Burst culture and the academic blog 
Warren Ellis calls blog-writing burst culture, and he argues that it is no substitute for old school, long form writing. Wil Wheaton complains that immersion in burst culture screws up his ability to write slower-paced prose. Wheaton is talking about narrative writing, but I am curious about this parallel question: Does blog writing lead to differences in the form and style of the philosophy?

Surely blogs themselves tend to be telegraphic. One might therefore suspect that philosophers who write blogs are primed to be more telegraphic when writing papers and books.

My experience is the opposite. Writing a blog post requires me to fill out more of the details than taking notes or scribbling down ideas. I am forced to think through the information that needs to be presented in order for my point to make any sense; in writing notes to myself, I can presume more and write less.

The result is that I sometimes blog ideas in ways that fit nicely into papers. My latest draft builds on posts about scientific significance, although admittedly I had been wrestling with these ideas before. My Wikipedia paper is a clearer case. It began as blog yammerings and would not have been written without them.

Also, blogging helps me unclog my analytic writing. I find that taking morsel sized ideas and setting them as blog posts puts me in the state of mind to write. It's like the little vamp that a jazz band plays when warming up, before launching into a set.

[I lack a segue to the next point, so (in true burst culture fashion) I continue without one.]

There is some debate among academic bloggers about how blogging should count. There are several basic positions. 1. Blogging is research. This suggests that we should devise some way of measuring the impact factor of academic blogs. 2. Blogging is a kind of outreach, making research and results available to a broader audience. 3. Blogging is professional service, like refereeing papers and organizing conferences. 4. Blogging is a hobby and should count for nothing.

Often, these debates are a bit too essentialist. Different answers fit different blogs.

Much of Janet Stemwedel's blogging strikes me as public outreach. It is addresses issues of scientific integrity and has an audience that includes many non-philosophers. (Answer 2.)

The non-political part of Brian Leiter's blogging strikes me as professional service. It provides news and commentary on developments within academic philosophy. (Answer 3.) The political part, which he has muzzled recently, strikes me as activism. (Although not exactly a 'hobby', it is not part of his role as an academic philosopher. So answer 4.)

For my own part: I do other stuff on the web that really is just an irrelevant hobby, but blogging is part of my doing philosophy. Nevertheless, I would not want my blog output to be weighed on the same balance as my published papers. If I let a month go by without a post, I don't want to feel the reigns of the tenure-horse slipping through my fingers.

This is only to consider three philosopher-bloggers. Academics in other disciplines have different blogging potential; it is hard to imagine a chemist's blog that would count as anything like chemistry research. In sum, expecting academic blogs to count all in the same way seems wrong-headed.

[Some nice conclusion belongs here, tying this back to the 'burst culture' thing with which I began.]

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Ye olde curiosity shoppe 
Yesterday, I put a draft paper about scientific significance on-line. It is directed largely at tensions in Philip Kitcher's Science, Truth, and Democracy.

For anyone keeping count, this is the second time I've written a paper in part because of ideas that percolated here in the blog.

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A blurb worthy of a book jacket 
I just posted forall x version 1.23 [070512]

The update was prompted by a recent e-mail from Nathan Carter, a math prof at Bentley College. He began:
I used your textbook in a logic course I taught this past semester and found it very helpful. It is readable, clear, and addresses lots of essential issues without getting into more background than is needed. The students and I both thought so. Thanks for making it available free!
He went on to point out more than a dozen errors in the text. Most were inconsequential typos; others were consequential typos. All are now corrected, and Carter is added to the acknowledgements.


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The good bishop voted off the island 
I had my last real class meeting for 17th&18th Century Philosophy yesterday. I asked variants of my usual end-of-term questions:

Are there any of the authors we studied that you thought were insightful and valuable to read now, in the 21st century?

Are there any of the authors we studied that you think are just relics, mere historical curiosities with nothing insightful to offer?

Students were allowed to list as many or as few philosophers in each column as they wanted, and they were allowed to leave philosophers in the indeterminate middle. After having students write down their answers, I took a show of hands. Out of 25 total students, here are the results:

yay boo
Descartes 10 7
Locke 9 2
Berkeley 7 9
Hume 15 0
Kant 11 4

I was a bit surprised. I would have guessed that some students would have been turned off by the anti-religious parts of Hume's Enquiry, and classes in the past have found Berkeley's arguments intriguing (if not convincing).

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My sayings 
Brian Leiter links to a cheeky column by Jonathan Wolff that begins in this way:
Several philosophers claim to have had the following conversation on long-haul flights: "And what line of work are you in?" "Me? I'm a philosopher." "Oh, really? And what are some of your sayings?"
Wolff notes that many philosophers are reluctant to talk about the profession with the hoi polloi. He thinks this is because self identifying as a philosopher is necessarily presumptuous, as if you were to tell the person in the seat next to you that you were a wise man or a guru.

I don't remember ever having been asked for some of my sayings, but it is a softball question. It invites a glib, goofy answer.

I was recently asked a question, my response to which undercuts Wolff's modesty hypotheses. My wife and I are buying our first house. At the home inspection I am distracted by a thousand things, none of them philosophical. I mention my profession to the inspector as we entered. As he is finishing up, he makes small talk by asking who I think is the best contemporary philosopher.

This is a tough question. I have no ready answer for it. Moreover, it is not clear whether he means to be asking about the philosopher who is most exalted in the profession, the one whose work I find to be the most advanced, or the one he should seek out were he to go looking for some philosophical reading. It is not even clear that he is determinately asking about any of these.

At that moment, however, my mind is filled with house thoughts. None of those distinctions come clearly or quickly enough to mind that I can ask him to clarify. I parry the question by asking, "Am I allowed to count my own work?" Fortunately, he laughs. Was this a successful jest, or did it just make me sound like a jerk?

Maybe I should have a stock reply to that question, because I have been asked it before. And maybe I should have a few sayings ready for the long-haul flights.

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