Benjamin Radford, a regular at The Amazing Meeting, has decided he doesn’t like blogs, and never has, no sir. This is a fact which he has chosen to announce in a blog by citing his first blog entry.
As I write my first entry for the sparkly new “Free Thinking” blog, I’m skeptical of its utility. While I have spent much of my career promoting critical thinking and skepticism, I’m concerned about joining the noise, the glut of words inundating the Web and indeed the world.
By most estimates there are over 120 million blogs out there on the World Wide Intertubes. It seems everyone has a blog; teens are blogging, grandmothers are blogging, almost anyone with access to a computer, an opinion, and some spare time has a blog. The Web has democratized the dissemination of information, but not necessarily improved the content quality. There’s incredibly good, useful info on the Web, but the signal to noise ratio is higher than ever.
Of course, some blogs are better than others, but according to a statistic I just made up (so you can’t check), 98.3 percent of blogs are irrelevant, self-indulgent musings and journaling, read by the blogger and one or two friends.
Blogs are inherently personal; they rarely include references; they are short, thus allowing for little or no detailed, critical analysis. In this age of blogging and Twitter, communication comes in smaller and smaller bites, conveying less and less information. For people to accurately understand the world around them, they need more information and context, not less.
So he makes up a statistic and doesn’t bother to cite anything, so blogging is all noise and doesn’t include references (hint, Mr Radford: it’s called a “link”, some of us use them heavily.) And nobody reads them, except a few of the bloggers’ friends. He could make a case for that, I suppose; I sure don’t read Radford’s attempts at blogging, and only ran across this one because DJ Grothe praised it on twitter. (Oh, I so want to see Radford’s critique of twitter — I’m sure it will be as perspicacious as his complaints about blogs.)
Then he concludes by announcing that blogs still suck.
The same problems and issues I identified are still around, if anything magnified by the exponentially growing World Wide Web. Since that first blog I have been witness to (and occasional victim of) flame wars, troll attacks, misrepresentation of others’ positions (both obvious and subtle), and so on. We’ve all seen bloggers resort to feigned outrage, insults, and invective in their efforts to stir up controversy and increase page hits. This sensational, shock-jock sleaze is nothing new, and has been immensely successful for Jerry Springer, Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, and their countless blogging ilk. It’s not helpful or productive, but it gets attention.
Still, media has always had the inherent problem of separating out the wheat from the chaff, the insightful from the banal, the incisive from the divisive. Such is the price for the democratization of speech that the Internet brings: anyone with a computer has equal access. It’s probably true that most of everything is crap-but it’s a shame that we must work so hard to find the non-crap.
There’s a grain of truth to what he says, and I’m trying to think of some productive suggestion that would help improve the web, and I’ve come up with one: Ben Radford could stop blogging, and stop adding to the noise.
But he’s also deeply wrong. You could make the same arguments about books, or magazines, or newspapers: they’re mostly junk. The only solution, obviously, is for everyone to stop writing. Everyone, but especially Mr Radford, who can then go back to talking about chupacabras. And then he can ignore every criticism made of his work by telling himself they’re just trying to stir up controversy and increase page hits.
This claim that blogging is all about stirring up controversy to get page hits is also nonsense, but nonsense that gets regurgitated regularly by every old school pundit who objects to getting criticized. It’s wrong. I can tell you what gets you traffic: reliable, sustained writing on subjects of interest to an audience. Just controversy is never enough; it’s the people who can write well about controversy who win the audience. If you can’t do that — and Radford certainly can’t — you lose, and you have to resort to whining that all your competitors for eyeballs are all hacks and cheaters who don’t have the skill at communicating that you do.
But actually, his second to the last paragraph does get to the source of his unhappiness: he has been the victim of blogging. The poor man last got on our radar when he wrote a most ludicrous and appalling piece of pseudo-skeptical, evo-psych bullshit to justify sexism. It was piece that ignored reason and evidence, what few scientific articles he used to support his claims he understood poorly and mangled misleadingly. Rebecca Watson spanked him hard; I took him to school on his abuse of the science; Stephanie Zvan showed that his rationale made no sense; the blogosphere, that wretched hive of irrelevant, self-indulgent musings, lit up with pointed criticisms of Radford’s ghastly abuse of skeptical thinking. His response? Throw up more banal, divisive crap. And get slammed again.
This was a case where blogs were actually extremely good at separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s just that we’ve determined that Ben Radford is the chaff.
And now the chaff is complaining, on a blog.
(Also, I have to add: DJ, your proxies aren’t helping.)