Blogging Doubts

I continue to have doubts about whether to blog.  As I explained in February, my main doubt is whether this will accumulate:

A newspaper or magazine article will be read by thousands, while one is lucky if ten people read an academic paper.  So if you want influence, write for the popular media, right?  Well, those thousands of newspaper readers will soon forget everything you said, but a few academic readers may well write papers influenced by your paper.  People almost never look up ten year old newspaper columns, but they do often read ten year old academic papers.  So an academic paper may still have a better chance at long term influence than a newspaper column.

Yes, we get over a thousand readers a day here, and those readers must be influenced somehow.  But do those influences add up to a long term net effect?

Consider that before the farming revolution humanity’s knowledge accumulated very slowly.  Each person learned a great deal over the course of his lifetime, both by discovering new insights for himself and by listening to others.  Nevertheless, the distribution of knowledge in the population hardly changed; each new generation had to rediscover and relearn the same insights all over again.

So the fact that each blogger and reader today feels like he is slowly gaining insight does not mean we are part of a process by which humanity accumulates insight.  We could just each be relearning and re-expressing what many of our ancestors knew.  Of course parts of academia may also fall victim to the same syndrome.  But it seems that at least some parts of academia do manage to accumulate insight via modularity.  As I said:

A key difference is that academics organize into a network of specialists with social norms requiring them to cite related previous work, and to situate their publications so that they can be found by others working on similar topics.

The joy of blogging for me is taking just an hour to pen and distribute an apparently powerful insight.  But this joy is illusory if my insights never join a process of accumulation where others build on my insights and integrate them effectively into a larger body of thought.  If I’m mainly the equivalent of a newspaper columnist, rather than a part of a community of modular thinkers, this is to me a waste. 

So, given that these are my goals and concerns, should I quit blogging in favor of more traditional academic publications?

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,
Trackback URL:
  • Last One Left

    This is not an all-or-nothing situation. If, indeed, the academic world looks upon blog posts unfavorably and acedemic papers favorably, and you wish to influence the academia with certain insights, it makes sense to write academic papers. However, blogs serve an entirely different purpose for they are neither as formal nor necessarily as well-researched as an academic paper.

    Why not do both? Use your blog to throw out ideas and see what sticks. It can also serve to organize your thoughts and provide material for any future papers. Commenters here may also provide insight. You can then work on academic papers if and when you feel the subject is worth it. Perhaps you can begin by evaluating blog posts in academic research.

  • ezwrites

    Robin, Please continue blogging. Not only do I personally enjoy reading it every day, but I can tell you honestly that many of your posts have actually changed the way I think about and live my life. I am not an academic, and were I ever to read an academic paper you wrote I would probably not understand it. I cannot speak to your accumulation point with any expertise, but is it not possible that bringing these ideas into the consciousness of the masses will speed up accumulation?

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    The quality of direct communication by experts to the world is enhancing the global discourse in my opinion. Blogs and podcasts by experts have functionally replaced NPR and the New York Times for much of my reading. For example, I recommend the academic blogs wiki, and podfeed.net, for some excellent blogs and podcasts.

    Robin, you’ll have to make your own evaluation about if the time you spend blogging is better spent working on academic papers. For some academics and experts, that may be the case. But I think it would be a strong net loss if all experts and academics stopped blogging. Although perhaps we can look at more efficient ways to quickly get their ideas, insights, and speculation onto the publicly accessible internet that requiring them to take the time to write and maintain a blog of overcomingbias quality.

    For example, you could save a lot of time if you just moblogged by calling a phone # every time you had an insight, leaving it as a voicemail, and then having that automatically transcribed and blogged. Less effort, quicker results, and collective benefit retained.

  • Carl Collins

    I am not an academic and without searchable content would never have entered into the tightly modular field of speciality in which you operate. Now if the academic articles produced by your circle of peers were as approachable as this blog (which I must say is a rare sight) and available online and searchable (i.e. not in PDF) then that could also do something for widening accumulation.

