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On Pseudonymity.

22 January 2014

I have very little to add to the already comprehensive discussion. The story of a vindictive and powerful male editor at Nature exposing the name of a popular-but-occasionally-polarizing junior female scientist and blogger because he was insulted and offended by the way she spoke and wrote about his publication has been well recounted by people with far bigger megaphones that I have here. It was wrong, it was inexcusable, and it deserves reprimand.

I have a different relationship with pseudonymity from many of the other bloggers around. While we share the desire to be able to write without incurring the wrath of our employers, I am, I think, in a far safer position than many of the nameless bloggers out there. I’m not going to be accused of being unfocused on my academic tasks for keeping a blog. I don’t have negative things to say about my employers, and I don’t pretend to speak for them. And in general, I sit in a position of privilege compared to an enormous number of bloggers out there. I don’t fear insulting powerful editors, reviewers, agencies because my livelihood is not dependent on being accepted by them. I’m a white, straight male. And because I don’t make attempts, in this space, to change the culture of science. That’s not what Infactorium is for. I’m not a warrior here.

I stay pseudonymous because I’m an alcoholic, and I believe the traditions of AA suggest that I remain so in this space. I choose to follow them (No one is bound by any “AA rules”; they don’t exist.) because they protect me from having my mental illness disclosed to my employer. I’m sensitive about that, I think reasonably. But I’m not truly concerned about it. I am rapidly approaching six years of sobriety. If my alcoholism were disclosed, I can sit down and discuss it with my employer. I have plenty of character references who will attest to my continuous sobriety if I need.

The real reason I keep a pseudonym is to protect others. By broadcasting my name and my alcoholism, I might frighten off those who would come to me for help. When we are considering becoming sober, we are terrified of being exposed as alcoholics. That our humiliation will be made public. I stay pseudonymous so that those people will see that it is possible to recover and to keep privacy during the recovery process. When we are newly sober, it is often impossible to imagine how we will feel at a month of sobriety, much less multiple years. We can be fearful, paranoid. We don’t want anyone to know our secrets.

Outing someone, in any context, is an act of violence. It is seizing control of their identity and shaking it bright light. It is an act of bituminous revenge. Each person has the right to determine how they express their own identity. It’s a human right. People with unpopular opinions or perplexing or confrontational identities nevertheless have the right to express them. If we don’t like how someone expresses their identity, the only right we have is to disengage from them. We cannot change them. We must not do violence to them. Doing so disgraces our own humanity.

My reticence about my identity is not so much (though it is some) because I fear being exposed. It’s mostly about protecting those who would come to me for help.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 January 2014 12:08

    Thank you for underlining *your* reason for pseudonymity. It may help some to agree with your general point.

    • 22 January 2014 12:13

      I certainly have no judgements on anyone else’s reason for pseudonymity. People’s reasons are their own, and thus valid. That’s my only point.

  2. Feelawful permalink
    24 January 2014 19:24

    “I have very little to add……. BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH”

    Jesus, just copy and paste other blogs and be over with it. Yeesh – you’ve got your cookie already.

  3. Syd permalink
    28 January 2014 10:18

    I do my best to keep my anonymity on the blog. I am known in the city and in science and want to protect my wife who is also known. It doesn’t matter who I am really. I am one of many who have found help in recovery.

  4. vee permalink
    1 February 2014 21:06

    I’m glad you explained this cause I was curious about it …

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