Tuesday, September 28, 2004

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I'll take Matthew's bait

Matthew Yglesias is a bright young man, so I have to assume he doesn't really mean what he's saying in this post:

One thing I thought was sort of unfortunate about Klam's article -- though I understand why he did it -- is that it left out the most boring, but probably most valuable, sub-sector of blogging. Namely, the expert blogger. The folks who do this well are creating some extremely useful stuff, especially for those of us whose business it is to be semi-informed about a wide range of things. And, in my opinion, we don't have nearly enough of them. Juan Cole is great, but why don't we have two, three, four Juan Coles. Only in the field of law, or so it seems to me, are there a sufficient number of expert bloggers that one can count on a critical mass of posts emerging when something important (a big Supreme Court case, usually) comes up that let readers follow the back and forth of debate and really learn something. A related -- and expanding -- blogospheric niche is the DC wonk blog, as seen by the efforts of Rotherham, Kilgore, Clemons, and Schmitt (sporadically). This, I think, holds a great deal of promise.

Academics have real jobs and will only perform the great public service of blogging about what they know if they happen to be egomaniacs. Think tankers and other such people one encounters here in DC, on the other hand, really are just being paid to disseminate ideas throughout the world. (emphasis added)

[BEGIN SARCASM] Reading this, I'll resist the temptation to call for a coalition of the egomaniacs to smite the puny, insignificant Ph.D.-less Yglesias -- and just assure him that I put my pants on one leg at a time just like the little people inside the Beltway [END SARCASM]

However, it's worth pointing out that those last two sentences are comparing apples and oranges. If Matt thinks the think tank world has fewer egomaniacs.... well, he's been hanging out too much with the research assistants and not enough with those higher up the think tank food chain. For those with doctorates, one could argue that those who elect to go the think tank route are self-selecting into career tracks that reward egomania -- in the form of greater public adulation, proximity to power, and more media whoring opportunities -- to a far, far greater extent than academia.

So, while it's likely that both academic and think tank bloggers are egomaniacs, I would submit that the probability of egomania -- while high in both categories due to self-selection effects -- is greater for the think tank crowd.

For one example of a modest academic blogger, consider the Invisible Adjunct -- who had such an ego that she refused to reveal her identity despite the outpouring of adulation that came with her regretful departure from the blogosphere.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong fesses up to Yglesias. My favorite line comes from one of his commenters: "I was just happy for someone to say in seriousness that 'Academics have real jobs.'"

ANOTHER UPDATE: Matt points out he was joking -- and rereading his post, I think I might have taken it too seriously. And a final, obvious point -- anyone who thinks that it's a good idea to have an eponymous web site have a touch of that old egomania.

posted by Dan on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM


um, dan, as a regular reader of MattY, I can pretty much reassure you that the bolded excerpt in your post is mild sarcasm on matt's part. the line about "great public service" should have tipped you off.


posted by: fdl on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]


I'm not quite sure I understand what you are objecting to. I had read MY's article before I read your response. When I read the "egomaniacs" line, he actually wasn't using it in a derogatory way, he was being tongue in cheek with it. (And it probably has a lot of truth to it, especially applied TO Matthew Yglesias!)

And MT's other point, I thought, is that ALL "think tanker's" would do better to start having blogs, since this is, in a sense, a cost-effective way to get their positions and policies communicated.

posted by: JC on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

I don't think Matt's being sarcastic. His whole point is that there aren't nearly enough academic bloggers, and surmises this might be because they don't have as much incentive as the think-tankers.

posted by: fling93 on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

Having a bit of experience (as have you, Dan) in both worlds, can I offer a complete and utter wimpout to the effect of: there are a**holes in BOTH spheres, but also plenty of mensches as well (up and down the hierarchy, it's worth pointing out). I don't read Yglesias--or any other prominent DC-based bloggers, because while they may be well-informed, they are so inside their own heads, every day must be like living in a Charlie Kauffman script.