    It comes down to metrics of utility, doesn’t it? Does the time spent blogging have any value to you? How much do you value the effect it has on others (who are most likely not your peer group)? Do you, through web analytics, have a good measure of how many people are visiting or are subscribed to this blog?

    I will remember what you have to say (and have shared it with several others) and have also begun to take the time to go back through older posts that still remain. If they were in an academic paper, trapped in a PDF, I would most likely never have encountered the ideas, nor had the opportunity to ponder them, discuss them, or try and apply them to my own life.

  • stuart

    Asking your blog readers this question is not a good way of avoiding bias. We read you because we like your blog.

    I agree with last one left, it isn’t an all or nothing question. Blogging can help form links with people you wouldn’t meet, expose you to new ideas or even just add variety to your thinking to avoid getting in a rut.

    As older academics retire, surely academia will change to take advantage of opportunity afforded by the internet and other new technology. We may not know exactly how, but forums like this are pert of the trial and error process of finding out.

    Personally, this forum has changed the way I think about things and my views on some emotive subjects (politics, religion) have softened.

  • http://jewishatheist.blogspot.com JewishAtheist

    Perhaps blogging will improve the influence of your insights outside of your field. Whereas I expect your papers are read only by academics in the same and perhaps related fields, just about anybody might read or at least skim your blog.

  • http://www.midasoracle.org/ Chris Masse

    Hi there,

    Here’s a relevant text from Jakob Nielsen, who is the world’s #1 Internet usability expert. Even though I don’t agree 100% with him, it would be interesting for Robin Hanson and all the others to read it:

    Write Articles, Not Blog Postings (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)
    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/articles-not-blogs.html

  • Nick Tarleton

    This blog is definitely having a long-term net effect on me.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    I seem to have failed to communicate, as all these comments seem to have missed the point. Yes, blog posts can influence people, but the question is whether that influence feeds back much into more related intellectual insights that accumulate over the long run.

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    Accumulation is hard. I think most people treat blogs as newspapers rather than something permanent. Commenting on a year-old blog post is seen as odd. If you post about a year-old post that you just saw (or have been considering for a while), people will wonder why you are suddenly talking about yesterday’s news.

    That is probably the word I am looking for: news. Most of us use blogs the way we use the news. The news is ephemeral. It is only of interest when it is new.

    Then again, much academic publication is little more than waste paper. Sturgeon’s Revelation applies, so we should not be surprised if everyone instantly forgets 90% of the blogging they have seen. We are starting to see blog posts in academic citations. People are likely to remember and be influenced by posts even if they mentally classify blogs in the same category as TV news. “Small steps toward a much better world.”

    Treasure Overcoming Bias though I do, it will not accomplish the same things that academic publishing does. It seems like a good sounding board. It will give a broader exposure to many ideas. You may want to look into second order effects: how do these ideas spread? If you have a thousand readers a day, and you get links from sites that each have a thousand readers a day, and so on, you have many more chances for something to stick.

    This will not push the peak of the pyramid much higher, but it will broaden the base.

  • Andy

    I am trying to understand the position and function of Bloging compared to say a forum. I find a Blog rather one sided with the author on one side and the readers on the other. One person dictates the content and direction to some extent. I find this potentially damaging, as even with academic papers there can be an equal retort, not so for a Blog. It is closer to a lecture, and further from peers. Fine if the audience is students, not so fine for a dialogue between equals; for that a forum is perhaps better suited.

  • Garth Wood

    The genius of the ‘and’ rather than the tyranny of the ‘or.’

    ‘Nuff said.

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    Hmm, that was cross-posting, as Robin’s last comment had not appeared when I started typing. I think the comment is still germane.

    Are influencing and accumulation exclusive? I would think that the more people who are influenced by the ideas, the more likely it is that one of them will have something to add to it. It seems easier to get people working on ideas for which there is a large, receptive audience. The question is also how much accumulation is likely to arise from this relative to other options; it would be easy for a professor to overestimate the importance of academic publications in the accumulation of knowledge.

  • Graeme

    Another reader who loves this blog (and has a PhD).

