates pseudonymity, and understands the difference between me and my persona)

  3. #3 Katharine
    May 15, 2010

    “Finally, one more comment. In a private email with one of my readers I said to him that I, the person tapping the keys, was not the same as the persona, “revere.” His response was some shock that I could be different things to different people.”

    It baffles me that anyone could misunderstand that.

  4. #4 Sili, The Unknown Virgin
    May 15, 2010

    It baffles me that anyone could misunderstand that.

    Some people honestly believe they behave the same way on the net as they do offline. Some of us are just a bit slow in realising that we use a different voice on some blogs than on others. Personally I’ve ended up with two persistent pseudonyms used for my usually non-overlapping interests, but I’m not keeping watertight barriers between them anymore.

    As long as the reveres are generally agreed about their collective output I see little room for trouble. I’m not a sufficiently regular reader to know if infighting is likely, but it doesn’t sound like it.

    I have no problem linking you as authorities in your chosen subject. My linkees have – as you point out – more than enough information available to make an informed decision as to your trustworthiness. Being ‘known’ is in no way a recipe for authority – to a reasonable person – as evidenced by the McCarthies and a Wakefields of this world.

  5. #5 Lea
    May 15, 2010

    After reading your stuff and agreeing and disagreeing many times I’ve come to the conclusion that I like you. Of course you’d like a more eloquent response but there’s not one forthcoming.

    And just to clarify revere-be, the End the War on Drugs story you posted was an old one. Kerli, “Droopy Dog”, said that when he first started as Drug Czar.
    You know my beef is with the war on drugs. It has come to the point in my life where only a few things that are wrong with our political landscape, and there are many, can take up my time and attention. Although I do try to stay abreast of all things out there, it’s impossible to do.

    This is a more current account of the war on drugs:
    — $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.

    — $33 billion in marketing “Just Say No”-style messages to America’s youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have “risen steadily” since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

    — $49 billion for law enforcement along America’s borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.

    — $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.

    — $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

    At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse — “an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction” — cost the United States $215 billion a year.

    Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides.

    “Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use,” Miron said, “but it’s costing the public a fortune.”

  6. #6 Marc
    May 16, 2010

    “Finally, one more comment. In a private email with one of my readers I said to him that I, the person tapping the keys, was not the same as the persona, “revere.” His response was some shock that I could be different things to different people. But we are all different things to different people. I don’t talk the same way or about the same things with my students, my children, my spouse, my boss, my colleagues or close or casual friends. That’s normal. It isn’t that we are hiding things or saying one thing to one and something different to another. It is that we have multiple personae generated by our social and personal relationships and their needs.”

    >>That was me about a month ago. Sorry to not have understood correctly what you meant. I thought you were being dishonest in some way but now I understand what you meant.

    “This has been a very longwinded way to tell you nothing. But there was a lot of stuff I felt like getting off my chest along the way. Selfish of me, I know. Now you know something else about me.”

    >>It is far from “nothing”. These philosophical discussions you have on the blog from time to time are some of your best posts, at least in my view.

    =)

  7. #7 Crudely Wrott
    May 16, 2010

    Ahhh. So well stated, Revere.
    I have found enjoyment and instruction here, among all of you. Hearty thumbs up for your blanket coverage of this year’s influenza incursion. Knowledge is power, especially when it relates to how to deal with infection and stay alive.
    Since I read your later post on disappearing into the aether I will take this opportunity to thank you heartily and say that I hope that you (all) fare well.

  8. #8 tymbuktu
    July 1, 2010

    Was on a laptop-free vacation for 5 weeks. Very sad to see the reveres go on a regular basis. Especially because your last blog was on my birthday ;-(

    Off to the Pump Handle.