Thinking About Real World Fallout

May 11 2009 Published by under Blogging, Mentoring

So in case you missed it, since it occurred on a very bloggy timescale, our good blog friend DamnedGoodTechnician was outed at work. Leading to much unpleasantness with some people above her in the management chain at MassivePharma. DGT then decided to pull the blog.
This event led to much thinking on the risks of overly-personal or overly-detailed blogstylings here and there. Hit the posts and read through the comments if you want a full flavor.
Prof in Training (and here)
Prof-Like Substance
Odyssey
Dr. Isis's Rules for Pseud Blogging
Ambivalent Academic
Now, as it turns out, DGT has returned to blogging. From appearances DGT's job is safe, it is just a matter of damaged relationships with the bosses.
I hate to be the wet blanket but it is well worth thinking about.


Every once in awhile I get a nervous feeling reading the level of detail some bloggers put into their posts. Rarely, I'll send them a note but basically I figured that in most cases people have thought things through and selected their own comfort level.
In this recent DGT foofraw, it appears that I am mistaken.
Now admittedly, some of my considerations about whether I should indulge this hobby, the risks of doing so and the limits to blog topics were put in very sharp focus upon receiving an invitation to join Scienceblogs. This was because it was so clear to me that the attention would be so much greater, and indeed this has been the case. I understand that it is perhaps easy to think that you are just shooting the breeze among friends when your traffic grows very slowly from, well, just your friends. Nevertheless, these issues have always been a part of my understanding about what blogging is and can be and I think they should be part of yours as well dear blogging-readers.
In the nature of Dr. Isis' comments, I offer the blog truths I hold to be self-evident.
If anyone who knows you at all happens across your blog and bothers to read it, they are going to know right away that it is you.
If you have talked about some anonymous character that exhibits features similar to them or their interactions with you, they are going to assume you are talking about them. Whether you are or not. Whether it is an anonymized pastiche or not.
Even if you have not, they will assume you might talk about them if they read your comments about any other individual that are potentially uncomfortable.
No matter the legal rights you may enjoy as an employee of some company or University or what not, this does not mean you cannot pay a career price for your blogging. Yes, even for that knitting blog that has nothing to do with your real job.
Blogging is fun and all but it is your career that pays the bills.
/finger wagging

9 responses so far

  • Curt Fischer says:

    Most comments in the linked posts seemed to condemn whoever it was that "outed" DGT. I left a comment at the trainingprofessor post DM linked to, without realizing the post was very old (as reckoned by bloggy time scales). Let me recycle/edit it here.
    ---
    How can everyone support DGT so reflexively? I feel, like most everyone else, that DGT being outed is unfortunate. But that said...although her posts may not have seemed to reveal privileged information to me...how do I know that they didn't reveal privileged information to someone more knowledgeable, or closer to DGT? Unless most commenters are privy to detailed information about DGT's professional environment, railing against the outer seems a bit tendentious and conclusory.
    The fact is, most of us don't know the details of DGT's situation. Such is the double-edged nature of anonymity. We aren't supposed to know, and we don't! We have no basis to know if DGT is getting screwed or if the "outer" was acting out of a legitimate interest to protect the company.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    "Such is the double-edged nature of anonymity."
    When anonymity is one's choice and it is violated because it was used to expose non-criminal information that was supposed to remain unexsposed, one's anonymity is at risk to be violated in return. At the end, the best way to protect one's anonymity is probably to avoid or minimize public exposure, which is frequently in complete contrast to what pseudonymous bloggers are aiming at.
    Unfortunately, in cases of whistleblowing, when wrongdoing could be exposed, anonymity, so important for the whistleblower, is not allowed and consequently, potential whistleblowers are frequently discouraged to blow their whistles.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Curt, It is my understanding that the situation with DGT has been examined up and down by the company in question and that there is no specific problem with employment apart from issues having to do with doing personal stuff on company time and computers. I imagine that, being that it is described as Massive Pharma, if there was a whiff of revealing privileged info, DGT would have been dismissed but I really don't know for sure.
    But "reflexively"? Sure. Why not. For people IRL who I have befriended and have a track record of normal honest behavior, hells yes I am going to "reflively" take their side until the evidence shows I should not. This is normal. It is evidence based, in fact. So why is this a problem when the friend is a blog-friend and we have only their blog stylings on which to rely? DGT actually comes across as excessively self-flagellating on this, imo.