    The answer is ‘interdisplinary benefits’. Many people will read a blog in area outside their own niche and take the ideas and apply them in their own field or introduce them to their own field. That process takes time, of course. And many of these readers may be lurkers on this blog, like me.

    Of course this happens too in traditional academic publishing, but with glacial speed. How many people read journals outside their niche?

    Further, it’s a way of opening up your field to the common man, in a way that traditional journals frankly do not allow. And a way of allowing more informal (and … enjoyable?) prose to be used where traditional journals have crushed the life and personality out of writing.

    I hope that academic blogs will encourage a new style of interdisciplinary study, and a proliferation of academic generalists and ‘amateur scientists’.

    I do hope you choose to continue. I love coming here for my daily lesson/reminder about bias in science/humanity.

    G

  • mobile

    You can get your blog to accumulate by including lots of links to earlier posts on similar topics.

  • Plinius

    The best feature of a blog is that old posts are tagged and sorted into categories. I’ve used those to search for old posts on CafeHayek for instance, and over here too. I think the more thought is put into organizing the old posts the better, maybe with an index table that shows various connections.

  • Plinius
  • edward barker

    Im biased as i love this blog, but …Academics are likely to read your blog posts to keep up, but most other readers might not get access to your papers or could feel put off by academic papers, so on balance blogging is the way forward. Blogs can also test out ideas that can be developed more fully in papers?

  • Stuart Armstrong

    So, given that these are my goals and concerns, should I quit blogging in favor of more traditional academic publications?

    I, for one, would find my world and my ambitions very impovrished if this blog didn’t exist. And I’m working towards taking part in this academic world you speak of.

    On a less personal note, this blog (which is to a large extent your blog) fills a niche that few other blogs or academic papers do. What other blog is like it? On top of that it’s an important niche, and one that is hard work to fill. I feel you make more marginal difference here than in your academic publications.

    So keep blogging!

  • Stanfo

    There are definitely many positive externalities to helping people think and reason more clearly, and to think more precisely. Thats the utilitarian argument anyway.

    But, in all honesty, in this area of expertise you are irreplacible, one-of-a-kind, and necessary. Imagine of N. Taleb took it upon himself to help overcome bias… Scary stuff. He seems to get more enjoyment out of pointing out our flaws

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Hanson, I think that blogs feed back into further efforts along the same direction, but only over a time scale comparable to what it takes to build academic papers on academic papers. The chance of someone building upon a given academic paper is higher because there are rewards for publishing Yet Another Paper. But you expose many more readers to the blog posts.

    I would guess that the blog posts have more impact for nontechnical topics. If you want advanced work done on Aumann agreement, write the paper first, publish it in a journal, then blog it to give it more exposure.

  • http://AReasonableMan.com Gil

    Physical newspaper articles get thrown away, but blog posts live forever, and are more likely to actually get read than academic publications because they are shorter and easier to absorb.

    As long as you maintain your professional reputation, I think your blog posts will come up and influence the research of future academics.

    So, I say do both if you can. As others have said, blogging has other benefits (including helping yourself to clarify and improve your own ideas, making contacts, etc.)

  • Ryan Daza

    compounding knowledge is interesting; though explicit to me, implicit for you, then implicit for me if it carries. If you gain any utility out of it you would not know that it originally came from you. If your knowledge is growing and assuming we are carry on the shoulders of others, it is working with the possibly an “old” you below but now with the possibility of “better.” It is king of like culture evolving. Take numbers for example: India to Arabs to Europe and refined back to the Arab world (that is why they write from right to left but write numbers from left to right). The pattern was not linear. I’m not saying blogging is the same or will invent something as important as this but can we theorize or assume, ceterus paribus, knowledge compounds and is not linear?

