Bloggers Can Say the Truth

As I blogged earlier, Tyler Cowen said that on his blog he can say what he really thinks, unlike other economists, who are often unable to say what they really think. Here is another example of the same thing from a blogger who writes about stuttering:

At least four [researchers] have told me that they try not to provoke or openly criticize work by a big name [researcher], because they are scared of having a paper rejected or getting no funding. Actually, they like me because I say what they do not [dare] to say [for] political reasons! So view my blog also as the voices of some in the research community!

This blogger isn’t a researcher so his situation isn’t the same as Tyler’s. But my point is the same: Blogs allow uncomfortable truths to be said that otherwise would not be said.

In the past this was much harder. To say some uncomfortable truth about this or that field of expertise (such as stuttering research or economics), the truth-speaker had to be (a) close enough to the field to understand it (which usually omitted journalists, with a few exceptions, such as Gary Taubes and John Crewdson) and yet (b) outside the field, so as to not suffer professional damage. There was also the problem of publicizing the uncomfortable truth. These requirements were hard to meet. Richard Feynman’s O-ring demonstration was a rare example where they were. Feynman knew what he was talking about yet was outside the industry, so he could say what insiders could not. (His criticism came from insiders.) Saul Sternberg’s and my criticism of Ranjit Chandra is another example. We knew enough about the sort of data Chandra had collected to criticize the work but were outside nutrition so we could say what we wanted to without risking professional harm.

A Philip Weiss example.