[Annotation in BOLD were made following comments on twitter, and below]
Many tweeters and bloggers are anonymous. [Several people have pointed out that what I really mean is pseudonymous, e.g., Acclimatrix below. This is correct! And I am not talking about, e.g., anonymous manuscript review.] An exchange today (18 November 2013) on twitter between @vinwalsh (who is Professor Vincent Walsh, UCL), and @neurobollocks (who is, erm, neurobollocks), regarding the appropriateness (or not) of anonymity, prompted me to write my 2 pence about the subject.
This is because I started thinking about this issue when one anonymous tweeter – whose tweets I admire – let out enough information for me to know that they were in my circle of friends – so they know me, and who I am on internet and in real life. But I cannot know who they are. Furthermore, they were planning to be at (at least) two parties/socials at the Society for Neuroscience conference, where I was planning to be — yet I didn’t know who they were! I guess felt a bit frustrated, or at the very least, that it was a lost opportunity.
The feeling was compounded when I went to the #SFNbanter party, and the first thing that happened was someone told me to take my name badge off. So, no real-name badges allowed, and no badges with twitter handles either. In other words, it was very difficult to meet any of the people who I know on twitter – anonymous or otherwise. [But importantly, it turns out there was actually NO official no-badge policy at #SFNbanter! And I want it to be clear: I did meet some people, and had great time.]
So I did what I always do when I have a question about the internet: I talked to Baxter (that’s Professor Mark Baxter, Mount Sinai, @markgbaxter). Profs like me, Baxter (and, I am guessing, Vince) are at a point where we care a lot less than we used to about what people think of us. It is one of the great joys of getting older. We’re at a stage at which we can afford to say what we think (well, more or less).
But undergrads, PhD students, even post-docs, are battling fierce competition for their next position every few years. They can’t afford to make enemies. So I can see why they might feel the need to be anonymous, in order to be healthily sceptical and constructively critical, as every scientist should be … but with (relative) impunity.
The downside to that approach, however, is this: I’ve encountered young (I presume) tweeters/bloggers in my area whose thoughts, writing and attitude impress me greatly. If I had a position going, or knew of someone with such a position going, I’d contact them/ recommend them immediately. Problem is … they’re anonymous. Another missed opportunity.
So in a way, with anonymity, something is definitely lost. I don’t have a wide-ranging solution for this problem, of course. And I can’t change people; all I can do is ask what I might be able to do differently. What I come up with is probably pie-in-the-sky, but maybe what us PIs need to do is work on our egos such that we don’t make it personal, and hold grudges, when someone merely disagrees with us. As long as they’re not rude about it. Then maybe young people won’t be so scared to be themselves.
I did say it was pie-in-the-sky.
So to summarise, I guess I understand why a young scientist might feel the need to be anonymous.
But, if you’re a Prof using a pseudonym – dude, sort yourself out. [By this I meant ‘Prof’ as it is used in the U.K., to mean the final career stage (i.e., not N.A. Assistant or Associate Prof). So this a mild jokey-poke at my Prof colleagues. It’s been pointed out, though, that there are very good reasons anyone might choose to be pseudonymous — see, e.g., Zen Faulkes’ comment below.]