    I just came from Caplan’s book presentation from CATO (here in DC). I learned what I know from blogs. This is not a news source. Going to a news site would just be as easy. I go to Econ blogs to develop knowledge, ie: garner tools for critical thinking. Comments from the “top” dogs in econ and recipients of JB Clark awards saying they are not mainstream and stick their neck out to dissent show that economics is not much a cult or generally dogmatic. Newspapers generally have biases. I read the paper for gossip and general events. THis is not a reason i visit Overcoming Bias, ect. Understanding voter biases allows me to understand a conjecture or anecdote and articulate it to others. Lets say now I will not vote if I do not have enough information or if it is too expensive; also I will never participate in Get-out-the-vote campaigns which use false civil guilt to motivate biased voters (since the target of course is to get voters that patronize your candidate). Empirical relevance of accumulation: avoidance of systematic error when voting. This accumulates every time I get to vote (not much in DC). Otherwise, we can assume it by the previous theory.

  • Richard Pointer

    I am a grad student. Before this blog, I was confused about where I should focus my energies. Indeed, I was blind to the bias abundant in my field (Russian Politics). Your blog has given me: 1. A thesis topic 2. Renewed focus on my PhD intentions 3. Renewed energy and 4. A clearier view of my own blindness.

    One issue becomes – Intention doesn’t translate into completion of goals, but you must do in order to achieve. Your will to influence causes you to do (blog). Who knows if blogging will have influence? But Robin you can never know where a path leads until you travel it. Maybe it is the community of bloggers that will cause the change and not the individual.

    We must try all doors to find the successful path.

  • http://www.componentx.com Brad

    OK, I’ll give it to you straight. (1) The typical blog/comment paradigm is tired and weak, but it is familiar, and that has an accessibility advantage. Blogs are temporary. What you post today needs to be relevant today and probably won’t be too relevant tomorrow. That’s how blogs work and how readers expect blogs to work. It seems to me that what you really are asking for is some kind of library of topics where you can post ongoing thoughts and solicit ongoing discussion. It sounds like a Wiki, but that tends to give too much control to the audience. I think you need to find a good tools guy to create just the right forum for you, to help you experiment with ways to engage your audience.

    (2) If you’re going to have any impact on the world, you have to engage it, as ugly as it is. Your best friends in this game are people who come here to argue against you. Engage them, show them how to apply your analyses about bias, let them leave with that tool in hand and a place to come back or point back in the future.

    (3) Sell stuff. Amazon associates is a better way to keep score than hit count. It won’t make you rich, but when you up your quarterly earnings (at 4.5% of sales) from $20 to $40, you’ll know you have doubled your influence.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/redbird/ Gordon Worley

    I only treat blogs like news sources who clearly have the purpose of delivering news. Generally, I see them as a convenient way of expressing thoughts and ideas in a raw or partially unfinished manner. This makes it easier to record insights, so that it’s possible to look back at them and put them together. The linear timeline of a blog is just a convenience for readers that has made them hugely popular, since it was always much harder to find new content on personal web pages, even when there was a news section right at the top of the home page. There’s a different feeling about the way a blog is used, hence it gets accessed in a different way. But still, I don’t think of blogs as news and don’t consider it odd at all to make reference to an old blog post (although if you reference something old on my blog, I’ll probably be a bit surprised since I probably forgot I wrote it).

    A similar thing is true of mailing lists and usenet. Although they are both time sensitive discussion services, they have a permanency thanks to easy searchability (in most cases). For example, if I get stuck on a solution to a problem in a popular mathematical text books, odds are good that other people have too and the answer is on a subject specific mailing list. Blogs are just another, different means to the same sort of end.

  • http://www.baseballprospectus.com guy in the veal calf office

    Unless blogging is useful to you in vetting topics that you convert into academic papers, you should stop; the blog is not otherwise advancing the field’s collective push. Tyler Cowen, Bryan Caplan, et al will presumably read your academic papers. But if you are personally unsanitary or unsavory and cannot knock around ideas with your colleagues at Cafe Strada, perhaps you should keep blogging to achieve the aforementioned instrumental benefits.

    While disintermediation has its benefits, I gather that those benefits do not synch with your goals.

  • http://n8o.r30.net/ Nato Welch

    A key difference is that academics organize into a network of specialists with social norms requiring them to cite related previous work, and to situate their publications so that they can be found by others working on similar topics.

