Thursday, July 19, 2012

Musings on pseudonymity

Today I got an email asking if I wanted to write for the Guest Blogge at Scientopia, and I was really excited about that. I haven’t been blogging for that long and it’s really cool to me that people read my blog and apparently like it too. When I first started blogging Dr. BrownEyes said that it was all nice that I wanted to do that, but that I was probably going to stop blogging after a couple weeks. He said that because I usually don’t finish stuff; my parents’ house is full of unfinished crafts projects and in that respect it’s a small miracle that I finished my PhD. I also really didn’t feel like finishing child birth but it seemed like there wasn’t really any other way at the time.

So I was almost as excited about this email from Scientopia as about an email saying that a paper is accepted, but quickly realized that I couldn’t dance on the table in the lab because nobody here knows that I write this blog. So I told Dr. BrownEyes who (to my knowledge) is the only one who knows who I am and he was happy for me.

But both this occasion and the impending SfN meeting made me think about using a pseudonym. Because if I want to go to a tweetup at SfN what am I going to say to the people that I am with? Anyway, so I asked on twitter how other people handle this and how many people know who they really are. The answers varied from zero to lots and lots, so different people handle this whole pseudonym thing quite differently. This in turn made me realize again that obviously I can think that nobody knows who I am, but maybe people do. And I guess that’s the lesson for today: that I shouldn’t write anything that I don’t want to say to someone’s face.


  1. I started my blog with the assumption that I'd be eventually found out. That's kept my comments somewhat moderated. Along the lines of not saying anything you wouldn't say IRL. It's tough to interact and stay totally anon. I know at least two internet people who know my IRL identity (and I theirs).

    As for how I handled it, I wasn't really with anyone last SfN so I just went by myself. Besides can't you just say you heard about some party. There are a million parties at SfN, especially will be in New Orleans.

  2. Anyone who has figured me ID out has done so because there is little difference between my IRL personality and my blog voice. I did that intentionally for the reasons you describe - I don't write anything I wouldn't say to someone. I also stay away from writing (directly) about my students or complaining about colleagues. Generally that has left me comfortable when people put the pieces together because I haven't written anything I would regret someone reading.

    As for the party, there's dozens of excuses you can make. I've taken a student with me on a trip to meet another blogger, taken people to a tweet-up, etc. So far I've managed not to tip my hand.

  3. I agree with the earlier comment that if someone knows you well they will know its you from your blog. I think the only way to possibly prevent this would be to write blog posts / twitter updates that don't necessarily correlate with exactly your life at that point in time. Writing blog posts and randomizing when they appear on the web in terms of time and order might mix it up a little. I also wonder if someone who really really knows you well, could identify you from your style of writing and turn of phrase, even if you're writing is very far from your real life and experiences.

  4. It was way too stressful for me to consider keeping my identity a secret. I do blog about work occasionally, which may not be smart, but I don't say things that are either a) confidential/PR issues or b) things I wouldn't say to my manager in person.

    So I'm pretty open. I think it likely depends on WHY you blog - is it stress relief that you need to blow off steam and/or rant about your work,etc. or just a place for you to write?

  5. At SfN "tweetup" I just introduced myself with my real name and if appropriate I told them my pseud. Of course there were some folks like Bashir that I spoke with for a while and didn't realize who they were until after they had left.