Monday, March 07, 2005

Lakoff, Femiphobia and Writing On/For Blogs



Chris has an interesting post (http://mixingmemory.blogspot.com/2005/03/i-dont-want-to-see-anymore.html) about the bad state of science-writing in general and writing about cognitive science in particular. While I feel the same about science reporting in the media, or the popular science books, I disagree about blogs, so I wrote this comment there:

But...blogs are supposed to be rants, off-the-cuff emotional personal responses
to whatever bothers the owner at the time. Blog-posts are also questions to
readers, offers for discussion, often deliberately one-sided and crude rants
written IN ORDER to foster discussion.Real expertise shows. If I write about
Iraq, nobody will read it. If I write an angry rant using Lakoff's model as a
starting point, I will get responses in comments and a discussion starts. If I
write about chronobiology, people link to me and say: "Go read this - it is
good." Readers can generally guess pretty well where one's expertise lies, what
is expert analysis, what is opinion, and what is a deliberately provocative
rant.

And I will add more: For legal opinion, you go to Legal Fiction, for Iraq to Juan Cole, for evo-devo to Pharyngula, for cognitive science to his own Mixing Memory or to Mind Hacks or Cognitive Daily, for Balkans to East Ethnia or Draxblog, for evolution to Panda's Thumb or Evolutionblog, etc. But expert analysis is not the only, not even the major content of blogs. Most of blogging is personal writing. Some good blogging is amateur journalism. Those who can, and those are rare, write op-eds. Only very few (and very highly esteemed and popular) bloggers have sufficient expertise in a subject to actually write ARTICLES. Chris is one of those, but he is a rare gem, and what he does is not the norm of the blogosphere. I wish there were more people like him on blogs, but they will never be the majority.

But I know how he feels. For instance, I have read and commented several times on Stephen Ducat's book "The Wimp Factor" (e.g., http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/10/femiphobia.html and http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2005/03/femiphobia-again.html). I am not a psychologist, but at least I have carefully read the whole book and have enough background to understand it and, to some extent, to evaluate it. I give myself the right to comment on it and to further build upon it for MY OWN PURPOSES.

But, I got really mad when I saw this thread about the book: http://www.able2know.com/forums/about46654.html. The conservatives on that forum just bashed Ducat ad hominem. But the liberals defended the book very ineptly because none of them has read the book - they all, both sides, based all of their discussion on this interview with Ducat: http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?itemid=1865. There is no way anyone can, from this short interview, understand what Ducat's hypothesis is really about, nor what supportive data he possesses. But it is a forum, thus everyone can write whatever they want and defend their opinions as fierecely as they wish - it is not a peer-reviewed journal.

In the same vein, I saw LOTS of uninformed commenting on Lakoff's work by people who have only read a couple of articles, or, at best, "Don't Think of an Elephant". Most do not understand the difference between "framing" and "branding" or "marketing". Without reading other books by Lakoff, or at least his "Moral Politics, or at least every single word published on the Rockridge Institute Website and Forum, or at least this series by Revere: http://effectmeasure.blogspot.com/2005/02/lakoff-xiv-public-health.html, one cannot intelligently discuss Lakoff.


On the other hand, Chris discussses Lakoff almost too intelligently: http://mixingmemory.blogspot.com/2004/09/lakoff-framing.html. These are turf-wars and disagreements over deep theory. Chris, for all I know, may be completely correct in bashing Lakoff's science. But, for the purposes of MY BLOG (and it is mine, damnit!), I am not interested in that level of analysis (though I have read with great interest what Chris wrote in numerous of his posts) - it does not matter for what I am trying to do if Lakoff is scientifically right or wrong.

What matters is that Lakoff gave us an electric shock - a jolt to start thinking in another way: not that Bushies are stupid, but that Bushies have a different worldview that may be hard for us to understand, but is internally coherent and it makes perfect sense to them. With that as a starting point, I have, over almost 50 posts on this blog, tried to build upon Lakoff's system, to change some aspects of it, tweak it here and there, expand it, fill the gaps, combine it with Ducat's and Parenti's schemes and see what comes out and write provocative posts that should engender discusssion, or at least make my readers think for a second: "Hmmmm, I never thought of this that way!"

That is how understand blogging.


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