As a semi-pseudonymous blogger, I appreciated the post on the difference between anonymity and pseudonymity at Uncertain Principles, in response to the vindictive outing of Publius, a formerly pseudonymous blogger:
Someone like Publius, or FSP [Female Science Professor], or Mark Twain writes under a different name than their given name. This does not mean that they are without identity, though– quite the contrary. They write consistently under a single name, and this body of work establishes an identity for them that is every bit as solid as the identity that “Chad Orzel” establishes for me.
I haven’t tried to figure out who FSP is, because it doesn’t matter. The alias is enough to establish an identity, as revealed through years worth of blog posts. And that’s really the thing that matters in blogdom, or even in literature.
Pseudonymity has a long and honorable tradition in literature, and Publius and Female Science Professor fit in that. Anonymity, not so much. It’s a distinction that matters.
There are plenty of good reasons to use a pseudonym, some of which I’ve talked about before, and which you can find in other discussions about the perils of blogging. But I have a different reason at this point in my blogging career that has become more clear to me recently:
I don’t like to have a reputation that precedes me.
I had some amount of experience with this in high school. At the risk of sounding like I’m tooting my own horn, I gained some local notoriety due to some academic achievements and for being part of my school’s successful TV quiz show team, which was seen by a much wider array of people than I thought. As far as I could tell, none of this affected how I was perceived by people who actually knew me, but to others that I barely knew or didn’t know at all, I gained a reputation as the Famous Genius of the school, something that I didn’t really like. If you’re going to make that assessment of me, correct or not, I’d like it to be based on actual experiences with me, rather than reputation.
I started this blog in the summer before my first year of grad school, and while I certainly don’t have a huge level of internet fame, and don’t expect to, my voice and opinions could become fairly well known to the circle of people who read this blog. And I didn’t want my name associated with this blog because I didn’t want my classmates to have a pre-existing opinion of me based on a blogging experiment, where I wasn’t sure how I might come across. Similarly for professors, possible future advisors, or future professional acquaintances. I’m just not secure enough with my position in the academic world and with my blogging voice to have a reputation from my blog precede me.
Now, I state that I am only semi-pseudonymous, in the sense that, other than withholding my name, I don’t go to great lengths to hold back other potentially identifying information. Because of the relative obscurity of my blog and the logic puzzles you might have to do if you care to discover my identity, I figure that anyone who sees this blog and figures out my identity probably knows me well enough that I no longer have to worry about my blog creating my reputation for them.
Now back to my regularly scheduled physics.