    The link is the killer app of the web, including blogs. Those links are exactly what allow people using search engines to find your work, no matter what it’s about. If the key power of academic works vs popular media rested in the citation, then some of that has already bled over onto the web, blogs included.

    So by virtue of being on the web, where you can link and be linked to, you already have a distinctly important advantage over newsprint – one that just happens to resemble the same advantage academic papers have over newspaper columns.

    After all, you’re not trying to weigh a decision of whether or not you should abandon your newspaper column, are you? How much do you think the relative costs of writing newspaper columns vs blogging has to do with that decision, in contrast to the usefulness of citation in the form of linking?

    If the influence of academic papers vis-avis hypermedia is a long term process, then isn’t it a little early to make a definitive judgment on the usefulness of blogging?

    In the meantime, work on improving the usefulness of links continues (semantic web, tagging architectures, http://microformats.org/ microformats]], social networking, etc.)

  • http://manufacturedgods.blogspot.com/ LP

    “Yes, blog posts can influence people, but the question is whether that influence feeds back much into more related intellectual insights that accumulate over the long run.”

    Robin,

    I guess much depends here on whether you’re only interested in academic, intellectual influence, or in broader cultural influence. For accumulating hard knowledge and theory, blogging might be a waste of time, because the 5 people in the world who might be interested in adding to your work probably don’t read your blog. They read papers. But, if your blog readership is sufficiently intelligent, your blog is a great idea-generating and testing place.

    For influencing cultural change, blogs are comparable to newspaper columns — outside the academic world, people really do form their opinions partly based on the points they hear expressed in the media. Many bloggers are more interested in this function, the influencing of public opinion, than in adding to the collective knowledge base of humanity. This is not such a bad goal — social change happens partly because of academic insights into human behavior, and partly because of public sea changes — it seems to take both.

  • Constant

    “People almost never look up ten year old newspaper columns, but they do often read ten year old academic papers. So an academic paper may still have a better chance at long term influence than a newspaper column.”

    But people never look up ten year old lunchtime conversations either. And yet I am pretty sure that you are professionally more productive because you work at a place where you can have informal conversations – conversations which are never recorded in any way that can be looked up ten years later. I doubt you would be as productive if you lived alone on a mountaintop with no contact with anyone else other than by reading and writing journal articles. And in turn, I doubt you would advance human knowledge as rapidly.

    So, that something will not be looked at ten years later, does not mean that it does not contribute to the advance of human knowledge.

    “If I’m mainly the equivalent of a newspaper columnist, rather than a part of a community of modular thinkers, this is to me a waste.”

    I would say that the primary culprit in the failure of many newspaper columnists to contribute to the advance of human knowledge is not the format of the newspaper column, but the content that the columnist supplies. To put it bluntly, many newspaper columns are insignificant. They are insignificant as columns and they would remain insignificant in any other format.

  • William Newman

    I think the archival methods for webbed content are already good enough that knowledge strongly tends to accumulate, not get lost. Most of it in effect gets ignored, and currently the mostly-ignored material isn’t archived terribly aggressively. But the fraction of things that people actually care about seems to be archived (and repeated and re-summarized and so forth) reasonably well. The indexing and citation technology isn’t great, but it’s serviceable already, and I’d expect natural engineering improvements will tend to make it better.

    I have a stronger impression about this in software-related fields than in economics-related fields. Partly it’s just because I know more about software, but partly it’s just because there seems to be more history to judge from. The Internet has been an important channel for communicating information related to software for a long time. Net distribution of some things like commercial documentation have only taken off more recently, but software academic preprints and materials related to free software projects like Linux have been distributed on the net since at least the early 1990s. It doesn’t seem to me that information gets lost except to the extent that people feel that it’s irrelevant. I go to the the UT Dallas library often (most recently about two hours ago…) and my unscientific impression the computer books dated 1995 are at least as diminished as net-distributed information of the same age.

