Friday, March 31, 2006

On using anonymous weblogs as a source of information

There's nothing deep here; don't bother reading this post unless you're allergic to (or overly accepting of) anonymity.

The (chronologically) previous post links to two anti-Doolittle weblogs, both of which are anonymous.
The public health blog Effect Measure is also anonymous, as is The Oil Drum.

Some people are inherently opposed to taking information from anonymous sources; and it's true, you can be more easily misled if you don't know who's doing the talking or what their hidden motives might be.

But you can also be misled if everybody knows who's doing the talking; the speaker will then be less likely to share unwanted truths.

So if you want to get those unwanted truths, you need to allow anonymous input; and, at this stage of the ecosystem at least, and with the ubiquity of linkage (so you can go back to the original source and calibrate the speaker's judgement), blogs, when their contents are inhaled and weighed with care, can be of great value.

Your mileage may differ. But if it does, you might want to think about where you're getting your information from, and how well it's kept you informed.


That being said - I haven't read the two anti-Doolittle blogs enough to vouch for them. So you weigh the info, calibrate it, take it with salt - but you also check out the links, which typically are sourced.

3 comments:

Sadie Lou said...

But you can also be misled if everybody knows who's doing the talking; the speaker will then be less likely to share unwanted truths.

"less likely" because they are afraid of being accountable to the truth?
I can understand if the truth is going to bring them harm but usually, the truth brings honor and respect. Nobody respects anonymous truth because it doesn't bear the same strength as someone coming forward, risking their neck.
Think of all the whistle blowers in the corprate world that lost their jobs to bear the truth--it's just so much more admirable.

Anna said...

Hi Sadie, thanks for your comment.

> usually, the truth brings honor and respect

Sadly, this isn't the case. If enough is at stake, the truth-teller will suffer unless s/he is backed by an institution with clout.
From here (on medical whistleblowers) -
"Whistleblowers have been compared to bees—they have just one sting to use and using it may lead to career suicide. Many of the whistleblowers...said they had experienced retaliation from their employers for raising concerns"

> Think of all the whistle blowers in the corprate world that lost their jobs to bear the truth--it's just so much more admirable.

Absolutely, it is extremely admirable.

But do we as a society benefit, if the only people who are free to speak are those who have nothing to lose (or who are among the tiny minority that's too bullheaded/unthinking/principled to be deterred by the consequent loss)?

I don't think so.

And the whistleblowers do lose; they lose their careers, and they lose (or face attacks to) their reputations, since the most effective counter to the truth is to silence the person speaking it, either directly (with threats or actual retaliation) or indirectly (closing the listeners' ears by smearing the speaker)

Think of what happened to Anita Hill. Think of some of the things that have happened up here, where "might makes right" used to be the rule.

We as a society are better off if truth-telling is something anyone can do, not just "heroes" (aka "martyrs").

Anna said...

p.s. lest we continue talking past each other, as we tend to do -

Tell me whether our society is better informed, if truth-tellers are punished.

I do agree with you, that the person who, in the face of that punishment, stands up and tells the truth anyway, without hiding behind anonymity, is most admirable.

(it's just that I think the interests of society are a more important consideration)