At the upcoming ScienceOnline’09 conference (16-18 Jan 2009 in RTP, NC, USA), PalMD and I will be leading a discussion session on the needs and justification for anonymity or pseudonymity in blogging. Women bloggers have additional needs for blogging under a pseudonym and PalMD and I are currently enlisting such unadvertised participants so as not to, you know, compromise their identity (yes, those present will learn who he and I are but we can assure all that it will be anti-climactic).
Even prior to developing discussion points for the session, I had been considering the possibility of disclosing my real-life identity because of a couple of good things happening in my professional career that would be nice to share with you kind readers. However, I think we have a unique opportunity here to explore the concept of blogger pseudonymity and begin a discussion not so much of whether I want to reveal my identity but, rather, whether I need to reveal my identity. For this, I invite you into The Pseudonymity Laboratory.
I’m closing in on three years of blogging as Abel Pharmboy and, as I’ve said before, I am often referred to in meatspace as “Abel” regardless of whether people know my real name. What would Abel Pharmboy lose or gain if he wrote under his real name? Would he be any different? Do Abel’s voice and my real voice differ in tone or authority?
In fact, authority is probably one characteristic that a science blogger cannot command immediately upon hanging out the blogging shingle. You cannot rely on my publications, my academic pedigree, my awards and honors (if any), or any other verifiable criteria to know if I am truly speaking with any degree of expertise on drug information. All you know from my “about” page is that I claim to have a PhD and know something about pharmacology and toxicology. Perhaps I gain some authority from being part of the ScienceBlogs.com collective assuming that they do any vetting of their bloggers.
I’ve turned to several blogging colleagues for insights on what might be learned about pseudonymity while I consider uncloaking – of course, Bora Zivkovic/Coturnix is already chomping at the bit to link to some real-life things about me. I’ve kept him at bay by convincing him that a slow, deliberative process will be valuable for the ScienceOnline’09 conference.
Among the bloggers providing the most methodical feedback – no surprise here – was Prof Janet Stemwedel of Adventures in Ethics and Science. Janet had the most comprehensive and systematic idea to use myself as an example to poll the community here about what pseudonymity really means. (Of course, Janet is also running a ScienceOnline’09 session on Online Science for the Kids (and Parents) that competes in the same slot with me and PalMD, so she may be trying to sabotage us with boring content and drive attendees to her session.).
So, I’m really going to beg all of you, especially the 95% of you who read regularly but don’t comment (aka “lurkers”), to answer a couple of questions over the next three or so posts:
Do you trust me and the content I provide here under my pseudonym?
Why or why not?
You may then go back to lurking until the next post.
Thank you for your support.