    One caveat is that small pieces of information don’t necessarily get formal credit even when they made a difference. Even when we know how to do it, friction may keep it from being done, or from being done quite right. I once spent many hours rearranging the acknowledgements for other people’s work in a sizable free software system into a single summary file, and near the head of the file is my apology for undoubtedly making oversights and errors. And I once pointed out an error in a book’s proof of a complexity bound, and when the author later published a paper containing a correct proof, there was no hint that someone else had pointed out the error in the book. That wasn’t because we haven’t figured out how to acknowledge things like that, it just didn’t get done.

    On the plus side, small pieces of information also take less time to create. I would guess that you can fire off several dozen reasonably thoughtful web posts or substantive mailing list messages in the time it takes to prepare a paper. Maybe this is a psychological minus: if you spend four dozen hours writing two dozen thoughtful web posts, and twenty two of them fizzle, it might seem less influential than spending four dozen hours on a politely received conference paper. But I’m not sure it is.

    My tentative impression is that to the extent that getting your ideas out there is your goal, it’s actually worth spending time on both the short stuff and the long stuff. I get that impression especially from technical discussions in software (where the short stuff is typically on a mailing list, not a weblog): someone who only writes publication-quality preprints seems to be less inflential than someone who only writes short stuff, but there are various important things which can only be expressed in longer and more careful publications, so to be really influential you should probably write both.

    To the extent that academic credit and reputation are the goal, I’m not sure in general, but I would guess that at least when an idea happens to become really successful, people will often take the trouble to chase back to the origins even if they’re humble un-peer-reviewed short writings. People show some interest in finding the origins of even things which predate the Internet, and timestamped digital text makes things a lot easier to hunt and check.

    (And, regardless of whether my guesses on communication are sound, I hope you find *some* satisfactory way of communicating your ideas, ideally not just your big ideas but also things like the “I cover counterarguments that most teachers don’t cover…” text from your tenure statement.)

  • http://jamesdmiller.blogspot.com/ James D. Miller

    Robin,

    I’m currently writing an economics textbook. I have found blog posts written by professors to be one of my best sources of material. Because such posts are often designed to be read by non-academics they are more understandable and interesting than academic articles. I strongly suspect that other textbook authors have also realized the benefits of mining professor blogs. And through textbooks, many professor blog posts will join the process of knowledge accumulation.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    Dear Robin,

    Not to criticise (you already know I am totally in favour of you continuing to blog), but what are you trying to acheive in this post? Surely only those that are regular readers of this blog, and thus admire your work, will respond?
    Some will furnish you with extra arguments, to be sure, but that falls prey to selection bias. I really want you to continue blogging, but if you want to answer your question honestly, then we’re not the people to ask.

  • Luis Enrique

    Robin,

    YES what your write on this blog feeds back into intellectual insights that accumulate over the long run.

  • Hopefully Anonymous

    I’d like to see more of the thoughts of interesting thinkers captured and made searchable and available on the internet. Perhaps by making conferences, seminars, and classes universally recorded, tanscribed, and put onto the internet. Also some sort of process where individual thinkers could record their daily life conversations, have them efficiently transcribed, screened for personal information, and then put on the internet.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/brucekbritton/ Bruce Britton

    Selfishly, I want u to keep up the blogging, because its so much fun for me.

    If u r interested in helping humanity, blogging is a new medium of publishing, and may turn out to accumulate, or u could make it so that it would accumulate, on which I have some suggestions for how to change blogs so they will be more likely to accumulate, which I will tell u if u r interested.

    But safety is in the old method of publishing, which we know has led to accumulations.

    Ur post only mentions one personal aspect of u, which is that blogging is fun for u, and it is of great importance to do what u enjoy as ur work if u possibly can, as life is short, and is getting shorter all the time for each of us, and u only get 1.

    If u want to stay an associate professor, tenure is no longer enough, because of tenure review policies that can take tenure away, so u need to find out from ur colleagues what u need to do to keep tenure, if that is a goal of urs.

    U seem to have come up with one really big idea, prediction markets, which in a world where there r few big ideas is a big advantage to u.

    If u decide to publish, getting collaborators is very helpful, I have found, as it helps in so many ways.

    I’d advise u to ask ur colleagues what u should do.

