Dispatch from the Nymwars: Pseudonyms and science

Xeni has been posting here about Google+'s refusal to allow people to set up an account under invented (rather than legal) names. She's been focusing on how this relates to Internet culture, in general, and what it means for Google+ and the people who hoped it might be a better place to be social than Facebook.

I'd like to talk very briefly about what it means for scientists. As a science journalist, I'm kind of a middle person, taking information from scientists and presenting it to the public. Increasingly, though, scientists have found ways to take part in that conversation more directly—something that I think is good for scientists, good for the public, and good for science journalists. And blogging, often pseudonymous blogging, is a big part of that.

Why pseudonymous? That's an interesting question, and it's one that the scientist-bloggers themselves have been answering a lot lately, not only because of the G+ Nymwars, but also because of what's happening at Science Blogs. This blogging network, home to quite a few scientist-bloggers, was recently bought by National Geographic, which decided that bloggers could no longer blog under the pseudonyms they'd been using for years.

Personally, I think there are benefits and detriments to anonymity on the Internet, but there's a big difference between being anonymous and having a pseudonym. I may not know who DrugMonkey is in real life, but I know who DrugMonkey is and I know that he has to be as responsible for everything he writes under that name as I am responsible for what I write as Maggie Koerth-Baker. The difference is that writing is my profession. It's not his. Instead, he has to balance the needs of a profession in laboratory science with the needs of a writing hobby. For people who do that, there are a lot of reasons why pseudonyms make sense. For example:

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Understanding the Nym Wars

Here's a pair of great (JWZ) posts (Kevin Marks) on the Nym Wars, in which Googlers, net users, and sensible people try to convince the G+ team that it's insane to tell people that they must socialize using their "real names," and to then try to adjudicate what a "real name" is. Both link out to the canonical essays produced to date on the subject, such as EFF and boyd, and add a lot of good context.