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A Dialogue on Philosophy Blogging, with Brit Brogaard

Posted Apr 20 2009 11:12pm

Brit Brogaard blogs at Lemmings.

G: What prompted you to launch a philosophy blog?

B: I was giving a talk in Aberdeen in Scotland in July 2006 and had a pub conversation with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Carrie Jenkins, John Hawthorne and others about blogging.  One side led by Walter argued that blogging was too time-consuming to be a worthwhile enterprise both for authors and readers.  The other side led by Carrie argued that blogging was just an extended and more public version of emailing that could benefit both authors and readers in various ways.  I was on Carrie's side, and to make my opinions a bit more believable I decided to start my blog, Lemmings, upon my return.  I am very happy I did.

What prompted you?  And why did you decide to turn it into a group blog?

G: It must have been fall of 2005.  I knew some philosophers, such as Matt Weiner, who had started blogs.  I was curious.  One day I noticed a book on blogging on my wife's boss's bookshelf, so I borrowed it.  The author turned out to be a right wing nut arguing that blogging was a way to defeat the democrats. 

At the time, he was not obviously wrong - democrats were barely recovering from John Kerry's defeat in 2004.  He was wildly wrong in the long run, though.  Left wing blogs like Daily Kos have many more readers than their right wing counterparts and are credited with helping build the progressive movement that turned the political tide in America. 

Anyway, the book's author also argued that blogging is a helpful tool, and that everyone should blog.  I decided to give it a try.  I started my blog, Brains, in December 2005.  Within a few months, a reader and fellow philosopher of mind pointed out that there was no group blog in philosophy of mind.  He suggested that I turn Brains into a group blog.  He said he'd like to contribute.  He actually has not contributed yet, and it's been three years!  But many others have.

You said you are happy you started your blog.  What are the benefits?

B: I use my blog to announce conferences, calls for papers, and other related events, to post pictures from conferences and to inform readers when I upload new papers to my website.  It's also a great place to try out new ideas and get feedback on my work.  Blogging makes people aware of your existence.  I like to think that I write for an audience.  Sometimes the audience consists of just a few referees.  However, blogging increases the chance that your work gets read.  Certainly, my citation indices went way up after I started my blog.  I also suddenly got more invites to volumes and conferences.  And more people became interested in my work.  But blogging also has other more important benefits.  It's a great way to increase awareness of the inequalities which still exist in our profession, for instance, awareness of the sort of male favoritism that is characteristic of the field as a whole.  Some larger blogs familiarly serve other purposes as well, for example, they announce philosophy jobs and moves and discuss problems internal to the profession (e.g. unprofessional refereeing procedures).

What are the benefits for you?  Do you think some of these benefits will disappear as the popularity of alternative ways of sharing one's interests with others, for instance Facebook, increases?

G: I agree with your list of benefits.  I also find blogging useful to find and connect with other people interested in my area, and to promote ideas that I find worthwhile and underappreciated.  By the way, I enjoy your posts against male favoritism.  I'd like to think I don't have that bias, but it's good to be reminded of it, so I can counteract it when I can.

I don't think Facebook and other tools change the usefulness of blogging.  Facebook is a way to communicate with "friends", whereas blogging is a way to communicate with anyone interested in the topic.  They serve different purposes.

Can you say more about your audience?  What do you know about them?  Do you track their number and location?

B: I used to look very closely at my stats but I have lost interest in them lately.  I do occasionally look at them but now mostly at overall numbers.  I have about 200 hits a day, more when I actually post and when others link to my posts and less when I take a break from blogging.  About 70% of my readers are from the US and Canada, about 20% are from Australia and Great Britain, and about 10% are from other countries.  I get really excited whenever I see a new country on the list.  Today and yesterday I had readers from the US, Great Britain, Unknown, Canada, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Denmark, Holland, Norway, Spain, New Zealand, Czech Republic, China, Malaysia, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Italy, Thailand, Romania, Sweden, France, Colombia, Austria, Israel, Serbia and Montenegro, Costa Rica, Portugal, Peru, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Turkey, India, Russian Federation, Pakistan, Iran, Islamic Republic, Belgium and Switzerland.  It's exciting that there are people all over the globe who actually have an interest in reading my posts.  It's almost like having friends all over the globe, except I usually don't know who they are.  But they know me -- they know what I think, what I do, what I like, and what I look like, and they can communicate with me by commenting on my posts or by sending me emails -- and they often do.  I like corresponding with people in all sorts of ways.  Even though a lot of my correspondence is professional, corresponding with people is also my hobby.  It's what I like to do.

