Of Blogging, Errors and Boredom

Yesterday I wrote a post on the 2014 and 2015 economic growth projections for the US and UK. I started writing when I learned, to my surprise, that despite markedly different economic policies the projections for the two countries were almost identical. I was going to write about how few people who were thickly involved in the austerity vs. stimulus debates of 2009-2011 would have expected this. Somehow or other, I ended up writing instead a post that seems to takes a position that I don’t actually believe in: That the only measure of economic policy success is how an economy is doing a few years later. How I did that bad a job at writing I can’t explain, but there it is. Kevin Drum and James Wimberley pointed out in blog posts and three long-time RBC commentators pointed out in email that what I had written didn’t hold together logically. It didn’t, and if Mr. Peabody would ever take my damn calls I would get in the Wayback Machine and rewrite that post.

I feel that way about one in every 25 blog posts, i.e., boy, I wish I could take that one back. In contrast, I just about never feel this way about my academic writings. I remain proud of my books and there are only one or two scientific journal articles that I wish I hadn’t published. In one respect, this is a testament to the value of peer review and the wisdom of journal editors. They put gates up that blogging just doesn’t do.

However, if I applied a different metric, I can see one benefit to blogging. The proportion of my old blog posts that I find boring is lower than the parallel proportion of my academic writings. Particularly early in my career, I wrote some nice, safe, dry as dust academic papers that should be prescribed to long-suffering insomniacs worldwide on humanitarian grounds. Some of them started out boring, others got boring through the review process as everything novel was hacked away by criticism (On one of my first papers, I went through four rounds of review in which a 20 page article received almost 100 pages of critique all told).

I still see my academic writing as fundamentally what my career is about, and certainly where I put most of my time. But if I wanted to be sure to read something interesting and I could grab at random either one of my published journal articles or one of my old blog posts, I am pretty sure that on most days I’d reach for latter.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.