The difference, as far as I can see, is that everyone in DC (especially thinktankers) has to be his/her own PT Barnum or they go nowhere. No one is going to "discover" you in DC--you've got to push yourself in front of the right people until they notice you. That bimbo who's skirttails Wonkette rode to "fame" was unusual only insofar as she was a complete whore--most of her peers only have to be whoreish. And to be fair, the girl was extremely bright, as so many in the capital are. But brains will only get you your first job. After that, its hustle, hustle, hustle.

Beyond all that, I find the idea that thinktankers what any of US, the great unwashed, to read and be influenced by them absurd. Only a very very few of them can or choose to speak in a language any of us (PhDed or not) understand--Michael O'Hanlon is the only guy that comes to mind. What's in it for them? No, there is no natural intersect between the blog and thinktank worlds. Thank God.

posted by: Kelli on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

Hi Folks,

I'm an egomaniac and I'm not even close to being a lawyer. I'm not an academic either, but I know a lot of them so I can offer a reason why lots of them aren't blogging. Surfing the net is just a bit over their competence level.

They have minions and lackeys AKA graduate students to take care of clerical matters like teaching, advising students, grading papers, writing scholarly papers, and the like. Their time is spent on their social lives and academic politics, like who got the best parking space and sizing up the incoming freshmen girls.

A very savvy academician once sized up the causes of faculty angst by positing that it's caused by their never knowing when they're on vacation.

posted by: erp on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

Thank god for academics' blogs. They're the only ones worth reading. I've yet to find a non-academic blog that doesn't sooner or later become the dullest of diaries.

posted by: melvin on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

I would point out that bloggers by definition have a healthy ego... else they'd not be bloggers. One needs to have an imagine of one's self that supports the concept of others being even slightly interested in what you write, after all.

And not just once, but on an ongoing basis...

posted by: Bithead on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

Understandably defensive, folks. As an ergonomiac myself, I can reflex.

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

I was kidding, kids. A little of the old self-deprecating humor. You want to talk egomania, consider someone who wants to be a journalist and writes for two blogs. Why do I think anyone cares what I think?

posted by: Matthew Yglesias on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

How could he say that? One look at your humility refutes him instantly. Just reading this post, I can tell you're one of the humblest people around. Matthew should apologize on bended knee for implying otherwise. He's darned lucky you decided to smite him yourself instead of assembling a coalition. You bow in humility to nobody!

posted by: David Weisman on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

I think academic bloggers tend more to megalomania - ego centrisity's just so small town by comparison!

posted by: Giles on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

I must confess to no experience inside the Beltway, but I did hang around several Universities for nearly twenty years.

University professors routinely have comely, young, and attractive people (sometimes in the hundreds!) hanging on their every word, writing it all down dilligently, and asking them earnest questions about it as the sum of all relevant wisdom.

Under such circumstances, who could resist egomania?

As a practical matter, I observed that about fifteen years from the first tenure-track position was the point of no return where a professor became completely disconnected from reality.

I loved the game while I was in it. But I must remark that I'm glad to be out of it.

posted by: Joseph Marshall on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

MY: A little of the old self-deprecating humor.

I think most of us didn't get the self-deprecating part because you're not an academic. Had you been making fun of journalists, we'd probably have gotten it.

posted by: fling93 on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

Dan, Matt Y was somewhat kidding. My evidence is beside yourself, who else is a good outsourcing pundit. I guess, Brad is, but this is neoliberals at it's most violent. I guess it's ok.

My thought's are you are a neoliberal, but just don't know how to accept it. I can understand, there are very few of us. Brad takes the violent edge; you take the republican edge, and hey, do your best.

posted by: theEnvoy on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

"Juan Cole is great, but why don't we have two, three, four Juan Coles."

Let's see we need three more anti-Semitic, anti-American, Communist professors -- Like a hole in the head.

I favor a law limiting blogging to teenagers on Live Journal.

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 09.28.04 at 01:00 PM [permalink]

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