October 26, 2005

A Note to Fellow Academic Bloggers: Follow Chomsky's Lead

I'm just checking in to let you all know that I am alive. I appreciate the work Howie, See-Dubya, Vinnie, Mike Pechar, Traderrob, Chris Short, Bluto, & the Demosophist have been doing in my absence. It looks like my book project may go a little longer than I anticpated, but only by a couple of weeks. I will be back, so please have patience.

What have I learned from writing this thing? Absolutely nothing. Oh, except, never write a book-length manuscript before submitting chapters to your editor. Trust me on this one.

On another topic, Spoons says goodbye to blogging. Wait, you mean Spoons was a lawyer? I never knew that.

This reminds me of a bit of advice I've been meaning to relay to academic bloggers: follow Chomsky's lead.

Follow Chomsky, you say, why that's an odd bit of advice coming from the Right?

Indeed it is. What I mean by that is you need to separate your academic work from your polemic work. Chomsky, as you may know, is a noted linguist. But, is Chomsky famous because he is a linguist? No. Please name his linguistic theory? He is famous because he is a critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is not an IR specialist nor does he have any training in political science. His tenure at MIT is based on his linguistic work, not on his foreign policy analysis. His foreign policy analysis is basically a polemic shaped by an ideology and world view. It is blogging before the advent of blogs.

If you are an academic blogger, follow Chomsky's lead and do not blog on your field of expertise. This may come as quite a shock to some of my readers, but I am not an IR specialist nor is my academic work related--even peripherally--to the Global War on Terror and Islamofascist ideologies.

In my role as a blogger I am just like you: I am a citizen journalist.

So, note to fellow bloggers in academia: leave the "expert opinions" to the peer reviewed journals. As for your blog, keep it simple, know its limitations, and do not tout your academic credentials in order to give some authority to your pontifications.

As for that last recommendation, do not follow Chomsky's lead. I'm not sure that it's Chomsky's fault that his followers rely on the logical fallacy of resorting to authority when quoting him. You can't say Chomsky's theories are stupid, they say, Chomsky works at MIT. As if the fact that Chomsky works at MIT as a linguist gives his theories on why U.S. foreign policy is (and has always been) bad mmmmmkay, some extra credibility.

The truth is that I started blogging using the name "Dr. Rusty Shackleford" as a joke. Give Dale Gribble a Ph.D. and this is what you get. Only recently have I begun to realize how much faith people put in that "Dr." aspect of my fictional name. Ultimately, the validity of this blog rests not on my education level or my professional activitiy, but on the quality of the posts and the facts or theories presented therein.

I don't post on my academic area of expertise for the very same reason Chomsky does not lecture outside of MIT on his: I know the difference between peer reviewed theories put under academic scrutiny and theories about world politics driven by my ideology. Hopefully, the latter--my opinions about the war on terror--are accurate. What they definitely are not, though, are rigorously thought out analysis in the same manner as my academic work is. None of my posts--as far as I can tell--has ever produced a hypothesis that any one -- as far as I can tell -- has tested.

So, to fellow bloggers in academia remember what your blog is and what it is not. It is a place to post random thoughts and observations. It is a place to stroke your own ego. It is a place to editorialize. It is a place to say inane, meaningless, and occasionally offensive things. It is a place where on a rare occasion you might just get an important point across. However, it is not a place to further your academic career nor is it a place that your credentials have any meaning.

Blogs are the great levellers of our day. Whether auto-mechanic or nuclear physicist, the opinions of both are of equal importance in the blogosphere. Blogs have made Chomskys of us all. And that, believe it or not, is a good thing.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 11:34 AM | Comments |