The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Beware the Blog?

June 14, 2011

Being new to the blogging world, I have been thinking a lot about the utility and influence of blogs. Blogs seem appealing in so many ways. They appear to be an effective means of disseminating facts and views quickly to a wide audience, facilitating timely responses to emerging policy issues (and other fun pop politics). At the same time, blogging is a way of discussing real intellectual ideas free of many of the pitfalls of peer review and academic publishing (see last week’s Duck entry by Brian Rathbun). More importantly, blogging is concise, pithy and entertaining and can potentially appeal to wider audiences, thus expanding the field of debate and influence. For those of us interested in bridging the academic-policy world divide, blogging seems promising.

But this past weekend’s news about the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blogging fiasco got me thinking about the ethics of blogs. Point blank: what is the responsibility of the blogger – normally one committed to speaking truth to power – to give power to truth?

Journalistic codes of conduct don’t seem to apply. Certainly some academic standards do. For example, a blogger who plagiarized would certainly be ostracized quite quickly, but presumably the punishment would come more through social shaming and reader boycotts than any explicit sanctions against the writer. So do bloggers have a code of conduct? Should they have a code of conduct?

Moreover – as the newbie here – I am very curious as to others’ thoughts about how we observe and measure the influence of blogging. If we were to assert, for example, that blogging is an important means of shaping debates and exercising intellectual influence and thus should be considered in things such as hiring, promotion and tenure decisions (alongside activities such as writing op-eds), how would we back this up with evidence? How do we assess the quality and impact of blogging? When and how does blogging matter?

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Catherine (Kate) Weaver is associate dean for students and associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. She is a distinguished scholar at the Strauss Center for International Security & Law, where she is the founding director of Next Generation Scholars Program. She also chairs the university’s Graduate Assembly Academic Committee, the President’s Award for Global Learning steering committee, and the Truman Scholarship committee. Weaver’s research focuses on transparency in international development aid, reforming global economic governance, and the politics of data in the world economy. She has developed methods to track and dynamically geomap aid and climate adaptation, and writes about the shifting power, players and paradigms in governing the global economy. Her latest project, the Global Indices Network (GIN), examines the interdependent power and pathologies of global indices.