  • Frank

    Definitely one day (in the near future) blog will become a serious source for the academic.

  • http://dpennock.com David Pennock

    Academic papers largely influence … other academics. In a cycle that often seems set up to do little else than impress one another within a insular niche. Ok, I’m exaggerating the skeptic’s side of the coin, but it does seem rare that an academic paper has a truly large impact on the wider world (though I’m sure inevitably infuence is a power law). If you want to influence the world, talk to the world. Blogging is one route. Also, I agree with the comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky that blog posts are not like newspaper articles. The best posts will be continually rediscovered through links and search engines. You’ve created one of the most vibrant and participatory blogs I’ve seen covering a serious subject: many kudos. One example of your breadth of reach: I noticed that tech celeb Marc Andreessen has you listed among his “interesting writers”: see http://blog.pmarca.com/ .

  • http://www.luchko.ca/~aaron/wp/ Aaron Luchko

    “So the fact that each blogger and reader today feels like he is slowly gaining insight does not mean we are part of a process by which humanity accumulates insight. We could just each be relearning and re-expressing what many of our ancestors knew.”

    The question isn’t are we advancing humanity by constantly learning new insights as individuals. The question is what happens if we stop. It’s like bailing out a leaking boat, no matter how much water you bail it’s going to keep on leaking, but if you ever stop you sink.

    At the end of the day it’s more important to teach than to discover. Humanity could probably survive and maybe even prosper if academic progress suddenly ceased. However the consequences of us failing to communicate what we already know are simply catastrophic. We need people to dispel knowledge just as much as we need people to discover knowledge.

    The question is which group you want to be a part of, while the boat metaphor does point out the futility in teaching I would also point out that for every person who helps bail the boat does float higher.

  • Manjira Dasgupta

    As a regular reader, I have found your posts help me to clarify my thinking habits and encourage modularity– benefits that have immense real-life utility apart from the academic. I would request you to continue sharing your insights with readers.

  • agent00yak

    As a reader, you must realize that I am biased towards hoping you continue to blog. That said, here is my response.

    1. Do you want credit for your ideas? Academic papers will assure that your influence will be traced back to you. A blog may inspire many people (Some of whom may even write academic papers), and your insights may spread without giving you credit (I think this occured with respect to you and prediction markets already). If you want certain credit from future scholars in your field then you should concentrate more on academic papers. If you want to maximize your long term influence then a blog, though higher risk, is probably the better way to go about things. I say it is higher risk because there is a large track record of academic papers influencing others. Blogs haven’t been around, so they don’t have the track record. Therefore, even if many ideas have been generated by blogs, there haven’t been many major changes which are traced back to an original blog post.

    2. As other people said, it shouldn’t be “or”. You should look into even more ways to influence the future. Books are also read long after they are published. In terms of spreading long term ideas, there are people who read books who don’t read blogs or academic papers. If you get the ideas spread widely enough then you are more likely to cause a long term change. You can start writing your blog in a way such that it will be easy for you to incorporate ideas from blog posts into a future book. The blog could also help create enough of a stir around the book such that it would be more likely to be considered important 10 years from now. That said, if you stopped blogging, you have enough friends who do blog that the advertising point isn’t too relevant.

  • http://sunilbajpai.blogspot.com Sunil Bajpai

    Blogging can be a part of the “process of accumulation” in several ways:

    1. Bloggers document history in making which can be invaluable for researchers who later try to make sense of an happening or a period of time.

    2. Insights from blogosphere, at least in some areas, coalesce into an accepted body of wisdom fairly quickly. For example, the debate about desirability of DRM. Such debates could influence outcomes.

    3. Debates about emotional topics, like existence of God or abortion rights, would likely make people veer to rational viewpoints, as progressively younger population see viewpoints otherwise disapproved by their religion or family.

    4. More nuanced understanding of phenomena like terrorism, that affect large populations whose opinions drive the way their governments or other institutions act.

    Together with easily accessible and constantly evolving wiki content or social booking marking, it could well be the most powerful process of accumulation ever seen in the history of mankind.