To those not following our discussion, PalMD and I (and a couple of pseudonymous women bloggers) will be leading a discussion session on the needs and justification for anonymity or pseudonymity in blogging at the upcoming ScienceOnline’09 conference (16-18 Jan 2009 in RTP, NC, USA). I’ve also been toying with the pros and cons of personally uncloaking and have been surprised that most readers and commenters don’t really care whether I am Abel or [RealName].
The past posts in this series have focused on whether readers trust pseudonymous bloggers – “trust” is a powerful word that I now realize is asking more than I intended (although it is a fabulous, critically-acclaimed but oft-overlooked 1981 album by Elvis Costello). In refining the question, I want to know what constitutes trust in the information bloggers provide. Becca had a very nice comment that categorized the degrees of trust she has for me based on the topic being addressed.
Today, I want to ask if any external evaluations, certification systems, or peer recommendations that might cause readers to place more faith in the objective authority of certain pseudonymous bloggers. At one end of the spectrum, here is a formal certification I applied for in November and was proud receive back in February:
|We comply with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health
The Health on the Net (HON) Foundation is an independent Swiss group founded to evaluate and certify the objectivity of medical information provided on the web. An overview of their eight criteria are here and a brief description of their mission is to provide “Quality & Trustworthiness of the Medical & Health Web.” I became aware of it shortly after the foundation was established in 1995-1996 and I promoted HON certification as a guide to my students and the general public who were using the Web to seek out medical information.
After we started Terra Sigillata, I saw that some medbloggers had received HON certification. So last November I decided to see if I could qualify for HON certification as a pseudonymous blogger. The application process required disclosure of my full name and degrees and the blog had to be reviewed by actual members of the HON Foundation in Geneva for objectivity. The most problematic issue for me was the advertising that Seed Media Group puts in the right sidebar and above the masthead. I had to explain that while Seed offers ScienceBloggers some compensation based on pageviews, and that those funds may be derived from their ad income, we have complete editorial authority over our content. Moreover, I have Seed directly contribute my pittance of compensation directly to a local cancer patient support group to relieve me of any tax or outside income regulations.
The HON Foundation also required a more extensive disclaimer about me and my qualifications, the intended audience for the blog, and the advertising policy. With all that squared away, little ol’ Terra Sigillata was granted HONcode certification on 6 Feb 2008 (certification here, post here).
In retrospect, this seems like overkill in proving my authority and objectivity of medical and pharmaceutical topics and I recognize that HONcode certification would not be applicable to some of the blogs in my blogroll to the left. However, I have to say that I’m kind of proud of it even though I’m not sure it influences the perceptions of you, the dear, well-informed, intelligent, and good-looking readers of this blog. But that is a question below.
Can you think of any other semi-formal mechanisms by which blogger information quality, authority, or objectivity might be assessed? Attribution and links by other bloggers are certainly a sign of some degree of authority but, then again, a circle of science denialists repeatedly linking to one another might cause that metric to come under question. I know there are many whizbang Web 2.X gurus out there (i.e., not me) who could tell us the best way to interpret the significance of cross-linking, especially when several independent authorities find your content to be valuable enough to link in different contexts. But as I noted, this can be abused so much as to be meaningless.
So the questions for today’s laboratory session are:
1. Does our HONcode certification give you any greater confidence in the quality of the content provided here? Have you ever even noticed that we are HON certified?
2. Can you think of any other semi-formal mechanisms by which blogger information quality, authority, or objectivity might be assessed?
You may answer in the space provided below. Do your own work.
Here are The Pseudonymity Laboratory Posts from us and others, thus far:
Compatriots in Pseudonymity
Why should I trust you? – PalMD at denialism blog
Abel’s Excellent Pseudonymity Inquiry – DrugMonkey
Pseudonymous Blogging Panel – PhysioProf
Blogging Anonymously – Kristjan Wager (Pro-Science)
(Please leave URLs of any of your own posts in the thread below if I can’t find them or have otherwise overlooked them.).