Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What is now important about this blog

Eric, in the insightful May 2 posting “Evolution of a blog” has raised a question which is not only valid, but fairly profound as well. The blog phenomena is fairly new, and we are just beginning to understand the impact and power blogs can have on the complex structure of society. Blogs have already had a visible impact on the news media, costing at least one over-zealous commentator his longstanding job. Doug’s LANL blog is beginning to show the impact blogs can have on corporate governance, and I suspect that impact will in the long run be fairly significant, and largely for the good.

What is now important about this blog is that it is no longer a relatively private conversation among LANL staff and a few concerned outsiders -- it is increasingly a widely-read public document and forum, and the opinions expressed, and the manner in which they are expressed, will inevitably shape the opinions of those whose support the lab will need in the future.

As others have commented, blogs, especially those with anonymous postings, attract not only those with constructive and insightful things to say, but also those few who simply need to air their personal frustrations and hatreds and issues. With signed letters to the local newspaper, one comes to learn whose rantings can be ignored and who is likely to have something useful to add to the discussion. With anonymous postings to a blog it is not always so easy to sort through the noise to find the useful signals.

Clearly the anonymous feature of this blog was crucial to its early success, given the climate of retribution that existed. But now the LANL staff has to decide if the anonymous feature has largely outlived its usefulness, and if the license anonymity provides to some for less-than-wholesome expressions is beginning to do your cause more harm than good. Clearly you don't want to stifle the useful exchange of information, or constructive discussion. On the other hand, it may be time to begin to limit, voluntarily or otherwise, at least those postings which are just personal attacks or snide comments about other postings, colleagues, other divisions, labs or universities. These don't help your cause ­- in fact they tend to create a stereotype of the LANL staff as immature, arrogant prima donnas out of touch with the real world. That is not at all an accurate portrait of the general LANL staff, so you don't want this now widely-real blog to help create that stereotype.

What you will now need to do is to balance your desire for unfettered discussion and free expression with the reality that your key supporters in the DOE, Congress, and the public are watching what you write, and judging LANL by what you write, and adjust your postings accordingly.

I would suggest that if your posting is truly constructive and focused toward where LANL goes from here, then you ought now to be willing to sign you name to it, and that most postings ought now to be signed. And if the content of your posting truly requires anonymity (and some still will), than at least be sensitive to the impression your wording will give to those who eventually have to decide whether or not to fund and support the lab.

We could ask Doug to undertake a more strenuous monitoring of the blog, but I suspect he is already overwhelmed with just maintaining it in it present state. A much more fair and mature approach would be for posters themselves to simply undertake to be more sensitive to the impression their postings may have on the wider audience.

Bill Godwin, Los Alamos

I love the smell of airing-dirty-laundry in the morning!
What "cause" are you referring to in the following?

"These don't help your cause ­- in fact they tend to create a stereotype of the LANL staff as immature, arrogant prima donnas out of touch with the real world."

What "cause" are you referring to in the following?

I assume the LANL staff would like the lab to remain open, and to continue to receive funding for pure and applied science projects, and in general to be seen as a serious center of science. That, I assume, is the common "cause".
It's interesting how many people are looking to blame the bloggers for everything bad that has been happening at LANL.
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