  • Curt Fischer says:

    DrugMonkey - thanks for making an interesting defense of your support for DGT. On further consideration, I agree with you that it makes sense to support DGT on the basis of your past positive interaction with her.
    But I still have a problem with condemning the outer while knowing so little. Now I see more clearly that what I objected to was a false dichotomy: of jumping from support of DGT to condemnation of the outer. Maybe the outer was motivated by vindictiveness, but maybe the outer legitimately (even if incorrectly) believed that DGT was endangering her company. I'm not comfortable reflexively condemning someone's behavior when I don't know all the details of the situation.
    My earlier post earlier post, I suppose, also succumbed to this same false dichotomy. That's why I said that the support for DGT seemed "reflexive" - I was implicitly (and incorrectly) linking it to condemnation of the outer, which, in my opinion, still doesn't seem justified to me, on the basis of the information we have.

  • msphd says:

    Glad you're bringing this up- I didn't know.
    I worry about it all the time, and it was part of why I decided not to join ScienceBlogs. Ironically, I was trying to protect my science career, which looks to be about to die anyway. But I had already seen some fallout from a grad student who blogged about working with plants get outed... and have since always wondered what happened to her. I hope she is blogging somewhere under a new name, but I miss reading what she had to say. I'm quite impressed with DGT's company for not making a bigger deal out of it, actually.
    re: the "outers", I don't really know what that's about. It's a mentality I don't understand. Snitching? Trying to get ahead at work-? I occasionally get threatening comments (one or two) from people claiming to know who I am. That's scary enough for me, thank you very much. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder what my PI would say. Probably something like "what's a blog"? I can't imagine my PI would take the time to read my posts. Replying to my emails about actual work is already too much to expect!
    That said, I didn't like the end of your post, DM. Finger-wagging is kind of unnecessary at this late date, don't you think? Sort of beside the point? Can't you just admit it freaked you out, and leave it at that, without the guilt-trip? Sheesh.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Finger-wagging is kind of unnecessary at this late date, don't you think?
    I thought is was, yes. Prior to this DGT debacle, I mean. However the commentary here and there made it clear that there are bloggers who never really thought these issues through. Whether they should have or not is beside the point.
    It is not a "late date" because I'm here to tell you that there will be many bloggers now and in the near future who similarly have not thought things through. It would be nice if they did in advance. Then the chances of being 'freaked out' when something like this occurs would be pretty much nil.
    as far as the outers go, well, we have frequent go-rounds in these parts within the blog community. There are those that just really can't respect the whole pseud thing and once they get irritated with something someone writes the immediately start ranting about the irresponsibility of pseuds and threaten vaguely to out them. so even if DGT's colleague didn't have a personal animosity, there is still the chance of it being one of the generically antipseud idiots...

  • Curt Fischer says:

    I occasionally get threatening comments (one or two) from people claiming to know who I am. That's scary enough for me, thank you very much.
    One solution is to sign your posts with your real name. Then there'd be no doubt who you were, so you wouldn't have to worry about someone outing you. Grad students and pharmaceutical industry staff scientists are doing it; I would like to think post-docs and untenured faculty could as well.
    Sure, you lose the ability to complain about colleagues/bosses/grant program administrators without attracting their ire, and you couldn't get advice on how to respond to a prickly colleague whose just put you in a tough situation. Personally, I've never understood why bloggers love these topics so much.
    The only anonymous blogger I read whose style requires anonymity is femalescienceprofessor. She mainly makes wry, general observations about specific events in her daily life, and she couldn't really do that if the students whose whining prompted a post, for example, knew about her posts.
    Even our present hosts, I don't think, would greatly suffer if they outed themselves, although of course their opinion, not mine, is what counts. I guess CPP would have to cuss less and maybe quit replying to S. Rivlin (but aren't those the same thing?), but that's about it from my perspective.

  • Curt Fischer says:

    Oops. Pharmaceutical industry staff scientists is supposed to go to THIS LINK.

  • you couldn't get advice on how to respond to a prickly colleague whose just put you in a tough situation.
    It's the ability to get honest advice in situations like this that can make blogging so beneficial, particularly when you really have nobody else you can turn to for help ... or when the person you are supposed to ask for help is the one causing the problem.

Leave a Reply