I've seen advice floating around the net on several occasions regarding the risks of untenured academics (whose youth makes them more likely to be into recent technologies such as card readers paper tape line printers crt terminals graphical user interfaces social networking software) using said software to blog under their own names.

Quotes like the following are typical: “pretenured professors should be aware of the risks of blogging and develop strategies to avoid or mitigate the pitfalls of blogging without a tenure net.”

I had thought that this was primarily about not arousing the suspicion of the old fogies more senior faculty who will be deciding hiring and tenure decisions but don't know about or care about blogging, and that the math/CS blogs are in general innocuous and technical enough that anyone who reads them would find them mostly harmless (physics is another story). But after seeing a few recent exchanges (which I will not link to) I'm starting to think that the dangers are real...

Which is to say: if you aren't getting comments on your posts suggesting that you are coming across in an unflattering light, this post isn't aimed at you, but if you are, it might be worthwhile paying attention to them.

ETA: An interesting related post.


None: Blogging while untenured

Great post! straight to the point, excellent use of strikeouts... One thing though, I don't agree with the title (even though I see the hidden moral) -- blogging isn't dangerous, being self-important is.

11011110: Re: Blogging while untenured

I guess the point of the title is that tenured bloggers are safer in their self-importance.

None: Re: Blogging while untenured

In some sense they are, but on the social level, I'm not sure it will be enough ;)

imipak: Thoughts on blogging
  1. Never get into a flamewar with professors who have both the team photo and a copy of photoshop.

  2. Always remember that some percentage of senior fellows in any establishment were kicked upstairs, though only the ones with PR power or pet chainsaws are of immediate concern.

  3. Authority tends to be conservative, creative genius tends to be liberal, social and/or schizophrenic.

The last part is perhaps the biggest cause of flamewars and online nastiness. Authorities cannot (or won't) distinguish between the types of genius, or be in any way helpful towards those who need help far more than they need roasting. But likewise, those who are exceptional all-too-often take exception towards those of comparable ability. Those who are talented are often also described as "difficult" or even "hostile".

Anonymity and pseudonyms are a way round this, but an imperfect one. The "correct" solution is hard to guess at, but likely involves a more Classical framework, where conservatism is used to test, not control, the workings of the mind, and where genius gets to be vocal in a safe environment.

11011110: Re: Thoughts on blogging

The geek social fallacies are also relevant, especially as many academics in technical fields could accurately be described as geeks.

imipak: Emperors of the Sand Dunes

Oh, almost certain. I can't think of an exception to the rule amongst all the academics in all the Universities and research facilities I've ever worked in.

The Geek Social Fallacies were interesting and a lot of them are reworded in typical descriptions of the so-called "Geek Syndrome".

The problem with a lot of these descriptions is that that's all they are. Qualitative descriptions. They don't quantify and they don't offer enough resolution to know what should be done next.

Although standard tests are pretty much guaranteed to show an extremely high percentage of academics as having "Geek Syndrome" (also known as Asperger's Syndrome), I am no longer as convinced as I was that this is actually the case at all. The tests measure specific symptoms, not cause and not overall effect. Although methods now exist to study causes, they generally don't get used by studies.

I hereby propose a 4D topological description of geek social ineptness. On one axis, you have level of awareness. Those subject to geek social fallacies purely for reasons of fully concious decisons have a negative awareness, compared to a theoretical neutral point. Orthogonal to that, you have the level of neurological propensity for avoiding those same behaviours. (ie: actual propensity is again measured on the negative axis.)

The third axis is dependent on the first two and measures the intensity of social dysfunction. The fourth axis is also dependent on the first two and measures the intensity of intellectual dysfunction.

My guess is that the fourth axis - important for work - will show a somewhat irregular shape, with many geeks showing negative intellectual dysfuction (the problems hone their mind), but where other geeks are allowing the fallacies and delusions to block the flow of thought. This may even be fractal, as there are many classic examples of people jumping from one state to the other.

The third axis is important for conferences and blogging, and my guess is that you'll find that the surface will be relatively smooth and contiguous. The "height" might be expected to tend to -infinity as either the X and/or Y axis (doesn't matter which you cast the independents as) tend to -infinity. It might be that simple, outside of some given range, but my observations of geeks over many years would lead me to doubt it. My observations suggest a great many local maxima, where people have to maintain a certain brand of dysfunction in order to work well, where they'd need to improve all the way to the next local maxima to do as well.

My guess is that the geek social fallacies really reduce to the following: An individual seeks out the nearest local maximum and, knowing that any immediate move will weaken them, will defend that local maximum to secure themselves on it and to prevent any possible threat to that island of tranquility, including any reminders that much greater local maxima may exist. They are an emperor of their sand dune. Some individuals become smarter and go for a better sand dune at the cost of risking their emperorship. Better in the sense of greater abilities, greater stability, greater vision.

I call them sand dunes because they seem to shift. The more a person clings to an achievement, the less likely they are to have any more achievements. It also eliminates the need for the cliche that madness and genius go together. In this model, madness is simply the result of standing still when the sands shift away from under your feet. Genius is likewise simply the result of finding a dune with a really good view.

Of course, there is the question of whether I'm on a sand dune or in a pit of insanity.


I was initially confused by this post until I went and caught up on my theory blog reading. Yes, that is unfortunate, especially because there was a deeper issue in the post about PC member ethics and standard of conduct well worth discussing. (I think this is in the set of recent exchanges to which you refer.)

Another pattern I've seen is this - person posts an entry intended for a group of friends, written in an informal style, and then does not realize that the post is indexed by search engines. Someone else finds it, links to it, and then suddenly the entire profession is showing up in the comments. My impression is that this is more common than a blogger posting something inflammatory in an entry intended for a wide audience, but I haven't run any numbers.

In my case, Lance ended up linking to my humble livejournal fairly early on in its existence. I have to thank him for that - it was a wake up call that yes, other people besides my friends were reading. Now, you're on my friends list, and so you see all the banal every day stuff. (I hope that won't weigh too heavily against me if we actually meet in person!) When writing a public post, though, I'm quite aware of these issues.