Why the Pseudonym?

It seems that Jerry Coyne has banned me from commenting at his Why Evolution is True website (see how civil I am? I didn’t even call it a “blog”) because I am criticizing his arguments on my own blog under a pseudonym. He’s just published a couple new “roolz” that make this a bannable offense.

I’ve written to Coyne to reveal my alter ego — not so much because I want to be able to post comments at his site (indeed, I didn’t ask to have the ban lifted, and if I were allowed to post over there I don’t know whether I’d do it under my pseudonym or my real name) — but because I figure if he wants to know who I am, that’s fine with me.

So why do I blog under a pseudonym if it isn’t to be able to hide from web-site-authors (or bloggers, as the case may be) after I tell them that they don’t understand, e.g., compatibilism?

Truth to be told, I’ve toyed with the idea of just listing my real name many times, and might well do so. But here are the considerations that have led me to put it off:

1) I don’t have tenure. It’s very unlikely that the blogging (and blog commenting, which is more what I do) would make any difference, but should an internet dust-up of any sort lead to my losing my job, I would be very very unhappy. Again, I seriously doubt this would happen, but why run the risk?

2) I also find this unlikely in my case, but blogging under one’s own name opens up the possibility of real-world harassment. See, for example, Orac’s post on the topic. I doubt I have much to worry about, but why run the risk (especially when there’s also my family to consider)? In the old days, they told us to never use our real names online.

3) I worry a bit about my students (and/or their parents) reading when I take strong positions on politics, religion, and so on. I think there’s something to be said for keeping my role as educator separate from my online opinionating.

4) Less significant still, but having my family and friends knowing my opinions on political and religious matters could also occasionally lead to some unwanted friction.

5) Here’s the big one for me at the moment: When I’m writing online, I’m goofing off.

Pseudonymity means that I don’t have to worry about making stupid mistakes, about proof-reading what I write, and so on. When I do comment online under my own name, I’m more cautious. Someone like Coyne would probably argue that this is exactly why I should connect my writing with my name, but my point is that blogging (and commenting) is — for me at least — supposed to be a break from real writing where I’m working hard to make sure I don’t make mistakes.

Further, I’ve seen students putting up blog posts when they’re supposed to be writing papers for my class. I’m also conscious about how students might react when they see me blogging when I’ve promised them I’ll get them comments on their paper by yesterday, or an editor who sees me posting this up when they know I’m supposed to get that paper to them by Monday (I’m working on it, really!!), or a Dean who wonders why I’m complaining about having to do so much service to the University when I obviously have time to be goofing off online, and so on.

None of these reasons is completely decisive, but that’s what motivates me.

I’m toying with the idea of “coming out” when my book is finally published, since this could be a good page for discussing and advertising a book on physicalism. We’ll see.

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5 responses to “Why the Pseudonym?

  1. Hi Physicalist. I’m new to blogging, and I’m an academic. I have tenure, but the rest of you comments are germaine. Thus far, other than grad students, students haven’t found me. Also, although I’m very political, I’m planning on staying clear of politics. My biggest fear: my awful writing, spelling and proof reading abilities will be embarrassing. My policies are evolving, and your thoughts are helpful.

    • You’re new to blogging and you’ve already made Ed Yong’s Missing Links (the best round up of science links on the internet)? Congratulations; you’re obviously doing something right.

      I’ve added your blog to Google reader (which isn’t long for this world); I look forward to following your writing. Best of luck.

  2. Pingback: Now Jerry wants to understand compatibilism? | Physicalism

  3. It looks as if I have joined you on Jerry Coyne’s banned list. My last two posts to his blog just silently disappeared.

    I can’t think of anything I have posted that would be so offensive as to suggest that banning was appropriate.

    Note that I am not losing any sleep over this, though I do think it says something about Jerry.

    • Welcome to the club. Yes, Jerry does seem remarkably thin-skinned.

      It’s all the more surprising in that he continually posts questions for compatibilists, and then bans us when we try to lay our our position in a clear and forceful way. (My offense was taking his exact words and substituting “biologist” for “philosopher” and “species” for “freedom”. You’d think think turn-about would be fair play.)

      Pretty soon he’ll have gotten rid of everyone whose position differs from his own. He may think that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t.

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