Pseudonyms and anonymity

MGK recently was musing about the case of an anonymous blogger publicly “outed” by another;

“Pseudonymity is great. Blevins explains most of the cogent reasons why he blogged anonymously (not wanting to frighten students, not wanting to have to deal with family issues, not wanting to danger his tenure) and they’re all entirely reasonable…
The problem with pseudonymity is this: it exists only by common compact. This means that, like any other protection provided by commonality, it’s only as good as everybody is willing to let it be. With an essentially infinite audience you will, sooner or later, find somebody who is both willing to fuck your anonymity over and is able to do so.”

This is something I ponder quite a bit, since I will be effectively outing myself at the SkepchickCon in a few weeks.  While quite a few entomologists have solved the mystery of “Who is Bug_girl?”, only one of them has published that conclusion online. Also, quite a few people guess incorrectly, which adds to the whole plausible deniability of the thing :)

At this point, I’ve been online as Bug Girl for 5 years, and it’s too late to try to hide.  My motivations for being anonymous are similar to Blevins’–it’s just easier to try to separate your personal persona from your professional one.

Students and employers do Google your name, and check your Facebook account, and your family does find things out that you might rather they would not (i.e, the big Red A on my side bar, for example.) Even blogging anonymously isn’t good enough when state government is involved. I can’t possibly pretend that I don’t have really strong opinions about….um….well, a lot of things, really.

The problem–which many of my students discover to their dismay–is that in a digital universe with camcorders and cameras in everyone’s pockets, the line between personal and professional is non-existent.

People keep saying that as less of our lives are private, the rules on what is acceptable behavior will be relaxed.

That ain’t happening.

This also combines well with something PZ wrote this week about science communication:

“none of those properties — politics, passion, and personality — are necessarily regarded as virtues in the scientific community. We’re supposed to be dispassionate, aloof, objective, non-partisan, and there’s a prejudice that you’re a lesser man (yeah, it’s also a male bias) if you step away from the illusion of impartiality.”

Scientists are supposed to be objective.  We are supposed to deal with data and nothing else. And that is exactly why science journals are deadly dull, and blogs about science are much more interesting. Blogs are written by people, with opinions.  Journal papers manage to have most of the personality edited right out.

While I don’t think that being able to put things like “This data was the coolest EVAR!11!!” in a journal paper would improve it, I do think that something has been lost when I look at papers from the early 1900s. The excitement of the writers clearly comes through.

Read this letter from Charles Darwin about a visit to an insect collection–he’s clearly delighted and excited. If Chuck’s letter showed up in a blog, would his life have been different?

I totally identify with Darwin in this letter:

“I am dying by inches, from not having any body to talk to about insects:—my only reason for writing, is to remove a heavy weight from my mind, so now you must understand, what you will perceive before you come to the end of this; that I am writing merely for my own pleasure & not your’s”

So I will be in Minneapolis, and I hope to see some of you there.

Let it Blurt!

not a news flash

December 21, 2005

“Yesterday, Magistrate Judge Gorenstein of the federal court for the Southern District of New York issued an opinion permitting the government to use cell site data to track a cell phone’s physical location, without the government having to obtain a search warrant
based on probable cause. ”
More info
Egad.
I also learned today that in addition to the NSA illegally using cookies to monitor site visitors, the White house also does.

This is rather startling, because in a discussion of how robots.txt files work to prevent files from being indexed, someone told me to look at the White House robots file. Pretty darn interesting!!
They basically listed all the directories that had interesting stuff, in order to keep them from being indexed.  D’oh!

In case you want to look:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/robots.txt
and I’m not making that live link on purpose.

Some of them are perplexing:

  • Disalow /911/patriotism/

and some are just stupid:

  • Disallow /president/tee-ball/