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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 20, 2008

Anonymity?

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Posted by Derek

I see that “Kyle Finchsigmate” over at The Chem Blog is having some problems maintaining his pseudonymity at his own institution:

” I’m still befuddled why people walk up to me in the hall and talk to me about it. It’s more irritating than you can imagine. I feel like people treat me differently when they find out. . .

It has also become a liability and I’m not in the mood to juggle liabilities. Faculty and students around here have too much time on their hands to deeply contemplate the idiotic musings of a graduate student and it has handicapped me considerably. . .”

I’m not surprised. He’s given out enough details over the course of his blog for someone at his own school to figure out who he is without too much trouble, and I suspect that his distinctive habits of speech carry over into daily life as well. I enjoy some of his posts, but others (as I said about Dylan Stiles's blog) just serve to confirm for me that I am not, in fact, 25 years old.

I very briefly considered going anonymous back in 2002 when I started blogging, but realized that anyone who really wanted to would be able to do the same to me eventually. My writing isn’t as full of copulating inanimate objects as Kyle’s, but it’s also my own, and it’s also recognizable. (And if it’s not your vocabulary that’ll give you away, then it’s your opinions and your outlook).

I also figured that, one way or another, I’d like to be able to take credit for what I wrote. I lost the chance for some anonymous satire and griping by going the public route, but that’s just the sort of thing that would have caused even more trouble if (when) it was eventually traced back to me. So public disclosure it was. It’s worked out well, and I’ve never regretted it.

But I’m very glad that there were no blogging opportunities when I was a grad student. I had an awful lot to get off my chest about my grad school experience, and the opportunity to do it would have been hard to pass up. Sorrow would have been the only possible result. Actually, I’m just glad that there was no Web, period, when I was in grad school, since there’s no telling how long it would have taken me to get out of there if I’d that distraction constantly available.

So a word of warning for those of you thinking of starting a pseudonymous site: you’re heading toward a contradiction. If you’re doing so because you’re going to say things that you can’t say under your own name, you raise the chances considerably of eventually finding them there. And since the internet, for all practical purposes, Is Forever, your opinions and actions will follow you around whether you want them to or not.

Comments (16) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping


COMMENTS

1. such.ire on March 20, 2008 8:25 AM writes...

I blog under a pseudonym not because I want to talk about stuff I normally wouldn't under my real name, but because I wouldn't be allowed the privilege of blogging at all if it were to be public knowledge in my department. What I hope is that eventually, as I build content, people in my department who find my blog will see that it contains nothing objectionable and so leave me alone.

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2. S Silverstein on March 20, 2008 10:11 AM writes...

As the field of Social Informatics predicts, any new ICT (information & communication technology) will have unexpected effects.

Consider the Web and blogging as new ICT's.

These ICT's take away the ability of the powerful to "control the narrative" and therefore frighten them.

However, they will need to get used to it, as John Kerry and Dan Rather found out, for example.

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3. Rich Apodaca on March 20, 2008 10:18 AM writes...

Couldn't agree more.

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4. anonymityonous on March 20, 2008 10:21 AM writes...

Derek, having met Kyle two times, I can assure you that his 'distinctive style of speech' does not at all carry over into real life. Completely not at all in fact. During those two times that I had a chance to talk to him at least. I would say that he sounds in real life a bit like you do on this blog, but my sampling size may have been a little small.

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5. Kent G. Budge on March 20, 2008 1:37 PM writes...

"I very briefly considered going anonymous back in 2002 when I started blogging, but realized that anyone who really wanted to would be able to do the same to me eventually."

I blog and comment under my real name primarily to keep myself civil. I get careless when I'm under the delusion that there are no consequences to shooting off my mouth.

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6. Maxwell's Demoness on March 20, 2008 2:07 PM writes...

I wrestled with this issue a lot when I started my blog a couple of weeks ago. For me, the issue is not so much that I want to hide my identity or say bad things about others, but that I am painfully shy. Especially when it comes to things that I am insecure about, such as finding my writing *voice*. I deliberately put some hints up that would out me to a determined investigator, or anyone in my department. I hope that this will help remind me that I am not really *anonymous* so that one day when I find the moxie I can out myself. I really appreciate the advice and the warning but for now I choose to remain semi-anonymous.

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7. Brooks Moses on March 20, 2008 3:12 PM writes...

I found that LiveJournal's "friendslock" feature (which allows one to make posts that only certain people can see, and the general public cannot) was useful for the sorts of "getting things off my chest" posts that I might want to make about my grad-school career....

Thus, I've got a public blog (see link) that holds stuff I want to talk about to people who don't know me, and a private LJ one for angst and meaningless blither and suchlike.

And I haven't really written much in either lately; silly work keeps being a distraction! :)

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8. Deepak on March 20, 2008 5:05 PM writes...

When I started blogging, a conscious decision was made to stay open and public. Yes, that means there are things that I can't blog about, but there is much to be said about transparency and having our own identity associated with your words. Given a choice, stay out in the open. In the long run it's a big plus.

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9. RKN on March 20, 2008 5:33 PM writes...

Good for you.

I've been talking on and off over the Internet for over ~15 years, first USENET and now mostly blogs, and all that time I've never even considered erecting an e-persona for myself. A point in Rich's link (#3) rings true - being yourself tends to keep you honest.

Back in the pre-blog days of USENET just posting under your real name didn't reveal that much about you anyway; after all what's in a name? Nowadays people can know more about you if they care to dig, but so what? I guess the concern might be the wacko outlier who might have it in for you, but then you won't remain anonymous very long if they try hard enough to uncover your identity - where you live, work, etc.

If people follow my link they'll complain I'm a liar, but that really is my Airedale blogging, seriously! (Tho truth be told he does channel me pretty often)

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10. Pharma Giles on March 20, 2008 6:19 PM writes...

What an interesting post. I'm a serial offender when it comes to the crimes of anonymous satire and griping. Why, I've even bearded this esteemed organ...

But I blog anonymously for one principle reason. It's simply to protect "those I left behind."

I quit the industry years ago of my own free will, but I have no doubt that the full force of its corporate spitefulness would be directed at any employee who was known to be associated with me in the past, irrespective of whether of not they actually send me the corporate snippets I sometimes make use of.

Although what I write is mostly harmless fluff (and probably largely unfunny to the "serious-minded"), I know for a fact that there are one or two quite senior corporate types out there who have really gotten quite cross with me.

I don't want my friends, past and present, to suffer because of my perverse sense of humour and their boss's petty spitefulness. Guilt by association with a recidivist like me would be more than enough to terminate some long careers. Big Pharma HR doesn't need stuff like actual proof of wrong-doing in these times of downsizing, believe me.

As for my opinions following me around, well, I can afford the company. But your words of warning to others not in my fortunate position are quite wise.

Best wishes and oh, by the way, this is a GREAT blog. Just a bit "cheerleaderish" for my tastes sometimes. But I really do appreciate your reasons for that.

Giles...

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11. psi*psi on March 20, 2008 7:46 PM writes...

A lot of anonymous blogs seem to be of a more personal sort. If they suck, usually no one cares enough to read them, much less out the owner. If they're worth reading, they stand a greater chance of being found out just because they've attracted some attention.
Having been completely anonymous at first and then later going as far as to put a Facebook profile link on CBC, I have to say I like not hiding behind a pseudonym. Most of our posts aren't really controversial anyway--a lot of actual science content and a lot of fluff, neither of which should reflect too badly on us. I didn't bother listing my real name at first because no one would have known who I was anyway--an undergrad in a smallish department? Couldn't be more of a nobody!

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12. milkshake on March 20, 2008 8:57 PM writes...

It is a general rule that things you should not say publically in person you should not say anonymously in your blog either.

It also depends on the boss you have - if he is a pompous insecure cretin (or one of his superiors is) he is likely to object when he finds out. This is more typical in industry where the top layer are usually non-scientific people and cover-my-tight-ass is their way of reacting to any potential problem.

Also grad students are more vulnerable. First, their slave-driving group boss finding that "they have too much time on their hands" when their work just happens to be stuck on a problem (which is like 80% of the time on a normal project). Second, a student who wants to graduate and get a good endorsement will do himself no favor by diving into high-profile controversies in academic comunity - especially those that involve their own department. (There is the "who are you to to comment on this publically" attitude and also the fear of being embarassed in the academic community by one of your own students writing gauche stuff)

And if you complain about your current workplace and colleagues you not only risk being found out (and have your balls frozen in Carbonite) because those specifics gave you away - but you will also come across as a bitchy ass.

It is best not to advertise yourself and attract high-profile attention (to your affiliation with a great school, company, institute) but you should expect to be identified by your colleagues eventually - so if you cannot say anything nice about them, don't.

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13. Great Molecular Crapshoot on March 21, 2008 7:28 AM writes...

Some of those featured in The Crapshoot may well be reviewing my own journal submissions in the future. They will be doing that anonymously and will not be accountable.

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14. Great Molecular Crapshoot on March 21, 2008 7:28 AM writes...

Some of those featured in The Crapshoot may well be reviewing my own journal submissions in the future. They will be doing that anonymously and will not be accountable.

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15. Michael Tinkler on March 22, 2008 1:32 PM writes...

I was careless when I started out - I wasn't really trying to be anonymous, just funny. Then I realized I wasn't anonymous at all.

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16. anon on March 24, 2008 4:33 PM writes...

I post anonymously (rather than blog) 'cos: (1) I know it's pseudo anonymous (corante has my IP); (2) I want to take full advantage of dialectic argument; (3) what's wrong with being a node-in-the-noosphere (as the Jesuit chap put it)?

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