How to deliver a message

Bloggers are an odd bunch. Some are “serious journalists”, some glorified editorialists, but most are just folks with access to a computer. This was the genesis of the blogosphere—individuals writing whatever they wanted, not knowing (but hoping) that maybe a few others might read their work.

As it turns out, there are some excellent writers out there that we might never have read were it not for the internet. But most still maintain an independence of spirit and of thought. Yes, there are “corporate” bloggers out there. For instance, one of the local hospitals has an internal blog by some corporate type. It’s very different from the blogs most of us are used to reading. It’s, um, very positive. And commenting requires entry of an employee ID number. It’s not exactly designed for the free flow of ideas.

But most of the blogosphere isn’t designed for anything. It’s an emergent phenomenon, fueled by individuality.

If your purpose as a writer is to influence large numbers of people, blogging probably isn’t your best choice. Op-ed columns, books, almost any medium gets a larger readership.

And since bloggers are individuals, beholden to no one, they have no duties as such. They can write whatever they wish.

Rarely, a blogger is read nearly as widely as a journalist, and PZ Myers is one of the few. Dr. Myers is a professor, and teaches at a University. In this capacity, his duties to transmit information are a bit more clear, and he has made it known on many occasions that his classroom is not a bully pulpit for atheism.

A biologist can use the classroom to teach biology, but as a blogger, he can deliver any message he wishes.

In my work, I have to frame messages in a certain way. I am communicating to individual patients, and I need to persuade them on the most intimate level that what I am telling them is the course they should follow. If they are futzing around with altie remedies, I can’t be overtly dismissive, or I’ll lose them immediately.

But in delivering a message to a somewhat larger audience, I use a different tone, one of compassionate snarkiness, for example. I do this not only because it suits me, but because I feel that on some level it is effective.

Scientists always have a duty to deliver the truth about their fields. The tone in which it is delivered depends greatly upon the medium and the audience. But most of all, it depends on the writer. Most bloggers of science have a fierce attachment to the truth which cannot be compromised for any reason, and if it happens to piss people off, so be it.

I’m sure that a creationist student in a biology class might be uncomfortable, but since it is a classroom, they must learn the material to succeed. Our readers have no such obligation. Therefore, we have no obligation to kiss anyone’s tukhes.


  1. So poor Matt Nisbet is all puckered up for nothing!

  2. compassionate snarkiness

    That’s what I do, too.

  3. I’m tired of the Mooney-Nisbet/Dawkins-Myers spat; I wish the former would decisively apologize to the latter for telling them to sit down and shut up, with no qualifications or ego-salving. Then move on.

    The argument seems pretty self-serving with Mooney and Nisbet grousing about people they find needlessly and harmfully provocative and how far more people pay attention to (say) Dawkins and Myers instead of more effective, more moderate voices, such as their own.

    Uh … right.

    Orac and Chad Orzel have also come to support Mooney and Nisbet, albeit with qualifications. They too say it’s harder to have their voices heard given the traffic that Myers gets. I’d counter that while that may be so, it’s only because they’re on the same server as Myers and all the traffic to Pharyngula occasionally makes it difficult to get to any Scienceblogs content. Otherwise, I read Respectful Insolence and Uncertain Principles and Greg Laden’s blog, and denialism and a whole host of other blogs just fine. It’s only by a coincidence of physical hardware that the availability of their message is affected at all by anything that Myers says or does.

    Anecdotal evidence is not proof and all that rot, but for what it’s worth, I enjoy what and how you write. I don’t care if you agree or disagree with Myers, so long as you can make a good case and you can express it well (to be fair, Myers is held to the same writing standard. He doesn’t get a free pass, at least not from me.)

    Beyond logic and clear writing, one needs passion for one’s work. Passion evokes bold language which is the enemy of the risk-averse and those who value tact above truth. You cannot let the easily-offended use their public sensitivity as a weapon against you.

    So here’s the frame: write to the best of your ability and to the height of your passion and your audience will find you (though if you’re looking for a bump in traffic, write something provocative and/or really stupid or wrong-headed – it worked for Nisbet…) 😛

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

  4. Colin M

    FWIW, I’d not have found if not for Pharyngula. And therefore I’d not have found Orzel, Mooney, Nisbet or any of the other 8 sciencebloggers I’m now subscribed to. So while they might feel PZ Myers is stealing the show, IMHO these people are, to an extent, biting the hand that feeds them.

  5. Most bloggers of science have a fierce attachment to the truth which cannot be compromised for any reason, and if it happens to piss people off, so be it.

    But which truth? There’s the stuff inside your brain, and there’s the stuff inside of the brains of the people who are reading you or listening to you, and there’s the stuff hanging in the electrons or the air between you.

    Oh, wait. Scrub that last one: it doesn’t exist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *