Why I blog under a pseudonym

Having a blog isn’t a particularly novel hobby. Almost everyone seems to have one, especially on Twitter, but writing a blog under a pseudonym is relatively rare (at least in the circles I move in). There are the three neuroscience giants: Neurocritic[note]Though Neurocritic revealed her identity in a recent and moving blog post I’m still including her in the ‘operating under a pseudonym’ category.[/note], Neuroskeptic, and NeuroBollocks, as well as Slate Star Codex working behind a pseudonym but apart from those there aren’t many.

Why do they write under a pseudonym? Neuroskeptic interviewed the Neurocritic, as well as Neurobonkers and Dr Primestein, for a blog post asking that question. Their answers focused on the ability to critique work without fear of retaliation or souring professional relations. Are my reasons for doing so different? Yes and no. There are three reasons why I blog under a pseudonym.

1) Being judged by the quality (or lack thereof) of my writing, not who I am.

When I first started writing this blog I was early in my career as a scientist. Consequently, I didn’t know much. But I didn’t want people seeing how little experience I had and dismissing my work out of hand because I was young[note]Whether they actually would have or not we will never know, but that was my fear.[/note]. So the best way for me to overcome this worry was to write under a pseudonym, so the main determinant of a person’s evaluation of my work was the work itself, not who I was or was not. I could therefore (hopefully) build up a reputation as someone who wrote interesting and informative things.

I also feel more confident writing about scientific papers and concepts outside my immediate area of study when I am not writing it from my personal perspective. Then my self doubts about my understanding of the topic come to the fore. I sometimes question whether I have understood it well enough for me to make a meaningful contribution. That might be related to my feelings of inferiority when I compare myself to other writers[note]Though of course I’m not going to write as eloquently or be as informed as someone who has been writing and learning for much longer than I have. So perhaps I’m being too harsh on myself.[/note]. A slightly cynical reason is if I make a huge and/or embarrassing mistake, it won’t reflect badly on me as a person (except for the few whom I’ve revealed my identity to[note]Some of you may be confused as to why I’m talking about giving my real name to some when I’ve already “revealed” it on Facebook by having an account. That’s because “Jamie Macintosh” is another pseudonym I use, though only for Facebook.[/note]).

2) Copying Neurocritic and NeuroSkeptic.

The first scientific blog I ever read was the Neurocritic and the second was Neuroskeptic. These two had an enormous influence on what I wrote about and how I did so. They take complex ideas and papers and make them easier to understand. They cover a wide breadth of topics. I wanted to emulate that. Even my pseudonym is an ersatz of theirs for psychology, as I use the prefix for my field as the beginning of my name[note]Though at least the use of the word “brief” to refer to both the noun “brief” for “short” and the verb “briefing” for “inform” is my idea.[/note]. So I owe a lot to them as writers and scientists and I’m grateful for the example they set.

3) The appeal of anonymity.

A less substantive reason is my sheer enjoyment of the idea that people don’t know who I am. I like the idea of creating this persona and interacting with others, most of whom don’t know my identity. You could make the argument this is about an unfair power dynamic in the interaction but I don’t think it’s as Machiavellian as that. I’m not trying to deceive anyone, as Neuroskeptic has pointed out when defending his use of a pseudonym. It’s more a bit of fun and an attempt to do something differently to others. I also like the use of anonymity in literature and films if that’s worth anything.

So for the one person who was curious, this is my explanation for why I write under a fake name. I’ve had one instance where someone has expressed concern at my use of a fake name, but overall it’s been a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. I’d recommend everyone to start blogging, though whether you use a pseudonym or not is up to you.

Note

The comments I made in my reason make me sound like a very shy character lacking in confidence, when I’m genuinely not. I’d argue I have occasional experiences of Impostor Syndrome, but then who doesn’t?

References

Neurocritic. (2018). I should have done this by now…. Available at: http://neurocritic.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/i-should-have-done-this-by-now.html

Neuroskeptic. (2016). Pseudonyms in Science: Neuroskeptic speaks to Neurocritic, Dr Primestein and Neurobonkers. Available at: http://blogs.plos.org/scicomm/2016/03/21/pseudonyms-in-science-neuroskeptic-speaks-to-neurocritic-dr-primestein-and-neurobonkers/

Neuroskeptic. (2016). Am I an unethical pseudonym. Available at: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2016/11/10/8324/#.Wp0R8qjFIdV

Watkins, H. (2018). Nuts and Bolts. Available at: https://myscholarlygoop.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/nuts-and-bolts/

4 responses to “Why I blog under a pseudonym”

  1. Cool! I was one of the curious ones, and this answers it. I’ve also considered anonymity when setting up blogs, for many of the reasons you mention – but my desire for “recognition” (broadly, and hopefully not obnoxiously, speaking) has so far won out, so, I’m still me online too.

    Like

    1. I’m glad it answers your question. Your point about recognition is very valid and probably the main reason why I would consider dropping the pseudonym. My reasoning is I can tell someone in person if I want to reveal my identity. If I feel it would benefit an application I’m making to something science related I could mention I curate this blog. So there are mechanisms to gaining recognition whilst maintaining my pseudonmity.

      Like

  2. Thank you, I’m always pleased when people are influenced by my blog. You nicely outline some of the reasons to blog under a pseudonym. It makes sense that early career researchers would be concerned about reputation or reprisal from more senior investigators. I didn’t have that excuse when I started my blog, as I was already middle-aged. For me, it was following the principles of anonymous peer review.

    I appreciate your reason #3, as I have toyed with identity(s) that weren’t mine. There was a genre-specific meta-derivativeness of false identities, which I always thought was fun (and rarely detected).

    Like

    1. Not at all, thanks for writing. When I first started my blog I wasn’t particularly concerned/aware of the potential for negative backlash. Others have experienced this push back, though thankfully it’s rare. But as I’ve been running this site I’m grateful I do have that protection, even if it hasn’t been needed yet. The link to peer review makes a lot of sense, because often these blog posts are a form of peer review. Haha thanks, yes part of the appeal is that it is genuinely fun to use a pseudonym!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: