Blogging: Scholars, Journalists, and Morons

Dan Drezner recently noted that blogging is going mainstream in academe, with several highly respected academics starting blogs, and wonders why more senior scholars, especially prominent political scientists, don’t join the fray. Eugene Volokh, writing earlier in the week in the NYT, wonders how laws protecting journalists from revealing their sources will apply to bloggers.

This morning, from CNET News, we have the other end of the blogosphere:

MSN bloggers try to foul up censorship tool

MSN Spaces, Microsoft’s new blogging service, has sparked a new game for some of its users: trying to circumvent its censorship controls. BoingBoing, a popular Web log, on Friday reported that MSN Spaces is rejecting certain blog titles or URLs because they contain words that Microsoft has deemed inappropriate. However, like so many censorship tools, Microsoft’s is proving less than perfect. BoingBoing found that all of the most obvious profanities fell foul of Microsoft’s electronic sentries. But the fun started for many users when blogs with tricky titles that resembled innocuous terms–think of a racier version of “tit for tat,” for example–cleared Microsoft’s censorship filters.

Getting a blog with a dirty name past the MSN Spaces controls may be fun, but it also illustrates the tensions between the traditionally free and open world of blogging and the more corporate approach of a software giant like Microsoft. “If you can’t speak freely on a blog, what’s the point of having one?” BoingBoing pointed out.

These tensions are also apparent in Microsoft’s approach to blog content. Unlike rival services such as Blogger, MSN Spaces forces new users to grant Microsoft permission to “use, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, modify, translate and reformat” their blog postings.

While I can understand the amusement value of trying to circumvent MSN’s restrictions once they were discovered, one wonders why so many people actually tried to register a scatological name to begin with?*

In any case, I’m hoping no tenured political scientist from a top 20 university starts a blog with a name so vulgar that Microsoft feels a need to ban it.

Update: Come to think of it, this phenomenon isn’t limited to blogging. Back in my professorial days, I was frequently perplexed by the e-mail addresses some of my students not only chose for themselves but didn’t mind writing down as their “official” one for class use, many of which suggested that the person in question was involved in the prostitution or pornography industries.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Education, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. caltechgirl says:

    It’s not surprising that so many of us in acdemia are blogging. The blogosphere appeals because the system is fundamentally similar to the peer review process that so many of us are familiar with, except that because it’s anonymous, blogging is purer and in most cases fairer as a forum of ideas, since the peer-review system often gets bogged down in politics. Which as any academic knows are more hostile than dems vs reps. It’s also a place to vent your knowledge, which is why we’re in academia in the first place in many cases.

    As for the scatological names, I think the impersonality of the internet lends itself to becoming a forum of sorts for that side of the personality. Because it’s anonymous, people feel like they can express things they would be embarrassed to say in public, and then it becomes more familiar, and it’s no big deal to associate themselves with those names and words. Sensitization is what behavioral scientists call it.

  2. kappiy says:


    I am not sure how you can say that blogging is “fundamentally similar to the peer review process that so many of us are familiar with, except that because it’s anonymous, blogging is purer and in most cases fairer as a forum of ideas.”

    I have no idea what discipline you claim to represent, but blogging is pretty much the EXACT OPPOSITE of the peer review process! I won’t object to the notion that personal and ideological politics seeps into the peer review process, but it is theoretically one that respects anonymnity.

    Furthermore, the reason for peer review is to give independent and knowlegable analysis of someone’s arguments–which is, again, opposite of the blogosphere. On the internet anyone can post practically anything, regardless of how crazy and irrational the argument might be.

    I don’t know many high-profile academics (i.e. those who are respected for their work in their field of study) who spend a lot of time blogging. For one, if you tried to go up for tenure at a top school and pointed to your blog as “scholarship,” you would be laughed out of the room. Serious academics spend most of their time honing arguments strong enough to meet the critieria of quality set by their peers through the review process.

    Many academics take up blogging as a hobby, but it certainly shouldn’t be mistaken as a substitue for scholarship.

  3. IR says:

    This isn’t going to be pretty…but here goes.

    Academe is a appealing word that, basically, reflects a place of teaching (or instruction). When I see the term “respected academics” it means no more to me than “respected plumber” or “respected street line painter.”

    Intelligence and insight is not exclusive to any profession. It, certainly, is no more prominent in the classroom than it is at the local hardware store. Instructors, sometimes, focus on a particular discipline that, I suppose, gives them certain insight in that fastidious area. However, given the choice of participating in intelligent discourse with an Urban Studies Professor from New Haven, Connecticut or a lifetime resident of Hell’s Kitchen, I’ll get my facts from the source, not the pontificator.

    Of course, there are exceptions. In fact, there are exceptions in both extremes. However, merely bestowing a label of learned on a profession, which tends to be losing the battle in their chosen vocation isn’t what I would call pratical.

    There are some many sharp educators residing on the planet. There are many more non-educators that would fit that description as well. That brings up the obvious conclusion.

    Who cares?

  4. McGehee says:

    Furthermore, the reason for peer review is to give independent and knowlegable analysis of someone’s arguments—which is, again, opposite of the blogosphere.

    Speak for yourself.

  5. caltechgirl says:

    McGehee is right. I don’t know what kind of blogging you do, K, but as far as I’m concerned comments are an opportunity to get that analysis and feedback. Sure there are kooks, but there are a lot more knowledgeable folks with interesting things to say. I don’t blog my scholarship, I leave that at work.

    As far as the peer review process, I can name more than ten individual examples of shoddy research that has been published solely because of the past work of the senior author, and even more examples of quality research that has been tanked because the data seems to disagree with the prevailing theory.

    As for scholarship, I never even intimated that blogs equate with scholarship. Journal articles are scholarship. Blogs are an outlet. The NUMBER ONE reason why the top folks aren’t blogging: TIME. They spend so much time writing grants and directing research groups that they don’t have time to drop by the lab to see what their group is doing, let alone help, so it stands to reason that blogging is right out.