Will Blogging Really Keep You out of Academia?

By Kevin

This article asserts that liars, cheats, frauds, boasters, and numbskulls definitely shouldn't blog, basically because they'll give themselves away...

However, it also seems to suggest that honest, patient, thoughtful, decent, careful, and smart people shouldn't be blogging either, since academics on hiring committees believe that "Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum."

Well, that doesn't strike me as persuasive at all. The Chronicle's anti-blogging tale doesn't help me understand how committees fill a professorial job, but it does provide me with a further reason to avoid academia: to avoid a petty "democratic" culture of faux-objectivity.

It had seemed obvious to me that either a candidate is fit to be in the position under consideration or he isn't. And since a long-term blog provides relevant information about the character and personality of the candidate, then the existence of candidate blogs should be a boon for hiring committee who are trying to select a good fit.

In a world of impartial and objective decision-makers, it makes no sense that committees would rather hire somebody who has successfully hidden his personality over somebody whose quirks they know and find acceptable. This is a rather strange preference for uncertainty and risk taking... prefering the devil that you don't know...

So to the extent that the article's writer is successful in warning candidates to avoid blogging, he is making his job, and the jobs of other objective committee members elsewhere, that much harder. Why do this?

Because committee members are NOT objective decision-makers looking for the "best-fit". Decision theorists are in no way worse off for having information provided by blogs. But subjective "my-guy" promoters have a personal incentive to make their guy look as good as possible, regardless of his misfits.

The academic job race isn't a matter of most qualified for the job, but an insider's political game, in which the appearance of a impropriety most likely shared by almost all candidates, is (through some unidentified mechanism) enough to torpedo a candidate. It's like an government election; they all have borderline donations and dealings (the institution makes it so), but some hide it better than others, and you always want to make sure your man has his skeletons in the closet.

Let's say you want to be in academia anyway. Should you, the job candidate, take the author's advice? Should you be worried that your interesting academic-quality blog will hurt your chances of being considered? Actually, the author presents no evidence that a good blog goes against a candidate. And since many other people's blogs are so poorly conceived and executed, yours will stand out as brilliant in comparison.

My advice would be to avoid blogging about one's personal life, coworkers, and family. Blog seriously, sensibly, and thoughtfully. Be reasonable, be accurate, and be willing to admit to being wrong. Being humble at times wouldn't hurt. Refrain from cursing and crude name-calling. And, personally, I'd refrain from politics.


If it weren't a fake experiment creating useless information, I'd say that perhaps last round candidates should be REQUIRED to blog for two weeks....

UPDATE: Dan Drezner agrees:

The default assumption you should make is that the academy has a lot of people who share the Tribble worldview of the blogosphere. I seriously doubt that any amount of reasoned discourse will alter this worldview. So think very, very, very carefully about the costs and benefits of blogging under one's own name.

And Ann Althouse nails it:

Man, these people are just too stupid to be trusted with appointments -- and too timorous to deserve to a university position from which to dribble out the contents of their weak little minds.


Bob wrote:

If I do pursue an academic job when I'm done, I'll have no problem telling them I blog. Blogging gives me an opportunity to actually write something and develope thoughts.

-- July 10, 2005 9:38 PM

Jacqueline wrote:

It has occured to me that I might have to change my name before I can ever get a job. :)

-- July 11, 2005 12:54 AM

Lugo wrote:

Don't talk about your job, your personal life, or politics? Hmmm, what else is there? =)

In academic job searches, they have so many candidates who are for all practical purposes identical - equally highly qualified - that they're looking for reasons to disqualify people and narrow down the search. A blog might well provide them with ammunition that lets them strike you off the list. One careless off-the-cuff comment, and you're gone.

-- July 11, 2005 6:15 AM

Kevin Brancato [TypeKey Profile Page] wrote:


Point well taken; they're separating the wheat from the wheat. The rule will not discriminate between the most entrepreneurial and the greatest fools, but that's not the point.

Still, striking a person off the list because of any "off the cuff" remark could be a solid way to preserve the "objective" formality, but I think that such a rule entirely misuses the plentiful and unique data about candidate quality that blogs make available.

If a person is blogging daily for years, and makes one poor remark, I'd say that's a pretty good record, and that should be in his favor, not against it. After all, everybody makes such remarks on occasion, and the standard of "none", while operational, is not useful for gauging quality.


The only "solution" appears to blog anonymously...

-- July 11, 2005 12:35 PM

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