Friday, June 16, 2006

Hazardous Activity

Is blogging a bad career move?

No doubt it depends on the career, but there are certainly a whole range of careers where it can be bad for you. Academics traditionally have a lot of leeway to write and speak out, but maybe keeping a weblog is just too out.

The first academic weblog I read with any regularity was Sean Carroll's Preposterous Universe. Sean is a popular teacher, much in demand for both popular and technical lectures, and the author of an important textbook on general relativity. He seemed to be compiling a solid research reputation. It was a shock then, to his readers as well as to him when he was denied tenure at the University of Chicago.

Untenured professors are traditionally expected to keep their heads down, their noses to the grindstone, and keep cranking out influential papers.

Another favorite web log I read is Juan Cole's. He is a tenured professor at his university, but was recently refused appointment at Yale after recommendation by the departments doing the hiring - an unusual circumstance. His appointment was targeted by right wing groups who didn't like his views on the Middle East.

Brad Delong is a very big academic blogger as well as a prominent economist. His position apparently suits him, and he seems completely secure in it. He has been an Assistant Treasury Secretary though, and might be in line for bigger things when Democrats retake the White House. Will his bloggings help or hurt him if that happens? At any rate he will have a long paper trail.

Meanwhile, Lubos made a remark about leaving academia, provoking speculation like this over at Not even Wrong. It would be sad if Lumo's blogging hurt his career, but hardly a shock. He hasn't tread lightly.

Blogging is fun and addictive, but I guess my advice to the untenured would be to speak softly and let your research do your talking.

I believe it was Gildor who said that advice was a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise. I expect that goes double when it's from the foolish to the foolhardy.