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September 28, 2004

Blog motives: ranting recreationally

My day job is interfering with higher cognitive processes. Even in my benumbed state, I can appreciate Steve Gilliard's defense of professionalism and sponsorship in the blogosphere.

In the interest of fairness and balance, I have also included an influential anti-professionalist stance towards blogs and their role in political discourse: Edroso of Alicublog:

"Before blogs," he said, "tendentious cranks such as myself had no outlets for our ill-informed opinions, besides Letters to the Editor and soapbox rants at parties that were winding down. Also we could not count on our reputations as fuckwads to extend much past the physical borders of our respective communities." He broke the seal on a fresh pint of Jim Beam and took a long swig. "But now," he continued, "we can all write Letters to the Editor round the clock, and see them published immediately, unedited and misspelled. And at three in the morning, we can get drunk by ourselves, and vomit forth our prejudices without having to yell ‘hey, where ya goin’?’ at people who suddenly decided they have to get home before the sitter gets nervous. And our names are curses on the lips of people who never even met us. " He raised his bottle grandly. "To technology!" he roared. "All hail the mighty microchip and modem! All hail the --" He looked at me, surprised. "Hey," he said, "who’re you?"

Edit: With a view to explaining the lack of expert bloggers Matt Yglesias jokingly wonders what could motivate academics to blog:

Academics have real jobs and will only perform the great public service of blogging about what they know if they happen to be egomaniacs.

Dan Drezner is not amused. I see Matt's point about the relative dearth of exerpt bloggers. I subscribe to a kind of "drive reduction" model of blogging. Alicublog is another proponent of this model. Real experts probably just have less pent-up expertise to discharge into the blogosphere.


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Added "Fistful of Euro" and their great linklist to my RSS feeds today. Have yet to spend the time exploring all their links to see how many are useful as foreign policy experts. I am not sure I understand Matt's complaint. I think he wants a half-dozen Juan Coles, one for each ME country or something. Fact is there are dozens, if not hundreds of places to get ME information, including several Israeli newspapers. Does he want one or rwo "authoritative" sources?

I play with philosophy, and have visited several sites not on your blogroll. Can you give one or two sites that are the best experts in Philosophy?
Does a question so broad really make sense? We are really only at the beginning, and already the web is too darned big.

Hi, Bob.

If I had to pick just two, I'd say that my favorite expert philosophical bloggers are Brian Weatherson of>Thoughts Arguments and Rants, and Brian Leiter of>The Leiter Reports.

But what good is a rant is no one listens? I think that is why there are so few expert bloggers. I spent about five months - most of it durring a tax season - blogging every opinion to come out of the tax court. I got 3 to 5 hits a day. I figgured there would at least be tax proffesionals interested, but no - my regulars were also tax bloggers. I even emailed serval bigger bloggers my post about case involving the deductiblity of lap dances, but no one was interested. Apparently tax makes even sex boring. My blog did get cited in an article in Tax Notes due to a post on the definition of disability for one code section, which is the hight of my accademic publishing achievements so far. But I eventually gave up because it seemed like a lot of work for just 3 people a day.

I suppose Matt's comment fits into a drive-reduction model as well, given that "egomania' implies a greater drive to express one's opinions.

Either way, it fits into the same basic formula: Blogging occurs when one has more opinions than friends/family/co-workers who want to hear them.

Or it could be that real experts

- Blog furiously but narrowly. For instance Jon Udell ( is a consistent and breathtakingly prolific blogger focused on a narrow, though very useful, slice of computer technology. If you work in the field you've probably heard of him. Otherwise you almost certainly haven't nor, since posts relevant to everyday non-wonks aren't nearly frequent enough to attract the attention of generalists.

- Blog, if at all, whenever something interesting, new, *and* timely comes up, which -- in most fields of expertise -- doesn't necessarily happen all that often. (If an event is new and interesting but not timely they may choose other media than blogs to express themselves.)

- Feel constrained by professional ethics and/or disclosure restrictions and/or common sense from broadcasting their positions in something as guardrails-free as a blog. Consider the hoorah Matt Yglesias got into when Glenn Reynolds chose to misconstrue an offhand remark about the school bombing in Chechnya. A junior fellow at a think tank might think twice before entering the blogging environment under those circumstances despite considerable expertise in that specific area.

So who do you see blogging instead? Tenured professors, semi-employed technical types (like yourself) posting as a hobby on matters outside their current professions, students, egomaniacs, victims of this or that (e.g. celiac disease or, significantly, insomnia), sponsored journalists, columnists, and pundits, the retired, the independently wealthy, and teenagers.

Not necessarily a bad thing from the supply side as blogging seems ideal for amateurs in the original sense of the term. But disappointing from the consumption side as we'd all like to see more expert input and less barstool fulmination.

I thank you for your comment.

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