On rug dealers, typos, and blogging…

by Alan Cohen

In case you haven’t noticed, my last post featured a rather major typo in the title, of all places: “Drug dealers” became “rug dealers.” As my father promptly noted (as part of his continuing critique of blogs and blog culture), proofreading has much to recommend it, and hastily written posts can damage their author’s credibility. And yet the irony is that I did proofread the whole article. My brain just saw what it expected to see, not what was there…

In defence of haste, I know myself well enough to know that my choice is not usually between a well-written, perfect post and an imperfect post; it is a choice between imperfection and nothing at all. This is partly a function of my particular ineptness for proofreading my own writing (I remember too well what I meant to say and can’t see what I actually said), but it is also a function of laziness. As a professional researcher, I spend a lot of time getting details of research exactly right. It takes forever to publish things as a result, and a lot of good ideas never get developed because I don’t have limitless time.

Blogging is my way to compensate for this. I have a lot of ideas I think are worth sharing, but many of them come and go. Many of these ideas rest on facts or assumptions that I cannot take the time to research to their core. For example, in my last post, I had previously read a number of articles on the heavily criticized Fast and Furious program, but I didn’t remember the details – did the program involve actually selling guns to drug dealers, or just following guns they observed bought? Were the articles I had read really representative of the general media coverage? What exactly is the general critique, and how much variation is there in it? Who was responsible for the program, and have they defended it? Have other people expressed an opinion similar to mine?

In order to produce a really solid post, I should have checked all these things. But if I knew I had to do that, I wouldn’t have written anything at all – too much trouble for one of the many ideas that flit in and out of my head. I wouldn’t be blogging. The problem is that a few major factual errors could cause readers to lose trust. Perhaps I shouldn’t blog, for fear of getting things wrong. But I am anal about the details in enough of my life that I really enjoy having an outlet to shoot from the hip.

Another aspect of blogging I hadn’t expected is the blogging community. I had originally thought to post ideas in order to have discussions among friends, with the forum open to anyone who wanted to join, but I hadn’t really seen myself becoming part of the community. I have since seen that some of my readers are other bloggers who found me through blogging sites. I have even been nominated for an award (despite my small readership)! Thank you so much to newsofthetimes, who nominated me for the Illuminating Blogger award:

Reading other blogs such as newsofthetimes has exposed me to this blogging world, and to lots of people sharing interesting ideas.  Although I’m just becoming familiar with this world, there is an entire culture with its own etiquette, its own awards and systems for nominating others for awards. I think, for example, that I am now supposed to nominate some other blogs for this award in turn…

And yet I don’t feel competent to do that (yet). The major reason is that I’m simply time-limited – I do read other blogs, but there aren’t that many that I read very regularly, even when I find a good one. I’m impressed by the ability of other bloggers to keep on top of so many blogs and comment on so many so regularly, but I am often rushing just to make sure I post often enough to keep my own going. Part of this is that my posts are often much longer than average, part of it is that I often prepare charts and graphics for them using statistical software, and part of it is that my work schedule, while not overwhelming, is unpredictable enough that it’s hard to be really regular in my blog-following…

What I think I’ve failed to do so far is really encourage my readers well to share their own opinions. Perhaps my long posts are intimidating and appear to require a long response. But I’d really like to know what my readers are thinking more! Just a phrase to tell me if the posts are interesting, boring, off base, wrong, or insightful would be great…  I won’t be offended, since anyone reading me regularly must not think too harshly. So feel free to jump in and comment.

So I guess you could call this a meta-blog post (a blog post on blogging). I’ll be back soon to my regular diet of stats, politics, health, society, economics, evolution, and such! Thanks for reading one and all!

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