What are your readers like?  And what are your co-bloggers like?  Have you had any trouble cooperating with your co-bloggers?

G: My readers are like yours, I think.  People with some interest in the topic, from all over the world -- mostly from industrialized countries.  Some faculty, some students, some others.  My co-bloggers are 22 faculty and students interested in philosophy of mind and related sciences.  Some are old friends of mine, others are simply readers who asked to contribute.  I made new friends that way!

If anyone who seems competent asks me to be a contributor, I am happy to give them an account.  Their name appears on the side bar after they publish their first post.  If I had more time, I would invite more people to contribute.  Hopefully some day I will.  I've never had any problem with contributors, and only rarely with commenters.  Sometimes I get spam comments -- either people trying to advertise something, or people who spout nonsense about a post.  I moderate the comments, so none of the spam appears on the blog.

One of the common objections I hear is that blogging takes too much time.  This is not at all my experience.  I spend very little time blogging -- maybe one or two hours a week -- and when I do, I often get good feedback that is very much worth the time.  How do you feel about this?  How much time does blogging take away from you?

B: These days just an hour or two a week, but when I was more active on the blogging scene I would spend a few hours a day.  I like to contribute to other blogs too.  I glance at at least 20 blogs a day and scrutinize maybe three of them.  I like to know what's going on.  And it's interesting how the style and content can vary from blog to blog, or even from post to post on the same blog.  Sometimes reading blogs is like reading celebrity gossip columns and other times it's like reading professional philosophy or science journals or newspapers.  There are also those blogs that are more like diaries.  I totally dig those.  They are cool.  Not many philosophy blogs are like that, though.  And those that are like that tend to be anonymous, for good reasons.  Here are a few of my favorites:

http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/
http://pecunium.livejournal.com/
http://youngfemalescientist.blogspot.com/

I also really like this blog for its uniqueness:

http://nosnowhere.wordpress.com/

Maybe some day I will start an anonymous live journal.  Or maybe I already did   What are your blogger aspirations?  Do you aspire to become bigger?  To write on more general topics?   To gain more influence on the practices of our profession?

G: I’m busy enough with the philosophy of mind and related sciences.  I’d like the field to become more rigorous and move towards a greater integration of psychology and neuroscience.  The empirical side of the field is still largely framed by the ideas of the old greats:  Fodor, Dennett, the Churchlands, etc.; Classical computationalism vs. connectionism.  But this is a confused and simplistic dichotomy!  They established the field, but they left many foundational issues unresolved and poorly understood.  I think we have the conceptual tools and empirical evidence to make progress; we just need to deploy them carefully and see where we can go with them.  There are a bunch of young people, including several Brains contributors, who are working on foundational issues.  Some of them are still in graduate school.  Blogging helps spreading the word, I hope.  If I find some time, I might try to build Brains into a bigger blog, with more contributors.  Or maybe someone else will read this and volunteer to help?  There is a lot to do!

What about you?  Where do you go from here, blogging-wise?

B: I would like to blog more about male favoritism and other kinds of favoritism in philosophy.  Before I had tenure I thought it was a bit risky to blog too much about these issues.  But I guess I can do what I want now.  Now I just need to find the time to do it.  My hope is that blogging about these issues can change things around in our profession.  I hope that when I retire in 40 years, there are 50% women in most top philosophy departments, 50% women among the highest paid philosophers, 50% women contributing to volumes and journals, etc.  As it is now, there are about 21% women in top philosophy departments, 0 - 10% women among the highest paid philosophers, and about 15% female contributions to mainstream philosophy volumes (I just got done making the calculations for Oxford volumes and hope to write a post about this soon).  I hope blogging about these issues can help to change this picture.

I am off to Vancouver now.  But I do have one last question before leaving.  If someone out there wants to start a blog, what should they keep in mind?  Which mistakes should they avoid?  Any other useful advice to potential or actual bloggers?

G:  Consider joining a group blog and practicing a bit.  (If you work in philosophy of mind/psychology/neuroscience and you have something interesting to say, join Brains .  

For some people, contributing to a group blog might be enough.  If there is no group blog in your area, start one!  If you want to start your own blog, aim at quality and look for an edge (a specialty, a different perspective, etc.).  Finally, link to other blogs and online sources and ask others to link to your blog.  The more connected you are, the more readers will find you.

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